Thursday, September 17, 2009

Two Thoughts On the Patriots/Jets Game

First let me talk about the Patriots' defense. A lot of people are rightly concerned about their defense after seeing the Buffalo Bills run up and down the field on them Monday night. I have to say I share their concern. Now unfortunately some kind of way my DVR went crazy on me so I don't have the advantage of having seen the game twice, but watching it live there were some obvious problems with what the Pats were trying to do. The biggest problem I see is that they are trying to have their defensive line play in their 4-3 just like they did in their 3-4, the interior linemen at least. That means both defensive tackles are two gapping instead of playing a one gap defense.

Now I am about to get in the weeds a little here but I will try to be clear about what I am trying to say. In a 3-4 defense part of the reason why the two defensive ends and nose tackle can two gap and get away with it is spacing. In general on early downs they are never more than a gap away from the each other presnap so after the snap even if they get blocked then they are still usually only a gap and a half away from the next guy. This makes it easier for the two middle linebackers to cover their backs. But when you have both defensive tackles trying to two gap in a 4-3 you pretty much start out with them being a gap and a half away from each other. Not only that but they also only have one middle linebacker now to cover for them. The reason the Bills were able to gash them on the run was because their linebackers had no clue which gaps would be open nor where their defensive tackles were going to fit. For that reason at times there were gaps that simply wet unfilled and the Bills running backs took advantage.

The most curious thing about this development to me was that I figured after the Patriots traded Richard Seymour that they would actually go back to playing a base 3-4. This was prior to the game of course and before Jerod Mayo got hurt but my thing is they now have one less top notch defensive lineman but they still are stocked at linebacker, why not go back to what you have been doing so well for years now? Not only that but with the Bills basically advertising all preseason that they would be in no huddle a lot this year it made more sense to me to have more linebackers in the game who would be in the kind of shape that it would take to go against a no huddle offense instead of having more defensive linemen.

Bill Belicheck obviously didn't see it that way as they stuck with their 4-3 for the first game. But I have to wonder if they might revert back now against a division opponent who has a top notch running game after seeing the results from Monday. I mean honestly, in my opinion, they only have two ways of fixing their run defense. Either they coach the defensive tackles to play in one gap even if they play heavy into the guards or go back to the 3-4 defense. I think going back to what gave them 3 Superbowl rings is probably the best way to go but again that's just my personal opinion.

The second thing I want to talk about is the Jets' blitzing defense against the Patriots passing offense. Now although Tom Brady put up big numbers on Monday, I was troubled by something that I noticed. And it wasn't him favoring his knee which Ron Jaworski seems to be obsessed with. No the thing that I noticed was something I also noticed at the tail end of the Patriots' Superbowl run and especially in the Superbowl. Tom Brady has lost some of his nerve.

What do I mean by that? Well if you go back and look at the early part of 2007, the year Brady shattered the NFL record with 50 passing touchdowns, he attacked defenses down the field with a vengence in every single game. Most of the time those throws went to Randy Moss and it did not matter if he was double covered or even in a few cases triple covered, Brady was going to give him a chance to make a play on the ball. The outcome was generally good because if there is one guy I would ever want in the NFL making a play on the ball in the air its Moss. However right before the playoffs started and during the playoffs culminating in the Superbowl loss, Brady seemed to revert back to textbook quarterback play where he started allowing the defense to dictate where he threw the ball.

Because what he is doing now is truly what coaches coach quarterbacks to do, not many commentators are going to end up saying anything about it. But in the process he is turning one of the most dynamic players in the game in Moss into not much more than a possession receiver. If I am a defensive coordinator I now know that if I show even a semblance of double coverage on Moss that Brad is going away from him. And that gives all the advantage in the world to secondary guys for the other team.

The Jets however are an agressive, nasty, blitzing team and that means they will be showing a lot of single high safety. I am sure the will still double Moss on occasion but they will do it with a whole lot of camoflauge. Ironically because of this the Jets may well find themselves on the wrong side of an asskicking. See the Bills had a pretty good scheme against the Patriots on Monday whereby no matter what they were doing they still made it look as if they had Moss doubled. So Brady just threw the ball underneath and didn't really take any shots down the field. But if the Jets have a gameplan similar to what they did against the Texans the are going to give Brady the green light to go up top early and often. And if they do all you are going to hear is "INCOMING!!!"

Now I know most commentators will focus on the way the blitzes will affect Brady and the offensive line but generally the teams that actually bother Brady are those who can rush with just a four man line. When teams bring blitzes he can usually identify which receiver will have a one on one match up or if he will be able to push it down field. So all I am saying is pay attention to the times the Jets blitz this week and how much Brady makes the play with a big play downfield to Moss. As an alternative he may go downtown to Joey Galloway too who will definitely end up with the better match up of cornerbacks usually when teams blitz and he still has the wheels to get open on the deep balls.

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