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Patriots Take 2: Defense hits a pressure point against Jets

Posted by Erik Frenz  September 15, 2013 07:00 AM

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The Patriots defense has become known as a unit that makes big plays at just the right time to ensure a win.

On Thursday night, "just the right time" just happened to last about 60 minutes worth of football.

It was a rare defensive performance for the Patriots -- it was their first game with at least four sacks and three interceptions since December 17, 2006 against the Houston Texans.

Of the same token, it was a rare offensive performance as well -- but the bad kind of rare. Like, bleeding cow rare.

So let's gut this Patriots performance and see if we can find out how our Patriots sausage is made in a film review.

One small swing of Aqib Talib's foot, one giant swing of momentum

The first big play from the Patriots defense seemed more like an accident than a well-executed stop.

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Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib is credited with a forced fumble, but how much "forcing" was really involved here?

Jets wide receiver Stephen Hill caught the deep pass down the seam from quarterback Geno Smith, but failed to get the ball properly tucked away before being brought down. He would have been home free had Talib's leg not swung back into the ball.

If that was intentional, kudos to Talib for possibly the craftiest forced fumble in NFL history.

Pressure leads to Jets offensive inconsistency

"You turn the ball over four times, and you are going to have a hard time beating anybody," said Jets center Nick Mangold, "especially on the road."

Well, the Jets were having a hard time beating the Patriots with even just one turnover on the stat sheet, so it might be a stretch to say the turnovers were the heart of the Jets' problem. Instead, it was a defensive front seven that came to play, and put pressure on Smith all Thursday night.

They finished with four sacks of Smith -- two by defensive end Chandler Jones, and one each by defensive end Michael Buchanan and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly.

Even when they weren't getting sacks, they were at least getting pressure.

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On back-to-back plays in the second quarter, the Patriots defense pressured Smith into rolling out of the pocket and throwing the ball away.

The first time was simply great effort by defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who got into the backfield in a hurry against Jets right tackle Austin Howard.

Ninkovich's quick inside move froze Howard, and Ninkovich was in the backfield before Smith had a chance to execute the play-action fake.

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The second pressure was a team effort, with the Patriots sending six men on the rush. Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork (circled in yellow) rushed up field off the snap, but came off his rush as the blitzing linebackers reached the offensive line.

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The confusion allowed three defenders to get into the backfield, forcing Smith to once again throw the ball out of bounds.

That was a dramatic change from Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills, when the game plan was to contain Manuel in the pocket.

However, containment was still part of the plan against the Jets, and it paid off, as Smith rushed just three times for 17 yards (16 of those yards on one run) after running six times for 47 yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"One of our goals is to put pressure on the quarterbacks," Wilfork said, "and we knew how important it was for this quarterback to be up in his face, and we knew how important it was for us to keep him in the pocket -- his ability to scramble; we knew we had to contain him."

Getting pressure helps, but only if the quarterback doesn't then break loose for a long run after escaping the pocket.

Chandler Jones' new role as defensive tackle

You can't talk about the defensive performance without bringing up Chandler Jones' standout night.

Jones lined up at both defensive end and defensive tackle, notching a sack from each spot.

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The sack up the gut came in a one-on-one matchup with left guard Vladimir Ducasse.

That's a matchup Jones is built to win just about everytime with his burst off the line and long arms to keep blockers at bay.

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He put both on display as he split the B-gap between the tackle and guard to get the sack.

Jones smelled blood, and he went hunting again on the very next drive.

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Not one but two players had the responsibility to block Jones -- first, Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes chipped the defensive end before releasing into his route. Then, left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson would pick him up.

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Why they had Holmes on that side instead of tight end Kellen Winslow remains a mystery to me, but none of it matters. Jones got around Ferguson with an inside move and got just enough of Smith's knee to bring him down for the sack.

He was the only Patriots defender getting any kind of pressure against the Bills, and he was the most disruptive player on their defensive front against the Jets with a team-high eight combined pressures: five hurries, a hit and two sacks.

Kyle Arrington will be tested deep by slot receivers

In Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills, cornerback Kyle Arrington got beat deep by wide receiver Stevie Johnson, who ran a go-route from the slot and got to the back of the end zone before anyone wearing a Patriots jersey.

We could argue about whether Arrington or McCourty was responsible for allowing the touchdown, but either way, Arrington would be tested once again by the Jets on a deep pass to wide receiver Clyde Gates.

