Iron Sharpens Iron: Will Revis' biggest impact for Pats be on Brady?
There’s no secret that the New England Patriots defense hasn’t been stellar in recent years.
They’ve certainly had their moments - 2011’s squad with a healthy Andre Carter and Mark Anderson generating the kind of pass rush the Pats have lacked since the late-2000’s. And in 2012/2013, Aqib Talib gave them their first shutdown man-to-man corner since Ty Law.
But the sum of those parts never quite added up to a top-10 defensive unit, usually due in part to injuries. They flash at times, but most often the Patriots won in spite of their defense, not because of them.
I’ve often joked that Tom Brady and the offense must just march up and down the field on the Patriots defense in practice. Especially when you consider the things the Pats defense wasn’t good at - defending the middle of the field, stopping tight ends and running backs - are very much the strengths of the Pats offense in recent years.
But this year the reports out of camp are that the defense is challenging Brady in a way not seen in a long time in Foxboro.
There’s been plenty of speculation of what the acquisitions of Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis, along with the maturation of various other young pieces like Chandler Jones, Devin McCourty and Dont’a Hightower, will mean for the Pats’ competition. But their biggest impact might be for the Patriots offense.
We wrote about it earlier this week and there’s little debate that Brady hasn’t quite had his best outings against the better defenses in the playoffs the last few years.
Could it be that the Patriots defense just hasn’t been able to provide enough of a challenge lately to force Brady to the absolute top of his game?
He certainly was pushed by the veteran dynasty defense in the early-2000’s, so perhaps this could result in more performances like we saw out of Brady in 2004’s AFC Championship, when he cut through a very tough Steelers defense in Pittsburgh like warm butter.
It might be a stretch, but early in camp it’s apparent that Brady hasn’t seen this kind of consistent challenge in practice day after day in a long time.
Perhaps this is just what Brady and the Pats need to get over the hump against the best defenses.
Kind of a poor throw by Brady, he looked off his intended receiver but Revis read it all the way. Brady was off balance and partially affected by Wilfork getting some late disruption past Wendell.
It’s still sinking in the kind of player Revis is and that I will actually be able to root for him. I always enjoyed watching his tape even when he was on the Jets (gasp!). He’s special and no matter how long he’s in New England it will be fun.
Regrouping after one week of Patriots training camp
We’re one week into training camp for the New England Patriots, and just one week away from their first preseason game, so it’s time to take a look at what we’ve learned so far about this edition of the Pats.
It’s hard not to be excited, especially on the defensive side of the ball, where the Pats are as healthy as we could’ve hoped headed into camp. Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly and Will Smith, all coming off major injuries, appear to be on track for the start of the season.
On the back end, the secondary has been as expected with Revis and Browner leading the way. Browner’s attitude and Revis’ high level of play have already seemed to bring a new swagger to the Pats defense that has been missing for a long time.
We’re now a full week into training camp and the team has had five-straight practices in pads (though the intensity was a little dialed back today per reports). We’ll have some general thoughts about what we’ve heard and learned in this first week later today.
For now, here are some tweets that stood out about today’s practice.
Top plays: Ryan Mallett long bomb TD to Shane Vereen (CB Justin Green in coverage), Tom Brady to Julian Edelman connection up right sideline
Do you think Wendell is out of the center battle, it seems as if it's going to stork or connolly(of courts it's very early)
I think at this point you can’t read too much into any of it. They’re moving guys around, giving them reps at various spots to show what they can do. The thing I look at most is who is getting the reps, especially in the 1-v-1’s. Not so much how they do, but the guys who get the most reps are the ones who are auditioning.
But as I’ve said many times this offseason, Connolly’s advantage is he can play guard or center. Wendell is only a center. But Connolly also has a sizable salary that is a consideration on him as well.
It’s tough to say how it will all fit together, and certainly if Stork’s injury is significant it becomes less and less likely that he’s going to win the starting center spot out of camp. Every rep for him was vital and each day that goes by without him is a setback.
I don’t think we can look past Josh Kline either, he’s stood out in 1-v-1’s. And then you have Marcus Cannon who could probably play four of the five OL positions.
We’re not even a week into camp, there’s still a lot that can and will happen.
Good read from Chris Price on the work some of the DBs put in this offseason in Arizona. I think it’s going to give me a headache trying to analyze and keep track how everything in the secondary plays out from game to game this year. Lots of mixing and matching I think.
