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More on the defense

Posted by Greg A. Bedard  September 14, 2011 10:06 AM

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There are still a few people out there who think I'm an idiot for saying the defense played well against the Dolphins not once, but twice. While my overall idiot-ness is always up for debate, I'm not giving ground on this after breaking down the game yesterday.

Since some only want to look at the final stats and be done with it, here are a few more depicting when the Dolphins got all those yards and first downs:

Screen shot 2011-09-14 at 9.36.39 AM.png

There's little doubt the Patriots screwed up the first drive. The Dolphins had a great script, the Patriots weren't ready and they got rocked.

Late in the fourth quarter, the coverage calls were relaxed -- they went from playing mostly tight man free (man coverage underneath one deep safety) to mixing in more zones -- because the game was really not as close as it appeared on the couches of worrywarts in New England. In the stadium, I never once thought, 'Man, they could be in trouble here.' The aim was to get the Dolphins to use time.

This is to say nothing of the fact that this is a new scheme after a lockout where the coaches are still trying to find the right combinations and rotated heavily along the DL, ILB, CB, and FS. And of the 14 defensive players to play the most snaps against the Dolphins, seven had missed substantial time in the preseason because of injury or were elevated up the depth chart: Ras-I Dowling, Leigh Bodden, Shaun Ellis, Josh Barrett, Dane Fletcher, Sergio Brown, and Mark Anderson.

And to put the 20 total quarterback pressures into context, that calculates to pressure on 37 percent of the snaps. The Patriots blitzed (five or more rushers) on 18.5 percent of the dropbacks.

Last year's top numbers:

Green Bay: 45.2 percent pressure. Blitzed 39.2 percent of the dropbacks.
Pittsburgh: 42.6 percent pressure. Blitzed 37.3 percent of the dropbacks.
Buffalo (first): 41.4 percent pressure. Blitzed 25.5 percent of the dropbacks.

The Patriots had only two pressures in the first 19 plays. They had 18 in the final 35 snaps.

The idea now, obviously, is to be able to bring more pressure with just four rushers so the Patriots can do more in coverage (which had three poor plays, two by Devin McCourty and one by Dowling). In the first game, that was a success for the Patriots -- though we'll have to see what happens down the road.

When I rewatch these games, I watch for individual execution on the assignment I'm guessing the players had. There truly wasn't a lot of poor play Monday night. The Dolphins just made some nice plays concentrated in certain periods of the game that, for the most part, didn't matter.

The Patriots made plays when they needed to.

And if you needed another opinion, ProFootballFocus.com watches the game in the same manner that I do. We don't look at the score, we look at individual performance on each snap.

Through 12 games evaluated, the Patriots' defense is second only to Cleveland in opening-week performance.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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