Extra Points

Patriots Take 2: How the Patriots Defense Made Peyton Manning's Life Miserable


Patriots fans have seen this script before. A talented, physical secondary got the best of Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning on Sunday, and the Patriots rolled to a 43-21 victory.

Statistically, it was Manning's worst game of the season. He gained 438 passing yards, his second-highest total of the season, but the 80.9 passer rating he earned as a result of his two interceptions and his sub-60 percent completion rateóthe first time he's fallen below that number this season.

The Patriots secondary did what it was brought to New England to do: they got aggressive with the Broncos receivers at the line of scrimmage and played a diverse mix of coverages that kept Manning and his receivers guessing and frustrated all night.

Here's one last look back at how the Patriots secondary made Manning's life difficult on Sunday.

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Under Pressure

Here's our customary weekly look at the offensive and defensive pressure statistics for the game:

Offense (54 total pass snaps):

Nate Solder: 54 pass-block snaps; 1 hurry; 1 hit
Dan Connolly: 54 pass-block snaps; 2 hurries
Bryan Stork: 54 pass-block snaps; 1 hurry; 1 hit
Ryan Wendell: 54 pass-block snaps; 1 hurry; 1 hit
Sebastian Vollmer: 54 pass-block snaps; 3 hurries; 2 hits; 1 sack
Rob Gronkowski: 12 pass-block snaps; 0 hurries
Shane Vereen: 10 pass-block snaps; 0 hurries
Michael Hoomanawanui: 6 pass-block snaps; 0 hurries
James Develin: 5 pass-block snaps; 0 hurries
Tim Wright: 3 pass-block snaps; 0 hurries
Jonas Gray: 3 pass-block snaps; 0 hurries

In all, Brady was pressured on 13 separate plays (8 hurries; 4 hits; 1 sack). There were two plays where multiple blockers allowed pressure, and one play where an unblocked defender came through (defensive tackle Terrence Knighton at 12:37 in the second quarter).

For the first time all season, the Patriots' starting offensive line played every snap together. The group appeared to be mostly in sync, and all five men were communicating with each other on the field.

The Broncos defense, however, did not make life very difficult for the Patriots offensive line. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio called almost exclusively straight rushes. They blitzed seven times, by my count, but most of their rushes were straight ahead. They didn't attempt any stunts to try to create confusion on the interior of the Patriots offensive line, as other teams had tried to do earlier in the season.

Sebastian Vollmer's struggles were mainly while lined up against DeMarcus Ware (1 hurry, 1 sack) and Von Miller (2 hurries). Those are some of the best pass-rushers he will face this season.

Defense (59 total pass snaps):

Rob Ninkovich: 47 pass-rush snaps; 3 hurries
Vince Wilfork: 45 pass-rush snaps; 0 hurries
Akeem Ayers: 44 pass-rush snaps; 2 hurries; 1 sack
Chris Jones: 32 pass-rush snaps; 1 hit
Dominique Easley: 24 pass-rush snaps; 1 hurry
Dont'a Hightower: 12 pass-rush snaps; 4 hurries
Jamie Collins: 12 pass-rush snaps; 4 hurries
Casey Walker: 10 pass-rush snaps; 0 hurries
Alan Branch: 9 pass-rush snaps; 0 hurries
Kyle Arrington: 1 pass-rush snap; 0 hurries

In total, Manning was pressured 15 times (13 hurries; 1 hit; 1 sack).

This is Akeem Ayers' second-straight game with two hurries and a sack, bringing his total to six pressures on 61 pass-rush attempts this season.

Unlike the Broncos, the Patriots used a nice mix of linebacker pressures, as well as end-tackle twists (with a defensive tackle rushing one direction while a defensive end loops behind him in the opposite direction). Ayers (circled in red) looped behind defensive tackle Vince Wilfork on his second-quarter sack of Manning.

There were also some linebacker pressures to force Manning off his spot and take away the middle of the pocket, preventing him from stepping into his throws. Jamie Collins (circled in red) rushed through the B-gap between the right guard and right tackle on 3rd-and-goal with 11:28 remaining in the fourth quarter, generating pressure on Manning up the middle.

Diverse Coverage Scheme, Physicality To Thank For Success Vs. Manning

The Patriots played a nice mix of man and zone coverage against Manning, switching up their looks from series to series and sometimes play to play.

Darrelle Revis sometimes locked up in man coverage on Demaryius Thomas, and other times lined up exclusively on one side of the field. Brandon Browner lined up on the boundary, in the slot, and even at linebacker. Patrick Chung played deep zone as a safety on some plays, but also played man coverage in the slot and even on the outside.

Chung (circled in red) had excellent coverage on Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker in the slot on 1st-and-10 with 4:12 remaining in the first quarter. Welker never got a clean release off the line, and when he got into his route, Chung was right there in his hip pocket to break up the pass.

What a difference a year has made for Chung; he looks like a whole different player than he was in his last go-around in New England. He's been exceptional against the run, but much-improved in coverage as well.

Brandon Browner was the king of physical cornerback play on Sunday, as evidenced by his penalties for defensive holding and pass interference. However, when he wasn't getting flagged, his coverage was usually very sound.

You need a corner to play with that level of aggressiveness and that kind of confidence against Manning, and Browner brought his A-game.

One thing we hear a lot about in regards to Manning is disguising coverage. That's how defensive end/outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich was able to intercept Manning with 13:42 remaining in the second quarter. The Patriots front six crowded the line of scrimmage; Hightower and Ninkovich were near the line, with the former in the A-gap and the latter lined up in a two-point stance on the defensive left side.

Both men dropped into coverage, leaving a four-man rush. Manning went for a throw he had been hitting repeatedly, the crossing pattern from the left to the right. Ninkovich dropped into coverage in the spot where Manning was looking, though, gift-wrapping the interception.

A mix of coverage, a physical style of play, and recognition and adjustments to Manning's tendencies allowed the secondary to have one of its best performances yet in one of their biggest games of the season.