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Patriots have prepared for read option dating back to preseason

Posted by Erik Frenz  November 14, 2013 07:00 AM

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As the Patriots prepare to take on the Carolina Panthers on Monday Night Football, they can tip their cap to the former Patriots backup quarterback for helping them get a jump start on their preparations for the read-option, one of the predominant elements of the Panthers' offense.

Thank Heaven for Tim Tebow? Not exactly, but dating all the way back to the preseason, the Patriots have been gaining experience defending the read-option, and it all began with Tebow.

Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork commented, at the time, that getting to practice against the read-option provided an advantage for the defense.

"I do [like practicing against Tebow]," Wilfork said. "There might be some times this year that we have to face a quarterback like that. He brings a whole different aspect to the game for us, being able to play against a guy who can run that type of offense is a plus for this team. Not just Tim being here, but it's a plus for this defense because we have to be able to stop some teams that come out and do that to us."

qbs rushing.pngThus far, the Patriots have been up-and-down against quarterbacks on the run. Geno Smith is the only one to score a touchdown,

It's important to point out these aren't all read-option plays -- at least one was a naked bootleg for a six-yard loss by Drew Brees -- but Newton's abilities running the ball obviously aren't limited to the read-option, either. Their experience practicing and playing against the read-option and running quarterbacks will come in handy.

Head coach Bill Belichick reflected on that, noting that they've already seen those looks frequently this year dating back to preseason (bolded for emphasis).

I think our exposure to it going all the way back to Philadelphia in preseason, working against the Eagles and of course we saw some of it last year, especially against San Francisco. We knew coming into the season this was going to be an area we needed to make sure that we had enough defense for and we spent enough time so our players understood their different responsibilities with this type of offense. We saw it at Philadelphia, we've seen it twice with the Jets, we saw it from Buffalo; whether it was hurry-up or not, but the plays and the overall type of attack that those teams use and Carolina uses. I'd say that Carolina probably has a little more volume in the type of plays that they run. I don't know if they run it more than Buffalo or the Jets. That kind of varies sometimes from game to game. They have overall a lot of volume in the running game, so that’s one part of it you have to defend with Carolina. It’s certainly not all option like it is, or read like it is, let's say at Philadelphia. I mean that’s by far the majority of what they do. Or at least when we practiced against them it was. But, with Carolina, that's only part of it and of course the ability of the quarterback with [Cam] Newton handling the ball makes it even more dangerous because he can rip off a lot of yardage like [Colin] Kaepernick could, that same type of thing. We have to do a good job, be disciplined on that. But yeah, definitely the fact that we've worked against those teams that have used that or some element of it has been beneficial. Miami as well -- Miami’s another team that was in the gun almost every play with their running game. They had a few runs under center but most were in the gun. That’s another exposure to it. So really I'd say over half the season so far we've dealt with it or some element of it on a weekly basis.

This will be the fifth time in the Patriots first 10 games in which they'll be facing some elements of the read-option.

The principles have been hammered home -- gap containment and pocket containment chief among them.

The Patriots have had mixed results against those quarterbacks. Bills quarterback EJ Manuel only ran the ball three times in Week 1 against New England, but he had the best passing performance of his pro career with two touchdowns and a 105.5 passer rating.

Smith also ran the ball three times in his first meeting with the Patriots, with the Patriots using a containment game plan for a second straight week. They were able to keep him in the pocket, where he threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter and completed just 42.9 percent of his throws on the night.

The Patriots were less disciplined against Smith the second time around, giving up 32 yards on six carries by Smith, including a 14-yarder on 3rd-and-14 when defensive end Michael Buchanan rushed too hard upfield and lost containment of his gap, allowing Smith to scramble to the first-down marker.

Mistakes like that can't happen against the Panthers; Newton, however, is a one-of-a-kind talent as a dual-threat quarterback. His experience as an NFL passer is far better than any such quarterback the Patriots have faced this year.

His 62 rush attempts are the third-most by any quarterback this year. Despite that fact, he's still on pace for a career-low in rush attempts and yards. In fact, he's also on pace for a career-low in pass attempts. They are, however, on pace for the most rush attempts as a team since Newton joined the Panthers in 2011.

This is his most efficient season as a passer yet. His passer rating, completion percentage and touchdowns are all higher than they've ever been for him through nine games -- and there are good reasons for that.

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Regardless of his running ability, Newton is still one of the better passers the Patriots have faced all year. The threat of the run only adds to the Patriots preparations.

The Panthers aren't asking Newton to be Superman anymore, but that hasn't stopped him from being Superman from time to time. He's not being asked to do everything, but the Patriots still have to be prepared for it.

Fortunately for them, they got an early start on their preparation, and that preparation has continued throughout the preseason and the regular season.

The Patriots have had plenty of practice with the read option dating back to preseason. Practice may not make perfect, but the Patriots will have to be pretty close to perfect if they want to come out of Carolina with a win.




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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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