“I think the key to it is not so much how people get here but what they do when they’re here, whether that’s a draft choice or a trade or a free agent or whatever it is. We’ve had successful and unsuccessful examples in all those different categories. The past isn’t necessarily a predictor to the future. The future is now. Some guys have good years and then some guys have not so good years and that may fluctuate from year to year. I don’t think there’s any way to really predict that until you see it. Our philosophy has always been to put them out there, let them compete and we can’t control how the competition is going to go, nor do we want to, but the best players are going to get more opportunity than the ones that don’t perform as well.”—Bill Belichick 7/30: “This is where we build our fundamentals”
“Jamie Collins broke up a pair of pass attempts for Stevan Ridley during 1-on-1s. These drills heavily favor the offense, and Collins made a play on both reps. Collins also broke up a Tom Brady bid for tight end D.J. Williams in 7-on-7s. He has been their best coverage linebacker throughout the spring and summer, and it’s not even close.”—
I think something that is being overlooked when it comes to the offense is how productive it was last year( 3rd in points which really says something and 7th in yards) given everything that happen (gronk,below average blocking and rookie receivers)
Well it certainly hasn’t been overlooked here. Despite a dip in his numbers I think 2013 was one of Brady’s most impressive years. They certainly had their struggles early in the year, especially against the Jets in Week Two and the loss to the Bengals.
But look at the chart below and I think it reiterates how potent this offense is no matter who their weapons are.
i'm sure this has been said before somewhere but even then its worth repeating because its just so exciting but can browner basically be used like an anti-TE weapon a la Talib on Gonzalez?
I’m skeptical about this. Maybe when tight ends are split out wide but I don’t think we’ll see Browner following a Jimmy Graham type all over the formation to cover him.
Why? Because I think Browner’s strength is clearly using his size to disrupt receivers at the line, but if they get by him he struggles chasing. This is compounded if he’s forced to cover someone inside the middle of the formation because he can’t use the sideline to his advantage.
What I’m more curious about is whether they use Browner against bigger receivers like Calvin Johnson or AJ Green this year instead of Revis (as many might expect). Browner would need over the top help but with Revis effectively eliminated any number two receiver on the other side giving a safety to Browner wouldn’t be detrimental.
As for tight ends, I think you’ll see a lot of Jamie Collins on them. Some Hightower too, especially to disrupt at the line. Or perhaps even Revis, though I don’t think the Pats play a team this year where the tight end is as crucial to the offense as Graham was to the Saints last year.
They’ve been at it for just about a week and you can tell tempers are growing short out there. We’re just eight days away from the first preseason game so we can expect to start seeing things take shape to get them ready to play.
ridley and white are different players but I get the feeling ridley's snaps are whites for the taking. both ridley and vereen seem to do so much better when they are used as compliments to each other. glad to hear so much about white who could potentially be a healthy shane vereen. still kinda ticked that woodhead left for SD where he caught 76 passes, but this could be so much fun seeing vereen and white zipping past out of breath linebackers.
I don’t want to undersell Ridley or Vereen’s potential this season. I know I usually can’t write about them without mentioning their respective issues, but I don’t think it’s impossible that both turn in full seasons and finally find some consistency/health.
But it’s always good to have a third option and I think White will develop into a great threat to compliment the group. With Brandon Bolden falling behind already (according to a few reports his reps have diminished) it also opens the door for Stephen Houston. Roy Finch too.
And I’m with you on Woodhead. That’s one I’d like back and it doesn’t sound like the Pats had much interest in retaining him. I think the Pats just liked Vereen’s potential more.
Regardless of how it all plays out, the Pats have some intriguing options in the backfield. And next year Tyler Gaffney would be a fine potential Ridley replacement if he walks.
Will be very curious to see what the backfield looks like in 2015.
Mike D. note - Thanks to Cody Lachance (@HailtotheHoodie) for this report from training camp. His defensive report can be found here.
If there was one main takeaway from this weekend, it was that the Patriots look like they can really commit to a power running style offense where they can control the overall pace of game.
If Ridley can hold onto the ball and have some additional help from either White or Finch, the running back by committee technique could lead to the Patriots being one of the best running teams in the NFL.
The offensive line is big and physical and as we saw at the end of last year, they take pride in playing in an aggressive, running style of offense. This will only help preserve the health and efficiency of Tom Brady. By having Brady throw the ball around 30 times a game versus in the 45-50 range, opposing pass rushers won’t have as many chances at him as they have had in previous years. If the Patriots can commit to a run game early in games and make teams stack the box against Brady, he’ll be able to terrorize them in the passing game by picking apart one-on-one coverage to his top receivers like Edelman and Gronkowski.
“Receiver Julian Edelman put on a show with a one-handed/one-arm highlight reel catch on a fade pass in the end zone, and maybe that explains why he was all smiles after practice. Seems like a good time to point out that Edelman, who led the team with 105 catches in 2013, has put together a strong camp as Tom Brady’s go-to guy.”—Patriots Camp Report: Day 6 - New England Patriots Blog - ESPN Boston
The defensive front fielded a line that included Rob Ninkovich, Smith, Chris Jones and Chandler Jones at one point. That could certainly be an interesting group of pass rushers to throw at an offensive line.
