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Patriots Take 2: Total team effort in win over Buccaneers

Posted by Erik Frenz  September 25, 2013 07:30 AM

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There are seven 3-0 teams in the NFL following Week 3, and each of them -- including the New England Patriots -- has faced some adversity (except the Denver Broncos, who hang 40-burgers on their opponents almost as easily as they hang their clean, sweat-less jerseys back in their lockers after the games.)

Given the unusually ugly way the Patriots have won their first three games -- compared to the often glamorous manner in which they laid waste to the NFL in recent years -- the Patriots' adversities have been somewhat magnified.

The offense showed a pulse after last week, when they flatlined against the New York Jets and caused some palpitations in Patriots nation.

The defense, however, has been the lifeline through the first three weeks of the regular season.

Let's take a look back at all the details from the Patriots' third win of the 2013 season.



Brandon Spikes proves value in niche role

The Patriots linebackers as a whole have been much maligned for their struggles in coverage. Specifically, middle linebacker Brandon Spikes has been the subject of scrutiny as a niche player in run defense and crashing the line of scrimmage in pass defense.

It's important to have a player like that on the roster, though, when faced with a team like the Buccaneers.

The Buccaneers ran the ball 13 times on 28 total first downs against the Patriots, so naturally, Spikes played a majority of those (19 out of 28), and his participation on first down accounted for 51.4 percent of his snaps on the day.

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He made a great read on this running play in the first quarter on 1st-and-5 following a defensive holding penalty. Spikes came crashing through the gap between left guard and left tackle before either could respond.

Part of the reason he got through so easily was his early momentum, as he moved closer to the line of scrimmage before the snap, but also because left guard Carl Nicks had begun pulling across the formation to take out a defender on the play side.

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Still, Spikes had to take on and shed the block from fullback Erik Lorig, and Spikes then brought down Buccaneers running back Doug Martin just moments later for a one-yard gain.

He also made a key stop on 4th-and-1, but on this play, it wasn't instinct as much as simple smarts.

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Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano put faith in three former Pro Bowl players, with Martin taking the handoff behind left guard Carl Nicks and left tackle Donald Penn.

Those blockers were quickly soaked up by defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and defensive end Chandler Jones, which allowed Spikes to stay clean of a blocker.

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With no one in his face, Spikes was free to read and react as is the wont of any defender in the Patriots defense.

Once Martin chose which way he was going, Spikes pulled the trigger and brought him down for no gain, turning the ball over on downs.

linebackers snaps.jpgThis season, Spikes has played 84 of the team's defensive snaps (40.2 percent), which is nearly 100 fewer snaps than second-year linebacker Dont'a Hightower. Spikes comes off the field on nearly every snap in nickel defense.

When Spikes is on his game, however, there are few that set the tone in run defense quite like him.



Vince Wilfork's performance in review

When Wilfork is playing at the top of his game, he can be one of the most disruptive interior defensive linemen in the league -- whether as a 0-technique, a 1-technique (inside shade on the guard) or lined up as a 3-technique (outside shade on the guard). The problem is, no matter the technique, he hasn't been as disruptive as usual through the first two games.

Initially, it seemed that had continued. I stand corrected.

It wasn't a banner day -- not by Wilfork's lofty standards, anyway -- but he made a much bigger impact this week.

wilfork 6.png

For starters, Wilfork showed his classic ability as a two-gapping nose tackle, particularly on this running play in the third quarter. The Buccaneers ran a draw play right up the middle, but Wilfork stood up the center and was able to keep his eyes on Martin as he picked his hole.

wilfork 5.png

Once Martin decided, Wilfork shed the block and made the arm tackle.

His presence was felt even when he wasn't making the play.

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The Patriots sent just four defenders on this sack of quarterback Josh Freeman in the first quarter.

Wilfork created pressure with a quick upfield rush on Nicks, and got enough penetration to push the former All-Pro into the lap of Donald Penn.

wilfork 2.png

Chandler Jones promptly shook off Penn's block, and defensive end Rob Ninkovich broke free of his assignment as Freeman climbed the pocket for the sack.

