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Upon further review: Key plays vs. Packers

Posted by Greg A. Bedard  December 22, 2010 03:46 AM

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Sorry, due to mitigating factors today I could only breakdown two plays from the Patriots' 31-27 victory over the Packers on Sunday night.

DISGUISE AND HELP FROM THE OTHER GUY

Patriots defense
Score: Packer 17, Patriots 14
Time: 12:16 left, third quarter
Down and distance: Third-and-3
Yard line: Green Bay 30.
Patriots personnel: 2 DL, 4 LBs, 5 DBs
Packers personnel: Big 5 (five receivers)
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What happened: Patriots line up with three safeties about 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. To Packers quarterback Matt Flynn, who is making his first start, it looks like the Patriots are going to be in a Cover 3 zone. Zone coverage is just about confirmed when WR Jordy Nelson goes in motion to the far side of the field and no defenders go with him. With Nelson going short left and Greg Jennings from the left slot running a crossing pattern, Flynn thinks he will have James Jones, who is the wide left receiver, fairly open on a dig (in) route.

In reality, the Patriots are in a completely different kind of defense. The Patriots bring all six players in the box (2 DL, 4 LBs) at Flynn. They only did this three times in the entire game. This forced S Patrick Chung to charge hard from about 12 yards away to pick up Nelson in the left flat. Kyle Arrington took Jones, Brandon Meriweather had Jennings on the cross, Devin McCourty stayed with Brett Swain on a mirror crossing route on the other side of the field, and Donald Driver ran a mirror route to Nelson’s in the right flat (Packers run a lot of mirror routes, meaning the same pattern just on different sides of the field). James Sanders also had to come a distance to pick up Driver.

So at this point, the Patriots have Flynn fooled. Even if he did recognize what was happening, the pressure from ROLB Eric Moore forced Flynn to get rid of the ball and it was almost too late to go anywhere else with it (though he should have just dumped it to Nelson or thrown it away in that direction). The Patriots were rushing more people (six) than the Packers had blocking (five).

Even still, the pass could have been completed to Jones if it not for his own error. As Jones began his in route, he saw Chung coming. Instead of either going past Arrington on a go route (there is no safety now over the top – it’s something Jennings or Driver would have done), or charging through Chung thereby picking him off to open it up for Nelson, Jones committed a cardinal sin by just stopping. In a way it’s similar to the pass Peyton Manning had returned for the game clinching touchdown by the Saints in the Super Bowl (Reggie Wayne stopped).

With no receiver where he should be, Flynn’s pass went right to Arrington. The Packers made things even worse by missing four legit chances at a tackle (Jones, Flynn, Nelson and Swain), which allowed Arrington to score the go-ahead touchdown.

A TIRED, MISTAKE-PRONE DEFENSE

Patriots defense
Score: Patriots 21, Packers 17
Time: 5:14 left, third quarter
Down and distance: Third-and-5
Yard line: New England 6.
Patriots personnel: 2 DL, 5 LBs, 4 DBs
Packers personnel: RB, TE, 3 WR
NFL.com video link

What happened: Thanks to Arrington’s interception return for a touchdown, the Patriots’ defense had been on the field for all 10-plus minutes of the third quarter to this point and it showed.

Patriots show that they’re in a Cover 2 zone, rush three and Flynn dumps the ball in the left flat to fullback John Kuhn, who catches it at the 11-yard line. At this point the odds are the Patriots will tackle him at least short of the goal line.

Or so we thought.

A cavalcade of errors lead to Kuhn scoring the go-ahead touchdown. The most glaring mistake is LB Rob Ninkovich slips twice and never gets in the play. It’s his tackle to make as Arrington correctly forces Kuhn back to the middle of the field.

Even still, there were chances for other players. LB Gary Guyton didn’t show very good hustle after banging WR James Jones on his crossing route. Instead of getting in the play, Guyton just stands and watches. He looks tired.

Linebacker Jerod Mayo is standing at the goal line waiting for Kuhn. His decision not to charge at the runner allows WR Jordy Nelson to get enough of a block to let Kuhn leap to the goal line.

And then the final head scratcher is by S Brandon Meriweather, who four plays earlier got himself in terrific position on the pass Arrington nearly picked off (of course he also took a bad angle on Jones’ 66-yard TD catch in the second quarter). Meriweather is right there at the goal line, charging hard and then all of a sudden pulls up. He may not have been able to keep Kuhn’s momentum from carrying him into the end zone, but a player should at least try. Maybe a hit jars the ball loose before he crosses the goal line. You just never know unless you give it a go. Meriweather didn’t. From the looks of it, he and others were worn out at that point. Hardly an excuse Bill Belichick would be happy with.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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