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Patriots have been sacked by 11-up blitz

FOXBOROUGH -- When a defense calls an 11-up blitz, it often means one man down.

Take, for example, the Patriots' victory over the Jets last Sunday. It's early in the fourth quarter, and Tom Brady is in the shotgun, hoping to build on a 10-point lead. But instead, he is sacked from the blindside, loses the football, and the Jets recover.

The Patriots had been beaten by an 11-up blitz.

Then there was last season's playoff game in Denver. It's late in the third quarter and the Patriots are trailing, 10-6, but they've driven to the Broncos 5. Brady is in the shotgun, and when the ball is snapped, he drifts to his right. Feeling the pressure from the blindside, he attempts to loft a pass over cornerback Champ Bailey, but it's intercepted and returned 100 yards.

On that day, the Patriots had been beaten by an 11-up blitz.

So what exactly is the 11-up blitz, and why does it seem to be popping up more and more?

In the often complex world of football X's and O's, it's actually quite simple. The 11-up blitz means all 11 defenders are near the line of scrimmage, and one more defender than the offense has in pass protection will blitz.

Last Sunday, on the play in which Brady was sacked and fumbled, the Jets rushed eight players against seven pass protectors. The remaining three defenders were in man-to-man coverage against three receivers.

``I think there are a bunch of teams doing it now," Brady said yesterday. ``They kind of sprung it on us last week. We really didn't think the Jets would be doing it, but they did. We handled it well in a few situations, and obviously the strip sack, I didn't handle it very well."

How the Patriots handle the 11-up blitz could be a key factor in Sunday night's contest against the Broncos. ``We've seen Denver do it to practically every team they play, so we know we'll see it this week," said left guard Logan Mankins. ``The Jets did it to us and we weren't really prepared for it. We'll be ready this week."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said the 11-up blitz was used regularly by the Dallas Cowboys in 2003, and that his team has faced it in three of its six games (including exhibitions) this season -- against the Cardinals, Redskins, and Jets.

The challenge for the Patriots' offense against the 11-up blitz is to be in synch because the ball must be delivered before the blitzers get to Brady.

``It's just one of those things where everyone has to be on the same page -- the quarterback, the line, the receivers," said center Dan Koppen. ``Everyone comes into play when a situation like that comes up."

What makes it tricky is that defenses often show the look of an 11-up blitz, before pulling back into a more conservative alignment. In that case, the assignment for every offensive player would change.

So a lot of times, the players don't know what assignment they will carry out until after the ball is snapped, which Mankins said creates a mental challenge and ``puts stress on the whole offense."

``It changes a lot of the blocking," said Mankins, the team's 2005 first-round pick. ``If they do run it, you're not going to have enough guys to block them, so that puts stress not only on the blockers, but also Tom, because he knows he has to get rid of it fast. One guy is free coming down on him."

One reason the Jets might have called a few 11-up blitzes against the Patriots was to exploit the current lack of chemistry between Brady and his receivers. All it takes is for one receiver to fail to identify the blitz and run the wrong route, and Brady would be in trouble.

Brady said he's still developing a rapport with his receiving corps, comparing the situation to an offensive line playing together for the first time.

``I just think there is a process of getting to know [each other]," he said. ``It's like basketball, when they go to the Olympics. They have great players, but you might only play, you don't practice, and you don't have that chemistry. We're working hard to achieve that."

Until they do, the Patriots are apt to see more of the 11-up blitz. The potential reward for the defense is a shot at the quarterback and a turnover. Yet there is also a great deal of risk, because with so many players rushing, that means there is less in coverage.

``It's an opportunity for each team," said right guard Stephen Neal. ``For us, there is a chance for a big play. If someone is willing to risk bringing all those guys, there is a chance you might be able to get them."

The Broncos got Brady last year in the playoffs, and the Jets got him again last week. Brady expects to see more of the 11-up blitz Sunday night. If the Patriots need a reminder of how devastating it can be, they only need to review the tape from last year's loss in Denver, when Bailey had the big interception.

``It's tough to go against," Brady said. ``You have to make sure you handle it, because if they bring it and get you, they're going to keep bringing it."

Bailey hinted yesterday that the Broncos will pick their spots with the 11-up blitz.

``That part of our game is still a part of our play calling, but at the same time we pick our poisons," he said. ``We don't want to use it all the time, especially against a guy like Tom Brady. He doesn't really falter under pressure like a lot of quarterbacks."

VIRTUAL STRATEGY For an interactive look at how NFL defenses are attempting to attack Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, go to www.boston.com/patriots.

Pop-up GLOBE INTERACTIVE GRAPHIC: Guarding the line
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