I know I’m killing a lot of my readers anytime I post something to do with the playoff game from January but I really find it’s the best game to evaluate the Pats from because it was all on the line.
In other games you weren’t sure if guys were being rested, or if there was some experimentation going on. We can judge a lot from this game, so today we’re looking at the first half third downs. Third down in a playoff game is where the real players show up and make plays. And where the scrubs get exposed.
3rd & 5: Incomplete pass. Player who made the play: Rob Ninkovich getting just enough pressure to force an overthrow by Sanchez. It’s not always sacks that matter, and as we saw with Cunningham on Peyton Manning, just getting an arm in the QBs face and forcing an uncomfortable throw can be huge.
3rd & 18: Run stopped short. Player who made the play: Vince Wilfork who blew up a screen on 2nd and 13 forcing the Jets to stay conservative with a run on 3rd down. Meriweather and Sanders with the 3rd down stop.
3rd & 5: Successful Conversion: Player who didn’t make the play: Darius Butler, allowing too much cushion to Jerricho Cotchery and was unable to make the stop short of the first down. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but how can you be in soft slot coverage on 3rd and 5? Doesn’t look like Butler was ready for the snap so props to the Jets for going with a quick count and not letting the Pats get set.
3rd & 6: Incomplete Pass: Player who made the play: Mark Sanchez, mostly an overthrow, he had the time, but Brandon Meriweather’s presence surely gave Dustin Keller pause.
3rd & 6: Successful conversion: Player who didn’t make the play: Darius Butler, who was beat by Braylon Edwards for the long completion. Pats only rushed 3 and had all their initial coverages, but Sanchez was able to get outside the pocket and find Braylon down the sidelines. That’s two 3rd down conversions on Butler who clearly must be having nightmares about Braylon all off-season.
3rd & 4: Conversion via Penalty: player who didn’t make the play: James Sanders, who almost got away with a savvy veteran pass interference. The Jets love this quick passes and nothing can be more frustrating. Tough play for Sanders but one that has to be made in a playoff game, especially when he was in the position he was in. Seemed like he knew it was coming, just got caught with PI on Holmes’ right arm.
3rd & 4: Pass Broken Up. Player who made the play: Devin McCourty, who fought off the same move Sanders faced with Holmes on the previous third down. The difference was McCourty’s physicality at the line of scrimmage, which threw Holmes’ rhythm enough that he couldn’t corral the quick pass from Sanchez.
3rd & 5: Keller stopped short. Player who made the play: Dane Fletcher, who’s sure tackling brought Keller down short of the first down. It’s plays like these that get me excited about Fletcher, coming through when it’s all on the line.
3rd & 5: Edwards TD. Player(s) who didn’t make the play: Devin McCourty (and somewhat Brandon Meriweather). For the third time on 3rd down the Jets go with a quick inside pass but this time Edwards is too strong for McCourty to stop. Braylon drags him and Meriweather into the end zone.
Some general notes on all these third down plays:
- Of the nine 3rd downs the Patriots faced, eight of them were four to six yards.
- I would not qualify a lack of pass of rush as responsible for any of the conversions unless you want to say they should’ve gotten Sanchez when they rushed three and he completed the long pass to Edwards. But when you’re dropping eight I’d have to put that more on the coverage.
- The quick three-step passing game was what the Jets went with most often since most of the third downs were short.
- The Jets converted on 4 of 9 third downs in the first half which is about 45%. A killer playoff defense would be holding them to about 30%. The Patriots season average was about 49% so you’re really not seeing those two extra plays you need to win in the playoffs.
We’ll put our second half third down defensive analysis up as soon as the video is posted.