Will Patriots keep it coming?
Blitz may work against Colts, too
FOXBOROUGH — It was a little bit of a surprise when Bill Belichick made reference to quotes made by the Steelers following the Patriots’ 39-26 victory at Heinz Field Sunday night.
“I think actually after the game, they talked about how they didn’t really see anything that they hadn’t seen before,’’ Belichick said Monday. “I’d have to agree with that.’’
Seems a bit strange that Belichick found the time to peruse the quotes — likely one in particular by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger — coming off a late-night flight. Patriots coaches probably didn’t sleep much so they could cram in film review of the Steelers game and get a jump on game-planning for the Colts.
But the reach of Belichick knows no bounds, so he might have flipped through some press clippings to find the following quote from Roethlisberger:
“I don’t think they did anything to confuse us or anything like that. I think they just flat-out beat us.’’
Belichick likely noticed the quote because someone pointed it out to him. Bet they had a good laugh. It also gave Belichick cover heading into Colts week.
But the Colts and quarterback Peyton Manning have taken a look at the film, and it never lies.
You’d better believe the Patriots did some new things against the Steelers — at least as far as recent history goes — and the Colts will be preparing for it.
The Patriots blitzed Roethlisberger 22 times, with 21 coming before New England took a 29-10 lead midway through the fourth quarter on James Sanders’s 32-yard interception return for a touchdown.
New England hadn’t blitzed that many times in a game since it closed the 2006 season with a 40-23 victory against the Titans, according to Stats LLC.
This season’s high for blitzes had been 20, against Carson Palmer way back in the season-opening win against the Bengals. The win against the Bills in Week 3 was a distant second (13). The Patriots blitzed nine times as they got demolished by the Browns Nov. 7.
No wonder players such as linebacker Jerod Mayo and nose tackle Vince Wilfork talked about how excited they were when the game plan for the Steelers game was unveiled.
“When we got this game plan, it was like, ‘Man, I love it. I love it,’ ’’ Wilfork told WEEI. “It allowed us to play physical and play aggressive. And that’s how we played. The calls we had in allowed us to be aggressive.’’
When Belichick and the Patriots are at their best, they dictate the terms of the game to the opponent on both sides of the ball. It had been a while since they did that. They were definitely on the receiving end against the Browns. Maybe the coaches felt they needed to improve as much as the players following the 34-14 drubbing administered by former Patriots assistants Eric Mangini, Rob Ryan, Brian Daboll, and Brad Seely.
Whatever the reason, the game plan in all three phases was virtually flawless against the Steelers.
Tom Brady delivered a masterful performance on offense with a short, quick passing game and an emphasis on mismatches in personnel (tight end Rob Gronkowski against cornerback William Gay), but the tempo was dictated from start to finish by the defense.
The Patriots blitzed Roethlisberger on his first six passes, including two six-man pressures.
And they kept it up virtually the entire game. On the second pass after taking the 29-10 lead, the Patriots threw in their only seven-man pressure of the game for good measure. Probably wanted to put it in Manning’s mind.
Take away the five plays before halftime when the Patriots were playing prevent defense — they sent four players three times and three twice — and they delivered a tour de blitzkrieg at Roethlisberger, who was an easy target behind a battered and subpar line.
Including sacks and penalties, the Patriots sent five or more rushers 21 times at Roethlisberger in 31 snaps (67.7 percent) before the rout ensued.
The Patriots sent a defensive back more than a quarter of the time — another departure from the norm — and they took great advantage of safety Patrick Chung being back after he missed two games with an injury.
The Patriots undoubtedly felt more confident having Chung back on the field. He came from his safety position, but also when he was switched to cornerback in sub packages. Chung seemed to be coming from everywhere.
The Colts will have a plan for Chung, but will they need it?
If there’s one thing you can count on from Belichick, it’s that he loves being unpredictable.
After going after Roethlisberger — who tends to hold the ball — Belichick probably will set a career low for blitzes against Manning. It’s how Belichick operates. Make them devote a ton of practice time to picking up blitzes, then don’t call any.
The book on Manning is that you don’t blitz him because he gets rid of the ball so quickly and knows exactly where to go with it. The Patriots have followed that line of thinking in their last two matchups, when Manning walked away with close victories (35-34 in ’09, 18-15 in ’08). New England pressured Manning a combined eight times in those games.
But the Patriots have had games in which they went after Manning. You play this many times — 15 times in 12 seasons (Manning is 6-9) — you have to change things up.
The statistics say that if there’s any season to go after Manning, it’s this one.
When blitzed this season, Manning is completing just 59.8 percent of his attempts, with a passer rating of 88.8 and has been sacked seven times (12 total). That’s his lowest completion percentage and passer rating against pressure since ’03 (59.3 and 80.5), according to Stats. In ’09, Manning completed 67.8 percent and had a rating of 103.4.
With so many injuries to his weapons — the Colts didn’t have tight end Dallas Clark, running back Joseph Addai, or receivers Anthony Gonzalez and Austin Collie in Sunday’s win over the Bengals — Manning may have to think more about whether his receivers will be in the right spot.
It’s the same predicament Roethlisberger was in Sunday night and the Patriots took advantage by dictating the game.
It might be time for an encore.
Greg A. Bedard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard.