Wednesday, October 28, 2009

You must double-team Vince Wilfork

(Note: Wilfork was among the players absence from the portion of practice open to the media on Wednesday. Veterans like Randy Moss and Junior Seau likewise were absent, and with the weather miserable and the team on a bye week, the possibility of a veterans' day off can't be discounted.)

It's sometimes hard to measure the impact of Vince Wilfork.

The 325-pound nose tackle has just 19 tackles on the season, a total that ranks him ninth on his team. He has forced one fumble and has been credited with just two pass break-ups. Against Tampa Bay on Sunday, Wilfork was credited with two solo tackles and not much else. On the stat sheet, at least, he hasn't exactly been the most prolific defensive player on the field.

But there's a reason Wilfork earned a Pro Bowl nod two years ago and might earn another one this year. He still, as they say, commands attention from two offensive linemen most of the time he takes the field.

How much of that translates into actual impact, though? It's sometimes tough to tell. Let's go back to the tape and take a look at how Tampa Bay blocked Wilfork -- and what sort of impact the nose tackle was able to make in spite of that blocking:

* Wilfork played 20 snaps in the first half and was double-teamed -- two offensive linemen at least put a hand on him -- 12 times;
* Four of Tampa Bay's five offensive linemen was matched up against him at least once;
* Center Jeff Faine had to deal with him 15 times, and left guard Jeremy Zuttah had to deal with him 11 times -- and the two double-teamed him eight times;
* Wilfork beat Faine one-on-one in the second quarter and drew a chop-block penalty on running back Derrick Ward;
* On his next snap, on the Bucs' next possession, Wilfork again shed Faine in time to bat down a Josh Johnson pass;
* Only twice in the first half did Tampa Bay run the ball without double-teaming Wilfork -- once when Wilfork lined up as the right end in a 3-4 formation and once on a run that gained only a yard;
* Wilfork had both of his two first-half tackles out of double-teams, including a stop for no gain deep in Bucs' territory.

(Rookie Myron Pryor, by the way, played nose tackle in third-down and long-yardage situations thoughout the game and commanded a few double-teams by himself. The Patriots even left Wilfork on the sidelines on a third-and-1 play in favor of Pryor and Mike Wright -- and they got the stop. The rookie has made tremendous progress in the middle of the line and looks like an emerging force.)

Wilfork played only four snaps in the second half; with the score out of hand and the Buccaners needing to throw the ball downfield to have any chance, Pryor did most of the work on the interior of the defensive line. But here's how those four snaps went:

* First and 10: Wilfork lined up as the defensive end on the right side of a 3-4 and got double-teamed by the left tackle and left guard, allowing Tully Banta-Cain to get in behind him and pressure the quarterback into an incompletion;
* Second and 10: On the next play, the center was the only blocker on Wilfork -- and Wilfork got the first hit on the running back before Jerod Mayo dropped him for no gain;
* First and 10: Wilfork again lined up as the defensive end on the right side and beat the left tackle so clean he drew a holding penalty;
* First and 10: The center and the left guard double-teamed him and took him out of the play on what would be an incomplete pass.

To tally that one up: Wilfork in the second half was single-blocked twice and double-blocked twice -- and he still managed to get in on the play on three of those four snaps.

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