Adalius Thomas is a get-after-the-quarterback linebacker. He always has been. He had a combined 28 sacks in his final three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, and he had a combined 11.5 sacks in his first two seasons with the New England Patriots -- as well as two sacks in the Patriots' Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants.
That's why Bill Belichick brought him to New England: His job was to make plays and get after the quarterback and make plays and create havoc in the backfield and make some more plays.
But Thomas hasn't made all that many plays this season. He had a fourth-quarter sack against Buffalo in the season opener -- a sack on which he picked up a 15-yard penalty -- but has not brought down the quarterback once in the four games since. There are those who are starting to wonder if Thomas is doing anything at all to earn his hefty paycheck.
Thomas, however, has been playing out of his comfort zone ever since Jerod Mayo went down with a knee injury. The improving health of Mayo and the signing of Junior Seau figure to spark renewed productivity from one of the NFL's elite pass-rushing linebackers.
Here's a look at approximately where Thomas lined up on each of his first-half snaps. The chart is color-coded by drive -- the column on the right is the order in which the drives line up. (Red is the opening drive on which the Broncos missed a field goal. Purple is the final drive on which the Broncos scored a touchdown on a pass from Kyle Orton to Eddie Royal.)
And in the second half, still color-coded by drive:
On the decisive drive of the fourth quarter, the drive on which Kyle Orton's Broncos drove from inside their own 10-yard line for a game-tying touchdown, Thomas made only two appearances. The Patriots spent almost the entire drive in their nickel defense with Tully Banta-Cain and Derrick Burgess rushing from the edge and Gary Guyton and Jerod Mayo in pass coverage in the middle.
It wasn't until a 15-yard penalty gave the Broncos the ball at the Patriots' 12-yard line that Thomas re-entered the game -- and blitzed off the weak-side edge (in green above) only to see Orton hit Brandon Marshall for a touchdown pass on the other side of the field before he could get there.
It was just the third time Thomas had crossed the line of scrimmage in the second half.
When the Broncos got the ball back, the Patriots went right back to that nickel defense with Guyton and Mayo as the linebackers and Banta-Cain and Burgess as the outside pass-rushers. Thomas would not take the field again in regulation.
(This writer's DVR recording ended before overtime began.)
You can go back and count the light blue arrows, the indicators that Thomas crossed the line of scrimmage in pursuit of the quarterback on a given play. Six times did Thomas go after the quarterback. The linebacker played more than 40 snaps -- he was off the field in most third-down situations as well as the tail end of the game in which the Patriots were in a nickel defense -- and rushed the quarterback six times.
Every other snap in which he participated, Thomas was charged either with containing the edge on a run play or with following tight ends Daniel Graham and Tony Scheffler in coverage. He even chased Marshall, one of the league's best wide receivers, around the field a little bit.
That figures to change, though, should Mayo and Seau see significant time on Sunday against Tennessee. Those two inside linebackers would allow the Patriots to transition back to the 3-4 defense for which they're known -- and that would mean more chances for Thomas to go after the quarterback.
Right now, each of the Patriots' four defensive linemen are coming across the line of scrimmage and into the backfield. That, most of the time, is it. All three linebackers -- usually Thomas, Guyton and Pierre Woods -- tended to drop into either man-to-man or zone pass coverage, and that's not normally conducive to making explosive plays.
Should the Patriots shift back to a 3-4, though, you'll probably see Thomas on the outside opposite either Guyton or Woods. Guyton, Mayo and Seau all would see some time rotation through the two inside linebacker spots. With only three defensive linemen on the field, the Patriots would be more willing to use their linebackers as pass-rushers -- and that's a role in which Thomas thrives.
No, Thomas hasn't made that many plays this season.
But the Patriots' scheme, in part due to the thin corps of linebackers with which they've been playing, hasn't put him in position to make any, either.