What a second look at Sunday’s game showed …
1) Got their back: Perhaps the best example of how much more confidence these coaches have in the Patriots secondary is how they’re varying the rush they bring. New England brought blitzing defensive backs consistently at Mark Sanchez, which leaves less protection on the back end.
On Tully Banta-Cain’s first sack, Jonathan Wilhite and Brandon McGowan (who blitzed a lot) came screaming off the edge, which helped get Banta-Cain the one-on-one he needed to sack Mark Sanchez for a 9-yard loss. On Leigh Bodden’s second pick, McGowan got pressure on Sanchez, who sailed the ball outside of intended target Jerricho Cotchery. And Brandon Meriweather’s pick in the fourth quarter was prompted by a six-man rush that pinned Sanchez by the pylon.
You can say that the Jets receivers are average, which is part of the reason for the trust in the DBs. But you have to concede that the Jets’ line is solid, and that they had to have such trust to have any chance of getting to Sanchez consistently.
2) Circling the wagons: The Jets didn’t come at Brady quite the same way they did in September. They brought extra rushers on more than have their snaps then, and this time around, it was 27 percent (12 of 44 pass drops).
But that doesn’t mean a patchwork line didn’t have plenty to deal with. This time, instead of fighting the Patriots with numbers, they fought Brady and Co. with scheme, consistently trying to get guys free with a variety of zone blitzes — bringing inside linebackers Bart Scott and David Harris, and a variety of defensive backs, while dropping outside linebackers and linemen.
Even with Stephen Neal and Matt Light out, and Sebastian Vollmer missing time late in the first half, the Patriots handled it well. Both the Jets’ sacks came in straight four-man pressure, with Shaun Ellis simply beating backup guard Dan Connolly. There was also a pressure where Mark LeVoir got turnstiled by Scott, but any probably were really a result of losing a battle, rather than any sort of confusion.
3) Release point: Another way the Patriots combated the Jets’ disguise on defense was considerably simpler than that — With Brady unloading the ball quickly. While the Jets rarely brought the house, they did crowd the line with six and seven defenders pretty frequently.
That’s great if a rusher comes loose. Not so good if defensive players have to get back quickly and cover a lot of ground. There are probably a good dozen examples of Brady dumping the ball to Wes Welker or Kevin Faulk underneath where the ball came right out of the QB’s hands.
But the best example of the Jets’ paying for their scheme rush came on Welker’s 43-yard seam route in the second quarter. On the play, safety Eric Smith started at the line, when his responsibility was in the deep part of the field. He didn’t get back quick enough, and had to scramble to even make the tackle — all the way down at the Jets’ 3-yard line.
4) Welker on empty: Not hard to see that Welker did all the things he does best on Sunday. He found dead spots in zones. He turned slants and drags upfield. He even got downfield, on the aforementioned 43-yarder. He got matched up with Smith and Drew Coleman and beat them senseless.
But he also had helped by way of scheme, and what’s coming is something you see plenty of from the Patriots. An example — on the first play of the Patriots’ first touchdown drive, they broke the huddle with two tight ends, Kevin Faulk and two receivers. They lined up in a 3-by-2 empty formation. Faulk was to the right, and Welker was lined up to left, inside tight ends Benjamin Watson and Chris Baker.
Because the Patriots had base offensive personnel on the field, the Jets’ base personnel was there to match it. The Jets put Scott wide right on Scott over Faulk, Calvin Pace on Baker inside to the left, Dwight Lowery wide left on Watson, Darrelle Revis in the right slot on Randy Moss and that left Harris to cover Welker.
There simply weren’t enough DBs to cover Welker without completely emptying the box. And so Welker toasted Harris on about a 12-yard in-cut and turned upfield for a 17-yard gain. People have asked me about going “base” personnel and spreading it out in an empty formation. It’s my guess that this is why.
5) Adalius’ advancement: One of the more encouraging developments from Sunday was Adalius Thomas showing up consistently, and finishing with three solo tackles, one for a loss, and a hit on Sanchez.
But it’s the discipline with which he’s playing that’s really popped off late. A couple weeks ago, he blunted a double-reverse pass by taking down Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne. And on Sunday, when set up to be fooled, he again didn’t take the bait.
When Brad Smith comes into the Jets huddle, a defensive player’s antenna goes up — the former college QB is the team’s option man, their reverse man, their trick-play guy in general. In the first quarter, on a second-and-8, he lined up wide right, then motioned toward Thomas, and headed into the backfield at the snap for a end-around.
Thomas didn’t take a false step or look toward the action, which allowed him to hold up his blocker, tight end Dustin Keller, and toss him aside to drop Shonn Greene, who got the ball off right tackle before Sanchez faked to Smith. Bodden’s pick came on the third-and-8 that set up.
6) Maroney makes his move: Where the difference was in Laurence Maroney on Sunday, at least I think, was the way he made the right decisions in the right spots. To me, it’s never been about him “dancing” … The problem’s been about how he takes wrong approach too often — Running right into a lineman’s back when patience is required, hesitating when hitting the hole would be better, etc.
Well, it seems like he had a better feel on Sunday, whatever the reason was. On his longest run of the day, a 14-yarder, he let the play develop, then stuck his foot in the ground and burst through the hole. On the next play, without a whole lot there, he decisively cutback and did it fast enough to find space to squirt forward for 3 yards. And he kept his feet moving, both when waiting for his seam and churning out yardage.
You could actually see some of the one-cut explosion that was evident in his college days, because, it seemed, he was running as the play called for him to. But that wasn’t the most encouraging part of Sunday.
One thing that I always felt like he’d lacked as a pro was the ability to make guys miss in “the phone booth.” On an inside-zone run in the fourth quarter, he showed. Cutting back against the grain, he used a swift jump-cut move to beat Howard Green, then did the same to Calvin Pace (who was awful tackling on Sunday), then similarly got Jim Leonhard with that same move. Every one of those was in tight quarters. Every one of them left a defender on the ground. I still think Maroney’s missing cutback lanes in some cases, but he’s certainly running better.
7) The best of Moss: Randy Moss’ best play of the afternoon might have been the tackle he made on Darrelle Revis — which got him a flag for pass interference but probably prevented a pick. At that point, the score was 24-14.
The Patriots wound up scoring on that fourth-quarter drive, despite the penalty, to put the game away at 31-14. I’m not being sarcastic. It was really a smart play.
Outside of that, this was Revis’ day. I’ve long thought that Nnamdi Asomugha was the league’s best corner, but I’d put the Jets’ best player in that class now.