After watching the first half of the Patriots-Redskins preseason game, some observations about New Englandís defensive approach (with one special teams nugget):
Nickel disappointments. One area that stood out is how the nickel package (5 defensive backs) couldnít consistently get off the field. On the Redskins first drive, the nickel was on the field on second-and-18 and third-and-4, but couldnít prevent a first down. The nickel was also the primary defense on the Redskinsí drive at the end of the first half, a 51-yard march in just 1:57 that culminated in a field goal. While there were signs of life with the pass rush at times, the Patriots couldnít consistently synch up their rush with coverage. Based on this film, opposing coaches might determine this as the best approach against the Patriots Ė get them in nickel personnel by spreading the field.
A split between the 4-3 and 3-4. The Patriots played a 4-3 on the first two drives, before switching to a 3-4 for the next two. The four-man line had Ty Warren, Richard Seymour and Jarvis Green in a three-man rotation at end, with Vince Wilfork and Mike Wright working as the tackles. In a bit of a surprise, Gary Guyton was the third linebacker (not Pierre Woods) along with Jerod Mayo and Adalius Thomas. There seems to be more slanting and shooting gaps when the Patriots go to the four-man line, specifically with the tackles. The team had more success in the 3-4 (two three-and-outs), although part of that was because of a dropped pass by an open receiver on third-and-3.
The 73-yard busted play to tight end Chris Cooley. The Patriots were playing a 4-3, with their top line in the game, but with second-string linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Paris Lenon on the field. While itís difficult to assess where the breakdown occurred, it looked like Bruschi took a step toward running back Clinton Portis in the flat (Lenon was already in that area), which allowed Cooley to slip behind him for the initial part of the gain (some poor tackling helped contribute to the second chunk of yardage). I couldnít see the safeties on the TV tape, and perhaps they were part of the breakdown.
Matthew Slaterís penalty overshadowed an otherwise impressive special teams performance. For the second week in a row, Matthew Slater was called for fair-catch interference on a punt. While the penalty drew attention to him in a negative way, he continues to make plays on special teams (team-high 3 tackles in the game). Most impressive might have been his crunching block on the opening kickoff that helped spring Laurence Maroney for some initial yardage on a 35-yard gain.