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The speedy receiver, formerly of the Dolphins, ran a go-route from the slot against Arrington, much like Johnson did in Week 1.

Once again, Arrington was caught in trail technique, and had already allowed Gates to get behind the coverage.

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Safety Steve Gregory was a little late helping out in coverage.

If the ball was thrown sooner or slightly deeper, it might have had the same result -- a touchdown. That, however, wasn't the case. The underthrown ball allowed Arrington to catch up and at least get some disruption on the catch, which was dropped by Gates.

We already saw the Jets attack the seam with a deep route earlier in the game to Stephen Hill, and were successful in completing the pass.

Patriots WR Julian Edelman vs. Jets CB Antonio Cromartie

I previewed this matchup headed into the game, and while the Jets mixed up coverages in terms of which cornerbacks were covering which receivers, we did see Edelman line up across from Cromartie on several occasions.

On the night, Brady went 2-of-3 targeting Edelman when covered by Cromartie. The lone missed opportunity could have given the Patriots more than the cushion they needed to come away with the victory.

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As expected, Edelman was able to take advantage of Cromartie's length with a nice double move on a slant-and-go route -- otherwise known as a "sluggo" route -- where Edelman fakes a slant and then breaks downfield.

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This gives the illusion of an underneath route, which makes Cromartie react accordingly, but Edelman's sudden change of direction catches Cromartie off-guard. The cornerback nearly tumbles to the ground, but keeps his balance, although he is already beaten by half a step or more.

With a more accurate throw, this would have been at worst a chunk play of at least 20 yards.

Juxtaposing offensive missed opportunities

There were times where the narrative of "new receivers plus difficult offense equals recipe for disaster" held true. Not every miscue was a result of a poor decision or a drop by a young receiver, though.

The Patriots can look to their MVP for some of the blame for this one.

There was the missed deep throw mentioned above, which was clearly Brady's fault, but what about the missed touchdown to rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson?

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Without knowing how the Patriots expect Dobson to run this route, here's what it looks like from an outside perspective.

Dobson is running an option route. If he sees a certain coverage, he runs a curl route. Another kind of coverage dictates he runs a flag route toward the pylon

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Brady read curl, Dobson read flag. The result is a pass that landed at Dobson's feet.

"Not knowing anything, I'm gonna blame Dobson," said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, "because Dobson is the rookie."

Patriots fans probably share similar sentiment. The failed comprehension of the Patriots offense by a rookie receiver would certainly fit the narrative we've been painting in the media for months.

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With Dobson coming wide open in the end zone, though, it's hard to fault him for the decision on the route.

If there was any doubt on the aforementioned miss throw, there was no doubt on one of his first misfires of the night.

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In an offset I formation, wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins was split wide to the offense's right. The Patriots set up the play-action fake, and Thompkins ran a wheel route down the sideline against cornerback Antonio Cromartie.

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Thompkins was easily able to get past the coverage of Cromartie, and raised his hand down the sideline to indicate he was open.

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Clearly, had the pass been on-target, it would have been a touchdown. However, Brady's throw was well short of where it needed to be, and the result was an incomplete pass.

So, Tom wasn't 100-percent terrific on Thursday night -- he's mortal, who knew? On the other hand, the receivers didn't help their quarterback by dropping four catchable passes.

Everyone has work to do.

"Number 77 is reporting as an eligible receiver."

Words we heard quite frequently on Thursday night, the Patriots used Nate Solder as an extra blocker at tight end. He participated as both a pass-blocker (two snaps) and a run-blocker (four snaps) in that role.

He led the way on running back Stevan Ridley's longest run of the first quarter, a seven-yard burst off right tackle.

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The Patriots were lined up in a singleback set with, technically, the 12 personnel grouping (one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers).

The Jets matched the personnel with their base 3-4 defensive front.

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Ridley took the hand-off to the right side of the offense, behind Solder's clear-out block on Jets linebacker Calvin Pace.

On the night, Solder was an extra blocker on four running plays gaining a total of nine yards.

Solder filled this role sparingly in his rookie season, and the Patriots are probably just trying to replace the presence of tight end Rob Gronkowski -- one they miss both in the passing game and running game -- however possible.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About the author

Erik Frenz delivers analysis of the biggest news with the Patriots, including insight into the AFC East and New England's biggest rivals from a Patriots perspective. Erik is an interactive writer who engages his audience in his posts’ comments sections and on Twitter. Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions. More »


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