Monday, December 28, 2009

A second look at "Organized Chaos"

Bill Belichick probably didn't take the Jaguars by surprise on Sunday when he deployed his defense in what Adalius Thomas called its "organized chaos" formation for the second straight week. Belichick baffled the Buffalo Bills a week ago with a defensive formation that employed five linebackers and six defensive backs -- and zero defensive linemen -- and brought it back for 10 first-half snaps against the Jaguars.

(They ran it more often in the second half. At that point, with the lead growing to 35-0, it was more of a prevent defense than a strategic tactic.)

The scheme works so well because it allows the Patriots to drop so many linebackers and defensive backs into coverage. A quarterback isn't going to throw the ball into a well-defended pattern deep down the field -- the longer the ball is in the air, the more time defenders have to go get it -- and thus is more likely to settle for a short pass to a running back or tight end who then can be wrapped up and taken down for a meaningless short gain.

Like Miami's Wildcat offense, the Patriots' Organized Chaos defense is going to be a part of opponents' game plans for the rest of the season.

Unlike Miami's Wildcat offense, there's a pretty easy way to gain yards against the Patriots' Organized Chaos defense: Run right at it.

Here's how the Patriots lined up the first time they threw Organized Chaos at the Jaguars on Sunday, a third-and-6 snap late in the first quarter:

(Solid line represents first-down marker.)

Tully Banta-Cain and Derrick Burgess were the only two Patriots to line up with a hand on the ground -- and they both lined up outside the Jaguars' tackles. Gary Guyton, Jerod Mayo and Rob Ninkovich milled around the middle of the field so as not to give the offensive line a chance to identify their blocking assignments.

But the reason teams have always lined up with three or four down linemen is because the lower a player a gets, the better his leverage generally is. In passing situations, teams forgo defensive linemen in favor of faster linebackers or defensive backs. In running situations, though, teams bring in more defensive linemen so they don't get pushed back off the line of scrimmage.

Third and 6 normally is a passing situation.

If the Patriots keep throwing Organized Chaos out there on third and 6, though, it's going to become a running situation -- and that's going to be quite a bit tougher to stop.

The Jaguars did run against it twice. The first time, Maurice Jones-Drew took a draw from David Garrard and was hit almost immediately by Banta-Cain off the edge. On that play, though, Banta-Cain dodged an ill-advised pull block by right guard Uche Nwaneri, trying to seal the back side of the play to the left while the rest of the line blocked right. It was a relatively routine blocking scheme -- but it was too complicated for a line that didn't have a chance to identify the defender each guy was supposed to block.

Simplify, simplify.

Each of the Jaguars' five offensive linemen weighs more than 300 pounds. Not many offensive linemen in the NFL weigh less than 300 pounds. On the other side of the ball, not one of the Patriots' Organized Chaos defenders weighs close to 300 pounds. Burgess is listed at 260, and Ninkovich and Banta-Cain both are listed at 250.

The instructions from the sideline to the offensive line should be simple: Run straight ahead. Block everything in front of you. You're stronger than they are. Push them back as far as you can.

The second time the Jaguars ran the ball against Organized Chaos, a second-and-11 snap in the second quarter, they did just that. No one sealed the back side. Left guard Vince Manuwai pulled to the right, but that was to get out in front of Jones-Drew rather than to do something complicated behind him. Guyton, Mayo, Ninkovich and Brandon McGowan all got pushed back. Jones-Drew gained six yards before tumbling down into Mayo.

On the next play, a third-and-5 snap, the Patriots once again came out in Organized Chaos. Jones-Drew came off the field. Garrard dropped back to pass.

The play never had a chance. Garrard threw a short swing pass to third-down running back Rashad Jennings, and four different Patriots converged on him before he could get within a yard of the first-down marker.

On the Jaguars' first drive of the second half, though, the Patriots deployed Organized Chaos on a third-and-goal snap from the 5-yard line. Not one defensive player put his hand down on the ground.

Instead of audibling to a run, though, Garrard threw into double coverage at the goal line -- and veteran Shawn Springs picked him off.

The Patriots are going to keep running their Organized Chaos formation until someone figures out how to get first downs against it. On third-and-5 or third-and-6, though, the way to get a first down against it is to run the ball.

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