Another Sunday for the Patriots. Another mediocre performance. And mounting frustration about the performance of the secondary.
It’s all certainly warranted.
But it’s time to put the focus on the pass rush. There isn’t nearly enough of it.
And in what certainly will frustrate fans even more: That’s probably by design.
First, the state of the pass rush.
In Sunday’s 29-26 overtime victory over the Jets, the Patriots had their worst pass rush of the season.
Oh, sure, they had four sacks, which were a season high. Terrific. Too bad sacks are about the worst statistic to measure the effectiveness of the pass rush.
Sacks are certainly nice considering the loss of down and distance, but they are deceiving in multiple ways. Just look at the Jets game. Two of the sacks came after Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez held the ball for 6.66 seconds (Rob Ninkovich) and 5.56 seconds (Dont’a Hightower). Those weren’t pressure sacks; they were caused by good coverage. There are no plays designed for the quarterback to hold the ball for four seconds, let alone six.
In addition to the sacks, the Patriots generated two hurries and two knockdowns, which I tabulate. Combined, those three categories give what I think is a better indication of how a defense is affecting the quarterback: total quarterback pressures.
Considering Sanchez dropped back to pass 48 times, including penalties, the Patriots generated pressure on 16.7 percent of the snaps. That edges out the Ravens and Broncos games (19.1 percent) for worst pass rush for the season.
This is not an aberration, this is a trend.
Through seven games, the Patriots have 72 total pressures in 292 dropbacks (24.7 percent).
Through seven games in 2011, the Patriots had 85 in 311 (27.3).
Both are a huge drop from where the Patriots were in 2010 at this point: 98 in 288 (34 percent).
Is it any wonder that the Patriots are on pace for 87 pass plays of more than 20 yards this season, after having 79 in 2011 and 55 in 2010?
Complementary football. If you have the four-man pass rush of the Giants, you can win a Super Bowl with an injury-ravaged secondary.
The Patriots don’t, so we’ll have to see what happens.
What coach Bill Belichick isn’t going to do is blitz, at least not against quarterbacks he thinks will self-destruct.
He sent an extra rusher at Sanchez on just 8.3 percent of the snaps. For the season, the Patriots have blitzed 11 percent of the time. They averaged 21 percent in 2010-11.
Four games this season — Ravens (4.3 percent), Cardinals (6.9), Bills (7), and Jets – rank in the bottom seven games for blitz percentage dating to the start of the 2010 season.
The lack of blitzes is probably partly due to the problems in the secondary — Belichick is not going to take a guy out of coverage when they’re having trouble doing it fully staffed – and partly to Belichick’s patented “play the percentages” defense.
Why would he give Sanchez more room to throw if Belichick believes Sanchez will make a mistake without being induced (which ended up happening)?
Sure, the stats look terrible – 68.3 percent completion rate, 328 yards — but Belichick only cares about the victory, which easily could have slipped away.
The problem is, Belichick lives by his mantra — very well, considering his regular-season record — and dies by it as well. He was probably thrilled that Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had to settle for so many deep throws. But Wilson ended up hitting on most of them, because of coverage and pressure.
The Patriots are either going to have to get settled in the back end, which would allow for more blitzes, or get better four-man pressure.
First-round pick Chandler Jones has been nothing short of a godsend. He has 25 pressures in his first seven games (9.2 percent of his rushes), which is better than where Andre Carter was at this time last season (15, 7.2 percent).
Rob Ninkovich is who he always is: 5.2 percent in ’11; 5.5 percent this season.
The dropoff has come with the situational pass rusher. Mark Anderson would come in last season, kick Carter inside, and was effective (7.7 percent). Jermaine Cunningham has not come close to matching that production (1.9 percent).
This is where the decision to sign and then cut tackle Jonathan Fanene hurts. He was supposed to help rush the passer.
There is hope that Myron Pryor can provide some help; pass rushing was his forte before he got hurt in the first game last year. And Hightower is the best blitzing linebacker by far.
However it happens, the pass rush is going to have to improve. The defensive backs are not responsible for this alone.Continued...