Sunday, October 25, 2009

Patriots get out the bag of tricks

"The Patriots want to blitz," Phil Simms said early in the CBS broadcast of the New England-Tampa Bay game on Sunday, "and they want to put pressure on the quarterback and they want to put pressure on the short routes."

But the Patriots hadn't blitzed. All season long, with Jerod Mayo and without, the Patriots hadn't blitzed. They'd done some shifting between a 4-3 formation and a 3-4 formation while mixing in some nickel and dime, but they'd mostly stayed home and avoided the creative gambles that for so long was the hallmark of Bill Belichick defenses. Against Denver two weeks ago, with the Broncos' "Wild Horses" offense causing all sorts of problems, the Patriots did almost nothing but stay at home in their base defensive packages -- and Kyle Orton picked them apart.

On Sunday, though, the Patriots blitzed. They blitzed corners off the edge. They blitzed safeties up the middle. They blitzed linebackers from just about everywhere. They didn't blitz too much -- by the count of this reporter, they blitzed on 13 of their 36 defensive snaps in the first half -- but they blitzed enough to keep young quarterback Josh Johnson looking over his shoulder.

And while it didn't make much of a difference against the woeful Buccaneers, who would have lost big no matter what, it did demonstrate that it did demonstrate that the Patriots' new-look defense still is capable of executing the same complex defensive packages as its predecessors.

Here's a look at how the Patriots distributed their blitzes in the first half before the score started to get out of hand:

* Brandon McGowan blitzed four times;
* Jonathan Wilhite blitzed three times;
* Adalius Thomas -- remember him? -- blitzed three times;
* Wilhite and McGowan blitzed at the same time twice, including on the interception that Brandon Meriweather returned for a touchdown;
* Gary Guyton blitzed twice;
* Meriweather blitzed once, doing so in tandem with Thomas;
* Jerod Mayo blitzed once;
* Patrick Chung blitzed once;
* Leigh Bodden blitzed once.

And that's just the first half.

Oh, and the Patriots frequently lined up Tully Banta-Cain and Derrick Burgess at defensive end, flanking Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren, and both Banta-Cain and Burgess are at their best when they're going after the quarterback.

The result?

* Thomas had a quarterback hurry;
* Banta-Cain had two tackles for a loss;
* Chung had a sack and a quarterback hurry;
* Guyton had a tackle for a loss and a quarterback hurry;
* Mike Wright had a sack and a quarterback hurry;
* Myron Pryor had a quarterback hurry and a tackle for a loss;
* McGowan, Meriweather and bodden each broke up two passes.

The Patriots will face the Dolphins at Gillette Stadium in two weeks, a team that sparked the Wildcat revolution across the NFL. The Patriots weren't able to deal with the "Wild Horses" offense the Broncos threw at them, eschewing creativity in favor of conservatism.

It'll be interesting to see if they do the same against Miami.

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