Oh, as the season goes along, the younger players will become more comfortable and improve. And just like every season, the Patriots will expand the package of blitzes and coverages, so they’ll be able to spin the defensive schematic dial in the postseason.
But they probably won’t become an elite unit capable of winning a game on its own.
At least not this year.
You know what? I’m beginning to believe there’s nothing wrong with that. And it has little to do with Tom Brady being the quarterback and a cure-all for any weaknesses the Patriots may have.
This Patriots’ defense is much further along than at this point last season. It’s executing the game plan. And, most importantly, it is developing into a unit that has a knack for coming up with a big play when needed — and multiple players are now capable of that.
And that’s going to take them very far.
The 31-21 victory on Sunday against the Broncos was the latest and perfect example.
The Patriots dialed up blitzes in the first half against Peyton Manning.
And they executed.
The coaches asked the players to clog the middle of the field to take away Manning’s comfort-zone passing, and make him beat them outside the numbers.
And they executed.
The Patriots needed to make plays to get off the field.
The Patriots may never be the prettiest defense to watch — they did allow 345 yards passing, a receiver racked up 188 yards, and the Broncos converted 54 percent of their third downs — but if they keep executing and causing key turnovers, they’re going to be just fine.
“Yeah, [we’ve] made some huge plays there down the stretch defensively,” Brady said. “They’ve been getting turnovers all season. It was very good, complementary football for us today.”
The Patriots came out with a two-pronged game plan against Manning. They knew they would probably not be able to generate sufficient pressure rushing four guys.
And the Patriots couldn’t fall back to their usual play-the-percentages defense — “if the opponent has to go on 12-play scoring drives, and the quarterback has to throw deep outside the numbers, we like our chances” — against Manning. He’s not Jake Locker, Kevin Kolb, Joe Flacco, or Ryan Fitzpatrick.
So the Patriots dialed up as many blitzes in the first half against Manning (seven) as they did in the previous two games combined. The Patriots scaled back the blitzes in the second half (three) with a big lead, but still ended with 10 against Manning on his 43 dropbacks outside of the 5-yard line.
The Patriots blitzed 12 times total in their first four games.
“Each week is different, whatever the game plan is,” said cornerback Kyle Arrington, who blitzed a few times off the edge. “This week we just so happened to run edge blitzes at a high percentage. We were trying to get pressure on him to either get the ball out quick, or ultimately, we want to sack him. Try to put as much pressure on him as possible.”
One of the blitzes paid early dividends when linebackers Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes both were added to the regular four-man rush. The running back tried to cut Mayo, but he soared over him to sack Manning for a 7-yard loss on third down.
“We definitely tried to get a little bit of pressure down the middle to get him off the spot,” Mayo said. “He’s one of the greatest quarterbacks to do it and you have to try to throw different looks at him and do different things to him.”
The second key for the Patriots’ defense was to take away the inside throws that Manning loves. The Patriots kept the safeties tight (sometimes too tight as both Patrick Chung and Wilson were beat over the top), dropped the linebackers in Manning’s lanes, and even dropped the occasional defensive end into coverage underneath.
The goal: make Manning have to complete the difficult throws deep and outside to beat the Patriots.Continued...