LONDON — Bill Belichick said after Sunday’s 45-7 blasting of the Rams that he didn’t sense the Patriots were more aggressive in their defensive play-calling.
He was correct. Technically.
Against the pass, the Patriots sent additional rushers (more than the normal four) on just eight of the Rams’ 40 dropbacks. The 20 percent blitz rate is right on the Patriots’ average of 21 percent since the 2010 season.
But it’s a lot for the 2012 season. The Patriots blitzed an average of 11 percent of the time in the first seven games. Only the Seahawks game, when the Patriots sent an extra rusher on 27.3 percent of the dropbacks, exceeded the blitzes against the Rams.
But the number of true blitzes paints only part of the picture of the Patriots pressure packages against the Rams. The Patriots also used five zone exchanges and three run blitzes. They hadn’t come close to those numbers all season.
A zone exchange is when one player who usually rushes — usually a defensive lineman — drops into coverage and is replaced in the rush by a player who normally does not rush. The goal is to create the illusion of pressure without actually sacrificing a coverage player by sending him to blitz.
When Rams quarterback Sam Bradford dropped back to pass on fourth and 6 with 14:56 left in the fourth quarter, linebacker Jerod Mayo rushed Bradford while tackle Jermaine Cunningham faked a rush and dropped back into coverage. End Rob Ninkovich ended up with a sack on the play.
The zone exchange and the fire zone blitz — same concept as the exchange but with an actual extra rusher coming on a blitz — have long been staples of Belichick’s defenses but have seldom been seen the past few years. That’s likely because of the youth on the defense.
This is something the Patriots are going to have to do more of as the season goes along because they don’t get enough pressure with just four rushers, outside of end Chandler Jones.
The question is, will the Patriots continue to do this, or was this just a case of them feeling confident that a rebuilding Rams team, with a porous offensive line, wasn’t much of a threat down the field?
What we do know is that while Belichick played coy with the defensive game plan after beating the Rams, the Patriots used pressure packages (blitzes plus zone exchanges) on 32.5 percent of the dropbacks.
That’s a change, and one for the better.
Here are the positional ratings against the Rams:
Quarterbacks (rating: 4.5 out of 5)
Tom Brady was nearly flawless, but it was hard to judge just how good he was because the Rams coverage was so bad. There were blown assignments all over the place, so the degree of difficulty was very low. This was one of those games that was just tailor-made for Brady. The line gave him great protection, and the coverage was far below average. Brady can throw all day in those circumstances. The most impressive aspect of Brady’s game was how he ignored all the pressure around him. We’ve seen him shaky in those spots, but this was classic Brady standing tall in the pocket, not feeling the rush. He was touched only twice — on the 37th and 68th plays. That helps a lot, considering the book is to hit Brady early to speed him up. Ryan Mallett was average in his first stint.
Running backs (5 out of 5)
Tremendous day for all three running backs. The only potential negative play was when Stevan Ridley picked the wrong hole on the fourth play of the game — and that’s splitting hairs. New England was really fortunate that Brandon Lloyd wasn’t called for a blatant pick on linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar on Danny Woodhead’s 28-yard reception on third and 2 on the opening drive. Great juke move by Shane Vereen on safety Craig Dahl on his 14-yard run in the second quarter. Vereen is at his best in space, and the Patriots have done a nice job drawing up and executing plays that accentuate his positives. Ridley absolutely trucked Dahl on his 16-yard run in the middle of the third quarter.
Receivers (4.5 out of 5)
Rob Gronkowski was back on his game, and with a bye week coming up, that’s a great sign for the second half. Tremendous over-the-shoulder catch by Gronkowski down to the 1 before the Patriots’ second score. A tribute to his outstanding athletic ability. The Rams really thought they could use rookie tackle Michael Brockers to help cover Gronkowski on the score that put the Patriots up, 21-7? Daniel Fells, who has been inconsistent with his blocking this season, had a great one on Ridley’s 30-yard run in the third quarter against Quintin Mikell, who had leverage on Fells at one point. Great route by Lloyd against Janoris Jenkins on the touchdown to go up, 35-7. Lloyd faked the fade hard and then crossed Jenkins, who had no idea what to do. The Patriots took advantage of Jenkins’s overaggressiveness all game. He was completely overmatched. Julian Edelman may be known for his run blocking, but he let players cross his face, leading to two negative runs in the third quarter.Continued...