Extra Points

Patriots Take 2: How Can the Patriots Fix Their Problems In Run Defense?

Barry Chin/The Boston Globe

The New England Patriots are on a three-game winning streak, but not all is right in Foxborough.

The sky may no longer be falling, but the Patriots' future is foggy with some of the problems that continue to show up front on both sides of the ball.

The Patriots' defense generated pressure at will, but the New York Jets still ran the ball 43 times for 218 yards. The Jets' defense held the Patriots to only 63 rushing yards on 15 carries, and pushed the Patriots' offensive line around a little in the passing game.

As usual, the Patriots have probably already turned the page and are on to the Chicago Bears, but to borrow a quote from 3 Doors Down, how can they know where they're going if they don't know where they've been? So, let's take a look back at their narrow victory over the Jets to see what we can learn.

Continue Reading Below

Under Pressure:

Offense (37 total pass snaps):

Jordan Devey: 37 pass-block snaps; 1 hurry; 2 hits
Ryan Wendell: 37 pass-block snaps; 2 hurries
Josh Kline: 37 pass-block snaps; 2 hurries; 2 hits
Nate Solder: 35 pass-block snaps; 2 hurries
Sebastian Vollmer: 34 pass-block snaps; 2 hurries
Marcus Cannon: 5 pass-block snaps; 3 hurries
Jonas Gray: 5 pass-block snaps; 1 hit
Shane Vereen: 5 pass-block snaps; 1 hurry
Rob Gronkowski: 3 pass-block snaps; 0 hurries
James Develin: 3 pass-block snaps; 0 hurries
Michael Hoomanawanui: 2 pass-block snaps; 0 hurries

In total, Tom Brady was pressured 18 times (11 hurries; 7 hits).

The pass protection looked much better in the middle on an initial glance than it did after further review, but Jets defensive tackles Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson accounted for eight of those 18 pressures (three for Richardson, five for Wilkerson), and are among two of the best interior pass-rushers in the game.

Richardson got the best of right guard Josh Kline on 1st-and-10 with 36 seconds left in the second quarter. Richardson's right arm reaches up and over Kline like a swim stroke (swim move), which prevents Kline from getting any contact with him at the line of scrimmage.

The pressure didn't completely ruin this play, but it looks like Brady wanted to wait on this pass just a little longer before throwing. Unfortunately, he didn't have that option.

The pressure by Wilkerson, however, completely ruined the play on one of Brady's last pass attempts of the game. Wilkerson rushed to his right, with the Patriots' offensive line sliding protection to the left side of the defense. That put left guard Jordan Devey in a precarious position — moving one way while Wilkerson rushed another way.

Wilkerson was able to keep Devey's hands at bay with a club arm, and kept pushing his way through the contact to get a hit on Brady.

Teams that are going to give the Patriots problems in the future are the ones who can get a good push up the middle. But I'm not telling you anything you didn't already know.

Defense (42 total pass snaps):

Chandler Jones: 39 pass-rush snaps; 5 hurries; 1 sack
Rob Ninkovich: 37 pass-rush snaps; 5 hurries
Vince Wilfork: 24 pass-rush snaps; 1 hurry
Chris Jones: 18 pass-rush snaps; 3 hurries; 2 hits
Casey Walker: 17 pass-rush snaps; 2 hurries; 1 sack
Dominique Easley: 16 pass-rush snaps; 2 hurries
Zach Moore: 11 pass-rush snaps; 2 hurries
Dont'a Hightower: 10 pass-rush snaps; 1 hurry; 1 sack
Jamie Collins: 6 pass-rush snaps; 0 hurries
Patrick Chung: 2 pass-rush snaps; 1 hit
Alfonzo Dennard: 2 pass-rush snaps; 0 hurries

In total, the Patriots logged 22 pressures (16 hurries; 3 hits; 3 sacks). At a rate of over 50 percent, it's fair to say the Patriots were in the backfield early and often.

In truth, the pressure wasn't always beneficial. Some of it led to Geno Smith's scrambles (7 rushes for 37 yards), with defenders losing gap containment when they got into the backfield.

