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Tale of the Tape: Patriots-Jaguars

Posted by Albert Breer  December 29, 2009 03:30 PM

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Two plays you can pull out illustrate it. On the first play of Jacksonville’s second possession, on an iso play, Mayo took on fullback Montel Owens in the hole, and disengaged him quickly enough to bury Maurice Jones-Drew about a yard from the line of scrimmage. It’s this kind of downhill play that he was known for last year.

Then, in the third quarter, the Jags came out in ‘21’ personnel, which forced the Patriots to keep their base defense on the field, in turn creating a matchup with Mayo covering Jones-Drew in the right flat. Garrard recognized it, and dumped the ball off to his back, but Mayo got out there quick enough to take Jones-Drew down before he could turn it upfield.

I know the fact that he had 15 tackles pops on the stat sheet. But where and how he made the tackles is more important, and a key to why he played better on Sunday.

ON THE RUN: Tom Brady mentioned yesterday on WEEI that the offense has seen a lot of exotic coverages to deal with Randy Moss and Wes Welker. And he added how the running game taking advantage will help everyone.

The Patriots’ first scoring drive opened with the offense employing two tight ends and a single back, Sammy Morris. Before the snap, the two safeties fell off about 15 yards off the ball, and at the snap, they both started back-pedaling into deep halves. So those two players were, in essence, out of the play.

Because of that, Morris had to make just two cuts to burst into the open field. Eventually, one of those safeties, Gerald Alexander, helped take Morris down. But that happened 21 yards downfield, a product of respect for the Patriots’ passing game – even if the Jaguars do run a lot ‘2’ looks anyway.

RUSHING ALONG: The best thing that the “UFO” or “Radar” or “Mooing Cow” or whatever you want to call the Patriots’ walk-around defensive front has done is create winnable matchups for the club’s pass-rushers. And eventually, teams are going to have show a little more respect to Tully Banta-Cain, who’s not elite, but is clearly this defense’s best pressure man.

He ate up his matchups with backs. He got matched up with receiver-turned-tight end Ernest Wilford – by way of a six-man rush – and trucked him before nailing Garrard. And his sack came as he was singled up with third tackle Jordan Black, lined up at tight end, out of the base defense.

The negative with the “UFO”? The Jaguars showed in vulnerability against the run, where a couple of great individual plays saved longer runs in certain situations. The Patriots could run that defensive look against Buffalo because the Bills were constantly in bad down-and-distance spots. The lead against the Jags enabled the coaches to be more liberal with it.

So creating those two conditions is important to having any ability to run those looks.

BRADY IN COMMAND: A big part of Tom Brady’s success was excellent protection. But maybe the most encouraging play by the quarterback came when the blocking broke down, a show that he’s getting well and feeling more confident.

On the third-quarter play, the Jaguars brought six rushers, and Quentin Groves beat Logan Mankins inside. But as Groves approach Brady, from his blind side, the quarterback instinctively ducked, leaving the defensive end to fly over his back, gathered himself, and fired a bullet at Wes Welker, breaking off his option route, for an 8-yard gain.

If Brady was leery about his ribs, contorting the way he did would’ve been pretty tough. And he seemed to keep his grip tight on the ball and delivered it on time. Earlier in the year, he had to mentally come back from the knee surgery, and I was told he really turned the corner in the Baltimore game on that one. This might’ve been the game he put a couple other injuries behind him.

One very telling stat, both on the protection and the quarterback's feel -- The Jaguars sent six rushers five times. And five times, Brady completed passes, good for a total of 56 yards and a touchdown.

STAYING DISCIPLINED: Can’t help but notice that setting the edge in the running game continues to be a problem for the outside linebackers. And it’s a big reason why you’ll be seeing more of Adalius Thomas – the one guy capable of athletically getting himself out of bad position – on early downs, I’d bet.

On one first down at midfield in the second quarter, Thomas lost the edge, but was strong and quick enough to get off his block and close on Jones-Drew, keeping him from turning the corner and dropping him for no gain. That’s an invaluable commodity in a defender: Having the ability to get himself out of a bad spot with his own ability.

Banta-Cain, for his rush ability, has had some problems here. He failed to stay home on a third-and-1 end-around to Mike Thomas, and it took a great play by Brandon Meriweather to keep Thomas from the sticks, then lost contain on a couple of Jones-Drew runs in the first half.

MOVING THE CHAINS: Dan Connolly deserves a ton of credit for his work as a lead blocker – And his experience playing guard in Stephen Neal’s place may have helped. On Morris’ 55-yard run, it was Connolly’s lead block on Brian Iwuh that paved the way. … One element of Meriweather’s pick that gets overlooked – A great job by James Sanders of closing on Marcedes Lewis on the play, and knocking the tight end out, which gave his teammate a free pass upfield. …
News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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