It's debatable whether Wilfork actually gets credit for a pressure on this play, but there's no debate on his impact in helping his teammates make the play.

"That's what it's all about," he said after the game. "You can't double everybody, and you can't single everyone. I know if I have two (blockers), somebody's free. I know if somebody else has two, we have guys on the line of scrimmage that can win one-on-one battles. Through three weeks, we've seen that. It's just good to have guys that understand, if they have one-on-one battles, they must win."

Wilfork may not have had much of an impact on the stat sheet, but when it came to causing disruption on the line of scrimmage, he did well. Here's a brief rundown of his day:

Pass rush:
31 snaps
1 pressure
0 hits
0 sacks

Run defense:
20 snaps
2 tackles (one solo, one assist)

Overall:
51 total snaps
25 double-teams drawn



Missed opportunities over the middle

At times, it looked like the Patriots may have had some opportunities for big plays down the middle of the field. One problem: The Patriots didn't have anyone running a route over the middle.

The Buccaneers defense looked all too willing to give away the middle of the field at times, opting to devote more resources to defend the sideline routes.

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In the past, it would have been unheard of to leave the middle of the field open on 3rd-and-4 against the Patriots, but that's exactly what the Buccaneers did in the second quarter. The Patriots came out with the 11 personnel -- one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers. The Buccaneers matched with their nickel 3-3-5 package, and they sent five men on the rush.

Lined up against cornerback Darrelle Revis, it seemed like wide receiver Aaron Dobson would probably not get the ball. By some gift of a higher being or Greg Schiano, the Buccaneers called zone defense that failed to maximize Revis' elite man coverage skills.

brady to dobson 2.png

Revis passed Dobson off to the middle of the field, but no one was there to make the tackle. It looks like cornerback Johnthan Banks took wide receiver Julian Edelman in man coverage on the sluggo route downfield. As a result, Dobson had no one in front of him when he turned upfield, allowing him to gobble up an extra 12 yards and the easy first down.

This is such a stark contrast to previous years, when defenses have had their way with the Patriots offense in the playoffs by loading up the middle of the field and forcing quarterback Tom Brady to go deep and/or to the outside.

As we've learned, however, Brady is a master at taking what the defense gives him. They gave up the middle of the field, and Brady was happy to oblige. He went outside the numbers on just nine of his 36 pass attempts on Sunday, and between the numbers on the other 27 throws.

So, while he hasn't completely abandoned throwing to his favorite spots over the middle, it looks like defenses realize the outside-the-numbers threat the Patriots receivers now pose.



Where was Darrelle Revis?

Speaking of Darrelle Revis, it is unusual to see him in off coverage so often. That is clearly not his strength. The Patriots diagnosed this tendency, and exposed it.

You don't often say those things about Revis, but there it was, in plain sight on Sunday.

dobson catch vs revis 1.png

In the third quarter, the Patriots came out in the 11 personnel grouping, with one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers, with two of those receivers flanked out to the left.

The Patriots ran a play-action fake to the offense's right, and with the entire defense headed that direction, Dobson cut against the grain and ran a drag route across the formation.

dobson catch vs revis 2.png

The combination of Dobson's post pattern, Edelman's seam route and the confusion by the defense left acres of open greenery in front of Dobson.

dobson catch vs revis 3.png

Brady settled in and hit his receiver, but didn't quite get him in stride. Had he put this pass a little in front of Dobson, the rookie receiver could have turned upfield, and he may still be running.

Instead, he turned around and caught the pass, only to be met briefly thereafter by a hard-charging Revis.

On the day, Brady went 3-of-4 for 18 yards into Revis' coverage, so Brady wasn't picking on him by any stretch, but a 75 percent completion rate is very un-Revis-like. The Buccaneers may want to consider playing more to Revis' strengths in the future.



Aqib Talib vs. Vincent Jackson

Looking back at pre-game thoughts, it was speculated whether the Patriots would match up cornerback Aqib Talib with Vincent Jackson, or whether they would put different corners on him depending on where he lined up. From an early point, it was clear that Talib would be trailing Jackson all day.