Ninkovich has taken a lot of reps standing on two feet in various sets and schemes to open camp. He does a lot of bumping and re-routing in those looks.
Innnnnteresting. Still can’t wait to see how Easley is integrated into these pass rush fronts.
“[R]ookie Bryan Stork (fourth round, Florida State) walked off with a member of the athletic training staff midway through the practice after the team had been working on a run-game drill. Stork did not participate in the rest of practice, leaving the majority of reps to incumbent Ryan Wendell. His status now becomes an important storyline to monitor as it relates to one of the top competitions on the roster.”—
Ugh, Stork fanboy #1 (aka me) is not happy with this development.
Mike D. note - Thanks to Cody Lachance (@HailtotheHoodie) for this report from training camp.
Saturday and Sunday marked the first time that the Patriots got to put their pads on and make some noise. I was fortunate enough to attend Saturday and Sunday’s practice sessions and I had many takeaways from the practice sessions. Today’s edition will focus on the defensive side of the ball.
How much is Tom Brady to blame for the Patriots' recent playoff struggles? Since the 2009 postseason--outside of Super Bowl 46 and three other games--Brady has been either bad (all 3 games vs. the Ravens) or mediocre (vs. Jets, vs. Broncos) in the playoffs.
Been in a couple twitter conversations about this lately so let’s dive in.
First, it’s important to note that in the playoffs you’re playing against the best teams and often the best defenses. So we have to adjust our expectations and I think the important question to ask is “Did Brady give his team a chance to win?”
Let’s remember he threw exactly ONE touchdown in 2001’s march to the Super Bowl in three games.
Brady was clearly not at his best in the 2011 and 2012 playoff games against Baltimore. But again, let’s remember we’re talking about arguably the best defense in the NFL, or at least the AFC, during that time.
So do we blame Brady for not torching them? He was still 1-1 in those two games and really, the 2012 was a total Patriots beatdown in the second half. The defense couldn’t get off the field so it’s hard to pin it all on Brady in that one.
Similarly in the two Super Bowl losses, Brady led his offense down the field to take a late lead (against defenses that were playing very well I might add) only it was the lack of that final defensive stop that lost the championship for him.
Can we really say Brady was in large part responsible for any of the playoff losses? Maybe he wasn’t at his best, but we never saw critical turnovers or a complete meltdown in any of them by Brady.
And really let’s be honest, the Patriots defense in recent years hasn’t exactly been on fire in the playoff losses either. In their last four playoff exits the defense has forced ZERO turnovers. That leaves little margin for error on offense, especially when you consider how much this team thrives on forcing turnovers.
So in those playoff losses Brady hasn’t gotten much help either.
Ultimately this is a team game, so it’s hard single out one player, even the quarterback, and assign a percentage of the blame. There are a number of factors that go in to evaluating an individual performance.
It’s not so easy to say Brady didn’t shred team X in the playoffs like he often shreds teams in the regular season so it’s his fault they didn’t win.
He’s always prepared, he doesn’t make critical mistakes and he will fight down to the end. I’ll take Brady in a playoff game any day. And if he gets the right support from the rest of his team, he’s just about unbeatable.
“Some highlights from the 1-on-1 pass-rush drills included a slick outside-inside double-move by defensive end Jake Bequette rushing against left tackle Nate Solder, and a nice pancake block by Sebastian Vollmer against Rob Ninkovich.”—
Bequette has been showing up early in camp with an expanded pass rush repertoire. He was a wide-9 speed rusher in college, but pass rushing in the pros is an artform that takes a variety of moves and the patience to set them up over the course of a game. Still think Bequette has to be essentially unblockable in the preseason to win another roster spot, but he’s showing some signs of hope.
The pads are back on after the team was off from practice yesterday and it sounds like the intensity is starting to pick up. Edelman is having a strong camp, clearly picking up where he left off last year. Nice to see Brandon LaFell make a nice play today after getting off to a slow start last week.
Brandon LaFell just made a ridiculous catch during 7v7s while being double covered (granted it was Butler and Ebner)
“I’ve played against Darrelle for a lot of years, playing him two times a year with the Jets for a long time, so I know the kind of competitor he is. Having him in practice every day makes all of our guys better because they’re seeing the best, a guy that competes every play in the run game and pass game, on every route. He gets pissed off like I do when a ball gets caught on him. So it’s a nice little competition every day. You’re trying to get the best out of each other.”—
“The motivating force on this side of the ball seems to be last season’s AFC title-game loss to the Broncos (New England gave up 400 passing yards and 507 total yards). Players have put the game behind them, but the aftershocks seem to be driving this defense. The starters are challenging the Brady-led offense on every snap in practice and they are getting their fair share of turnovers via interception.”—
Great read from Pat Kirwan, always enjoy getting his firsthand view of the Pats.