Rob Ninkovich got pressure on 3rd-and-5 with 3:30 remaining in the second quarter, but it wasn't enough to stop Smith from scrambling five yards and picking up the first down anyway.

It's a fine line to walk for a defense, between either generating pressure and forcing the issue in the passing game or keeping the quarterback in the backfield.

Run Over:

Once again, the Patriots' front seven had more holes than Swiss cheese in the running game. The Jets exposed those holes early and often to the tune of the 43 rush attempts and 218 rushing yards.

Some of those holes were by design, others were man-made by the Jets' offensive line, others still were a product of the Patriots' own technique problems.

First, we'll look at one with holes by design. The Patriots' defense came out in a nickel front on 1st-and-10 with 2:54 remaining in the first quarter. The Jets were in the 11 personnel grouping (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers) with Smith in the shotgun.

Notice the spacing in the Patriots' front. With the area between linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower, and up front between Vince Wilfork and Casey Walker, the Patriots appear to be inviting a run up the middle. That's one of the flaws in a two-gap scheme like the Patriots run. The defensive tackles are responsible for the gaps on either side of them.

Walker was unable to shed the block of left guard Oday Aboushi before Ivory got through the line. Center Nick Mangold helped right guard Willie Colon with a slight chip on Wilfork before he got out to the second level to block Collins. Left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson did just enough to block Hightower to prevent him from getting to the play after a short gain, and instead, Ivory was able to build a head of steam and picked up extra yards.

Some of the holes in the Patriots' front were a result of overpursuit. The Patriots have had some problems with overpursuit in the past, and Ninkovich was the culprit on 2nd-and-3 with 13:49 left in the third quarter.

At the snap, Ninkovich was lined up at the nine-technique (outside shade on the tight end). Instead of maintaining his responsibility on the outside, he crashes inside to help stop what he reads as an inside run. However, his aggressiveness left him out of position when Ivory jump-cut the run to the outside, leaving Collins as the only one with a prayer of stopping Ivory. The play was finally stopped when Collins jumps to Ninkovich's gap and then turns back upfield to chase him down.

Let's not take credit away from the Jets, who also did a nice job up front of blocking the Patriots' defensive front out of the picture.

Chris Johnson picked up 15 yards on 2nd-and-4 with 3:27 left in the fourth quarter. Aboushi helps Mangold chip Wilfork at the line, and then releases out to the second level to block Hightower. Meanwhile, on the edge, Ferguson blocks Chandler Jones (circled in yellow) to the ground. With a nice block on the outside by wide receiver T.J. Graham (number 10) along with a nice edge-setting block by tight end Jace Amaro (number 88) on Patrick Chung, Johnson barely had to break stride to pick up big yards.

This game marked the third time this season which the Patriots have yielded more than 190 rushing yards to their opponent. There is no magic wand the Patriots can wave to fix their run defense, and clearly, these issues run much deeper than simply the loss of Jerod Mayo.

This could be a season-long process of guys playing with better technique, more discipline in the gaps, and better play-calling by the coaching staff.

The Anatomy of a Blocked Field Goal:

By now, the whole world knows that the Patriots won on a blocked field goal, and that defensive tackle Chris Jones was the one who blocked it.

But how did he do it?

block 1.png

As usual, it all starts pre-snap — and no, I'm not talking about an official helping to prevent Hightower from committing a penalty. The interior linemen on the special teams unit started spread out, but bunched together before the ball was snapped so that Wilfork and Nate Solder (circled in black) were in between gaps in the Jets' line, while Walker and Jones (circled in yellow) were aligned directly in front of their men.

block 2.png

On the initial push, Wilfork got past his blocker and appeared to be the one in the best position to block the field goal. Jones, meanwhile, was being held back by the long snapper with an assist from the guard next to him.

block 4.png

There's no science or X's and O's to this; Jones simply reached higher than anyone else in a Patriots' uniform.

Had this ball been kicked any further to the right, it would have probably made it past the line and through the uprights. But Jones got more ups than most men his size, reached his arm as high as he could, and heard the "PING!" of success. The fact that he was able to make this leap while being blocked by two Jets linemen at the same time, makes it all the more spectacular.