On the day, Freeman went 3-of-6 for 34 yards to Jackson with Talib in coverage. One of the three incompletions was considered a pass break-up, and another was intercepted just before halftime. Those are respectable numbers, and if you extrapolate those numbers to a full game (Jackson only played 42 of the team's 71 snaps before leaving with an injury), it's right on line with what he's posted this season so far.

jackson catch 1.png

Jackson put his signature combination of size, speed and leaping ability on display on his biggest catch of the day, a 19-yard strike down the right sideline.

Jackson ran a wheel route out of the slot, and on the outside, Doug Martin faked the screen.

jackson catch 3.png

The screen fake is key, because it freezes Jerod Mayo in place, right in Talib's way as he tries to stay with his man.

jackson catch 4.png

Talib had good position on Jackson, but the receiver was able to gather his wits and make a play on the ball before Talib could react. Jackson went up and won the jump ball to help keep this Buccaneers drive alive.

Notice how Talib was able to turn his head and could see the ball coming, yet still couldn't make the play on the ball.

jackson broken up 1.png

That's important, because the next time Freeman would try to go deep to Jackson, Talib was only able to get his head around for an instant, and broke up the pass by turning his head away from the ball.

Jackson ran a go route, breaking slightly toward the sideline on his way toward the end zone. The Patriots ran Cover 1 with Devin McCourty as the single high safety, Talib and Alfonzo Dennard both in man coverage on the outside and safety Duron Harmon and linebacker Brandon Spikes both matched up on the tight ends.

With McCourty as the lone deep safety, disguising his coverage, he was unable to get to the sideline in time, leaving Talib to fend for himself.

jackson broken u 2.png

Talib saw the ball in flight, but turned back toward Jackson, and the veteran cornerback was able to break the pass up simply by waiting for the receiver to put his hands out. Once that happened, Talib swung his arm down to break up the pass, and timed it perfectly.

His shadowing skills would be an important factor yet again, and resulted in an interception toward the end of the first half.

talib int 1.png

Jackson ran a 10-yard out, with wide receiver Mike Williams running a go route to clear out the coverage on the sideline.

talib int 2.png

Talib played perfect trail technique, watching Jackson's hips as he ran the route. He mirrored Jackson's every move, and broke toward the sideline as soon as Jackson. was able to make a play on the ball down the sideline.

Against a No. 1 receiver like Jackson, you expect it to be a win-some lose-some situation. Talib is able to win his share of those battles.



Kenbrell Thompkins' big day

The rapport between Brady and rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins developed quickly throughout training camp, but hadn't really taken that next step in the regular season yet. The duo took a big step forward on Sunday when they hooked up three times for 41 yards and two scores.

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The first of the two scores was mostly a credit to Thompkins, who took a four-yard drag route all the way to the end zone.

With Revis once again playing off in coverage, Thompkins was able to get a free release and streaked across the formation with virtually no disruption from the Buccaneers defense whatsoever.

thompkins 9.png

One of the Buccaneers' major problems on this play was defensive end Adrian Clayborn dropping into zone coverage off left defensive end. Why? The Buccaneers defensive scheme befuddles me at times.

Regardless, Thompkins was able to weave through the Buccaneers defense and trotted his way into the end zone for the score.

The next touchdown, however, was just a great play design, great protection from the offensive line and a great throw by Brady.

thompkins 7.png

Thompkins ran a long-developing route on the offense's right, breaking toward the post in the back of the end zone.

thompkins 8.png

As Thompkins ran one way, tight end Zach Sudfeld cut the opposite direction across the defense. This created a huge window, and Brady put the ball in front of Thompkins, who put his hands out and had the touchdown.

The rookies will not become veterans overnight, and there could be some ebb and flow at the start, but if the offense can build off their successes against the Buccaneers, they could be well on their way to outstanding production down the road.




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About the author

Erik Frenz delivers analysis of the biggest news with the Patriots, including insight into the AFC East and New England's biggest rivals from a Patriots perspective. Erik is an interactive writer who engages his audience in his posts’ comments sections and on Twitter. Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions. More »

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