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The Patriots certainly changed some things up defensively in their 59-24 victory over the Colts Sunday.
It was certainly more exciting to watch as the Patriots flew around the field and tried to make things happen.
There were 17 true blitzes (more than four pass rushers sent), their second-highest total dating to the start of the 2010 season.
There were seven zone exchanges, which is a pressure concept in which a normal pass rusher drops into coverage and is replaced in the rush by a linebacker or defensive back. It’s a way to generate pressure without actually taking players out of coverage — a staple of the Jets and Ravens.
There were also more straight run blitzes than the Patriots usually employ.
The result was a feeling of constant pressure, not only for fans watching at home, but also on quarterback Andrew Luck, who constantly was being moved off his spot in the pocket, which is the goal of any pass rusher. If a quarterback has to move, it decreases the chances of him completing the pass.
About time. People love to rail against the Patriots secondary when the lack of a consistent pass rush was actually the biggest problem.
The big question is, will it continue?
Unfortunately, the answer to that could be no, unless Bill Belichick turns over a new leaf.
The rise in pressure likely had little to do with the arrival of Aqib Talib or anything else in the secondary; the Patriots played largely the same concepts — Cover 3, Cover 2, and Cover 1 with a robber wrinkle thrown in. There was not an uptick in man coverage.
That the Patriots suddenly blitzed their highest percentage of the season (30.9 percent of the dropbacks) and had their most total pressure concepts (43.6 percent) can be attributed to the coordinator the Patriots were playing against (Bruce Arians), and also the opponent themselves.
Dating to the start of the 2010 season, of the six games with the highest number of blitzes, Arians was coordinator of three of those teams: 2010 Steelers (23 blitzes), 2012 Colts (17), and 2011 Steelers (14).
Why the need to throw so much at an Arians offense? Likely for two reasons: because quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger (especially) and Luck don’t make a lot of mistakes unless forced into them; and Arians’s offense lives off deep drops from center by the quarterback and a lot of deep routes. If the quarterbacks aren’t rushed, there could be big trouble down the field.
Mix in that Luck still plays like a rookie, and that the Colts rely on one target (Reggie Wayne), work almost exclusively in the middle of the field, lack the outside threats to keep defenses honest outside the numbers (think the Patriots in 2010 and ’12), and have an offensive line that is unathletic, and you have a perfect scenario for the Patriots to get more aggressive.
And while the defense showed only modest improvement over the Bills game over the span of 81 plays (even after the Talib interception, the Colts still averaged 6.2 yards per play on the next six drives), the pressure concepts helped make the defense more effective.
When the Patriots used a blitz or zone exchange, Luck completed 52 percent of his passes for 134 yards (5.36 yards per attempt) with no touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 51.1.
The Patriots generated 13 (sack, seven hurries, five knockdowns) of their 17 quarterback pressures on those plays (76.5 percent).
When the Patriots sent three or four rushers, Luck completed 61.5 percent of his passes for 217 yards (8.4 YPA), two touchdowns, and two interceptions for a rating of 81.7. The Patriots generated just two hurries and two knockdowns on those plays.
It’s a perfect example of how the ability to generate pressure on a quarterback increases the effectiveness of the secondary exponentially.
We’d love to see the pressure concepts continue for exactly that reason, but they probably won’t. The Patriots are who they are: a defense that will play the percentages that most teams can’t go on long, sustained drives against them without turnovers. It’s a formula that has been very successful for a long time.
The positional ratings against the Colts:
Quarterbacks (rating: 5 out of 5)
Well, somebody was tired about hearing about Luck. An obviously motivated Tom Brady was stellar from the start. Give him protection against an overmatched secondary, he’ll annihilate you all the time. That opening drive for Brady (5 of 6, 74 yards, touchdown) was one of his best of the season. No throws held longer than 2.7 seconds. He was decisive, throwing the ball with authority and into tight windows.Continued...