I’m not banging any defensive drums too loudly after the Tannehill, Cassel, Carr gauntlet, still in years past it didn’t really matter who the QB was. Now they just need to keep improving on third down — the other primary weakness of this defense.

2013: 55 20-plus (11th), 9 40-plus (15th)
2012: 74 20-plus (1st), 8 40-plus (14th)
2011: 79 20-plus (1st), 9 40-plus (17th)
2010: 55 20-plus (7th), 4 40-plus (30th)

Patriots vs. Dolphins All-22 Thoughts - Defense Edition

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.

I feel obligated to post any defensive scheme article even if it’s kind of missing the forest for the trees. When I started writing about football it was the defensive schematics that really interested me. Watching how Bill Belichick would rebuild his defense post-2007 was a huge impetus for me to follow and study the team.

Now, seven years later, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what Belichick does on defense. Around 2011 I realized that 3-4 or 4-3 is not really that big of a deal.

Here’s the simple facts…

1. From 2000 to 2009 the Patriots spent a good chunk of their defensive snaps in the Fairbanks-Bullough 3-4 defense. This 3-4 is a “read-and-react” defense, where the front three “build a wall” by two-gapping and allow the linebackers to make plays. (There are 3-4s like Wade Phillips’ and Dick LeBeau’s that are more “attacking”.)

2. As the game evolved, and passing offenses became more prevalent, the amount of time the Patriots spent in the 3-4 decreased. The pure Fairbanks-Bullough version of it slowly became a specialty package to stop the run. Since 2010 the Patriots are in “sub” defense, with five or more DBs, around 60-65% of the time.

In 2011, due to the lockout, there was limited time to teach the 3-4 defense, so Belichick just used the nickel front (which of course looks like a 4-3) as his teaching defense since that is what they would be in a majority of the snaps anyway.

3. However, the 3-4 remains Belichick’s teaching defense. So it’s what the Pats run in the preseason and training camp to help teach communication and responsibilities. The preseason defensive game plan is as vanilla as it can get, so seeing them in a 3-4 in the summer means little as to what we’re going to get in the fall.

4. The Pats will still run a 3-4 defense but it bears little resemblance to the Fairbanks-Bullough version. Instead of the three down linemen two-gapping, we now have a combination of guys playing single and double gaps. Read this article for more on this.

5. This current “base” defense (which really makes no sense now that we’re really talking only 30-40% of the snaps) is more of a 2-5. This is an effort to get more athletes on the field to stop the pass, instead of big bodies to build a wall and stop the run.

What matters most is gap responsibility, so whether you want to call Ninkovich and Chandler outside linebackers or defensive ends, it doesn’t really make a difference. They are end of the line players and their job remains basically the same whether they’re rushing the passer or dropping into coverage.

The ability to morph between fronts is where the Pats give themselves and advantage.

The game has evolved and so has Bill Belichick’s defense. What has been missing in my estimation is explosive one-gapping defensive tackles like Easley and Jerel Worthy. They had DT’s one-gapping, but often times they were more nose tackle-ish like Wilfork and Kyle Love or defensive end-ish like Tommy Kelly, Brandon Deaderick and Gerard Warren.

Now the Patriots defense has the personnel to literally play any front, or combination of fronts. Believe me when I say this is the first time they’ve EVER had this kind of flexibility. So there’s some truth to the linked Herald to the article.

But still wondering about the 3-4/4-3 debate is an extreme simplification about a minority of the defensive snaps.

Not really a Pats read but one of those schematic writeups that I just can’t keep my posting finger off of. Look, I’ve been saying nickel is the new base for almost two years. For the Pats, it has been.

Once again there’s all this talk that the Pats are “going back to the 3-4”. It really doesn’t matter. Why? Because first of all, the 3-4 is Belichick’s teaching defense. The exception was 2011 when, due to the lock out, he just taught the nickel front to expedite matters.

How much will the Pats actually be in a 3-4 defense this season? Not much. Maybe just on early downs against teams that rely heavily on the run. So really, there’s not a whole lot of substance to the “what will the Pats run-stopping front be?”

It’s like all of a sudden Ninkovich goes from having his hand in the dirt to standing up and a great deal of fans think it’s something monumental. And by the way, the 3-4 the Pats teach early on is not the 3-4 they’d play in a game. That’s more of the 2-5, but that’s a post for another time. Just compare the size of Richard Seymour to the current defensive ends when they’re in the 3-4 and you’ll have a lot of your answer.

The better, and more interesting question is what their subpackages look like, these are the packages they’ll be in 60-70 percent of the snaps. How does Logan Ryan and the safeties fit in? Who will be the pure pass rush package?

That’s why this article is really good.

New England’s defense once again utilized a lot of odd-man fronts against Washington. That 34 look had Vince Wilfork over the nose with Tommy Kelly at left end and either Chris Jones or Will Smith on the right. The linebackers included Jerod Mayo and Jamie Collins on the inside with Dont’a Hightower and Rob Ninkovich on the outside. Chandler Jones actually saw time at both end and linebacker in these segments. The same, in other groups, was true for rookie Zach Moore.

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.

Edelman shining, Hall of Fame drill and more Patriots Day 5 camp blogservations

Memmmmories…. How long ago does it seem when the Patriots had one of the absolute dominant defenses of the NFL? I don’t know how this group is going to come together. Sure, on paper, it looks like it could be great, but we all know how quickly injuries can derail things. Hopefully it all comes together like we think it could.

From an article I wrote for B/R this offseason, here are what I see as the biggest things the Pats defense needs to improve.

From an article I wrote for B/R this offseason, here are what I see as the biggest things the Pats defense needs to improve.

Q: Specifically on third down, I don’t know how much you researched it, but if you did in the offseason, what stood out to you?

RN: We’ve got to get off the field. That’s huge. Some of the third-and-long situations, we weren’t able to get off the field. I know third-and-long screens hurt us last year, too, so specifically that play and the third-and-long situation as a whole, we’ve got to do a better job. Obviously, everything is working together, so coverage-rush, rush-coverage all works together. That’s just one area that we definitely need to work on this year.