“With the Patriots practicing in full pads the last two days, fullback James Develin’s hard-charging, lead-blocking presence has been hard to miss. Develin, who graduated from the practice squad to the active roster in 2013, brings an attitude to the running game and was praised by personnel director Nick Caserio for having a “great offseason.” Ridley also pointed to Develin when asked about the overall running back group. “Not to single out one guy, but James has come in and done an awesome job,” he said.”—New England Patriots Camp Report: Day 4 - ESPN Boston
“Overall, the play of Browner and Darrelle Revis has been one of the top early storylines of camp. On Saturday, Revis intercepted two Tom Brady passes and broke up two others. On Sunday, it was Browner establishing a physical edge that reminded us of when safety Rodney Harrison was creating physical havoc in his first year with the team. The Patriots’ defense has been practicing with a bit of an edge, and Revis and Browner are a big part of it.”—New England Patriots Camp Report: Day 4 - ESPN Boston
Chris Price has picked up the mantle of best Sunday notes column and this one has a really interesting nugget about Adrian Wilson’s injury problems last year. They were far more severe than anyone knew.
What has belichick done that past few years that shows/tells you he is still one of the best defensive geniuses in football history despite having average defenses
Well his teams have been in the conference championship or Super Bowl in each of the last three years so for all the talk of how terrible the Pats defense has been, I think that’s what matter most - winning games, being within striking distance of the Super Bowl every season.
I’ve focused on the defense heavily since 2008. It was in great part the impetus for starting this blog. I wanted to study how Belichick would rebuild the defense that inevitably had to turnover.
There’s no question the Pats had their missteps in the rebuild which was complicated by drafts that really didn’t have a lot of talent from 2007-2009.
I also think the Pats didn’t quite put enough value on pass rushers until recently. That’s why I loved the pick of Easley in the first round. That pick alone shows how Belichick’s thinking has evolved since last decade.
If the Pats win another Super Bowl, I think Chandler Jones and Easley will be two big keys. It took a long time to get two players like them and I think they might’ve been a little too picky trying to find defensive ends and pass-rushing defensive tackles.
It’s strange to criticize the Pats about being behind the curve, but their focus on corners like Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite were missteps that didn’t fit the evolution of football where the value of playing physical man defense continued to rise as quarterbacks got better. It became a lot harder to win with smart guys who could pattern read and play sound “bend-don’t-break” defense.
I also look at defensive tackle as a spot where they were a little behind the curve, or maybe a better way to put it is that it just became too easy to overuse Vince Wilfork.
The guys who played next to Wilfork since 2009 just haven’t been good enough and that a significant spot in your front seven. Guys like Kyle Love, Brandon Deaderick, Ron Brace, etc. were just okay at best. Gerard Warren was the closest thing we had to a good compliment to Wilfork and he was at the end of the line.
Still, despite bad drafts and a defensive rebuild that took far longer than I thought it would, the Pats have been in the thick of it every year. That’s the testament of how good a coach BB is. Look at 2010’s defense and how many yards they gave up and explain how they went 14-2. It can’t make sense on paper.
How many coaches/GMs get a chance to rebuild a defense essentially from scratch? Not many have the longevity needed to do it, so we have to realize that BB was somewhat on new ground in the modern NFL era.
He’s one of the greatest coaches of all time but that doesn’t mean he’s perfect. He’s made mistakes, but in spite of them the Pats just keep on winning.
What are 5 things you have heard or seen from camp that gives you hope for the season
1. Revis dominating on Saturday.
2. Thompkins continuing to make plays. How great it is for him to be able to go up against Revis et al every day.
3. The general health of the injured guys - Wilfork, Gronk, Kelly all back. Mayo/Vollmer showing no ill effects from their season-enders last year.
4. Running back depth. Sounds like the young guys are getting heavy looks which is expected.
5. Second-year guys taking steps forward. Jamie Collins really looks like a beast with a year in New England’s training program under his belt. Him, Duron Harmon, Thompkins and, at some point, Dobson need to take steps forward.
I think it’s important not to read too much into every little detail at camp at this point. Guys are getting up to speed. Probably most revealing as we go along will be who is getting the majority of the reps. At the very least, those are the guys they want to get the most looks at and give them a chance to win a job.
So when you hear about veterans like Brandon Bolden seeing less and less touches, that’s not a great sign.
“Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, in his first contact since rupturing his Achilles last September, gave a “yes sir” as he exited the field when asked if the Achilles responded well. There seemed to be an easing-in process for Wilfork in run-game drills, as he is adjusting to having some bodies falling in front of him. He was a full participant in the practice, taking another important step in his recovery.”—New England Patriots Camp Report: Day 3 - ESPN Boston