Finally got to take a look at the All-22 after it posted a day late on Game Rewind and I started with the defense. Not a whole lot was revealed but some things were certainly reinforced.
First, a lot of the focus on the “new” 34 defense has focused on Chandler Jones but other than keeping him from pass drops I didn’t see a ton different than what he was doing last year schematically. He certainly did not have a great game, but I disagree with those who think he was being asked to play the Richard Seymour two-gap role.
34 or 43 or 25 doesn’t really tell you much anyway, it’s more important to see which guys are covering which gaps and I didn’t see Chandler two-gapping much at all, now he’s just being asked to face the tackle consistently like he would be in a run of the mill 43. I went back and looked at last year’s game in Miami to compare and the schematic changes as far as he was concerned were not monumental. It seems they wanted to avoid dropping him into coverage, at least in this one.
I think there hasn’t been enough commentary on WHY the Pats went with the front that they did, and where the real changes happened were with Ninkovich, Hightower, Mayo and Collins.
Collins playing strongside inside linebacker is a tough fit. He’s great in space, but coming downhill to make tackles does not seem to be his specialty and it’s one of the big risks of letting Spikes go. Essentially Collins is the anti-Spikes on the field in both the positive and negative ways. He needs to be better getting off blocks as well. Mayo isn’t much better coming downhill through traffic.
What we’re not seeing from this odd front is “building the wall” as they used to put it, to let the LBs run free. The nose is two-gapping, but the linebackers and defensive ends are keeping single gap responsibility with the help of the strong safety.
Might be too early to say this for sure, but it would seem there’s an effort to get Hightower out there more than Ninkovich. And I really thought Hightower had a good game outside of a few bad plays. As much as we’ve all come to love Ninkovich it’s not that hard to believe that Hightower has the higher ceiling. But who knows, things could change up and have Ninkovich not coming off the field. Certainly could happen with Adrian Peterson on tap.
Vellano is overmatched and the sooner he’s replaced by any of the other DL the better. I think a four-man rotation of Wilfork-Siliga-Jones-Easley is fine for inside.
Again I liked what I saw out of Easley. Good explosion and had some drive even when double teamed. There weren’t many third-and-longs in this one, but once the defense starts tackling on first and second down, then I think we’ll really see some special stuff from Easley.
Wilfork had some really solid plays and I continue to be amazed by how quickly he’s still getting off the ball. With some experience and a better rotation this season, he should be effective for a full 60 minutes.
As I’ve said a few times in the last few days, the mistakes of missed tackles just added up. Multiple times they had plays sniffed out in the backfield only to let the running back slip away and gain at least four yards. Wrap up, make those tackles, and it’s a totally different game. This kind of performance is not entirely shocking given all the elements in this one — weather, conditioning, lack of tackling/full pads in practice now, first game of the year against a divisional opponent.
My biggest concerns are Collins and Mayo on the inside and getting Vellano out of there. Otherwise it’s just about making the plays that they’re already in position to make.