Amazing thing here … The Patriots had six sacks today, which is two more than the season high they set against these Bills in Week 1. In fact, in 11 of their previous 12 games, New England had been held to two or fewer sacks.
Is this the rebirth of the rush?
Don’t count on it quite yet. The Patriots employed nickel fronts with edge rushers and linebackers flooding the field — and interior linemen off it all together — to try and confuse the Bills. And Buffalo wasn’t exactly tough to befuddle, since the Bills were starting their eighth different combination of offensive linemen, and had two backup tackles and a guard who joined the team last week out there today.
“We knew they had some changes on the O-line and a different quarterback,” linebacker Tully Banta-Cain said after posting three sacks. “So we knew if we gave them some different looks and mixed up the pressures, it could cause some confusion. I think we were able to try it out early in the game and we got some success on it and it carried through the rest of the game.”
Part of that, too, was creating bad down-and-distance situations — Buffalo’s penalty woes (11 for 124 yards) provided a huge assist in that pursuit — which allowed the coaches to dial up the pressure with a lighter, faster look in the box.
Now, to say that this was some sort of “innovation” would be wrong. Don’t make it out to be Dick LeBeau creating the zone blitz. It was, basically, a lot of what Baltimore and the Jets do every week. But it created pressure and for a team that’s lacked the ability to do that these looks were a godsend.
“We had more speed out there, more confusion – Who’s coming? Who’s going? Who’s rushing? Who’s dropping?” another rush linebacker, Rob Ninkovich, said. “It worked out for us. Hard for them to figure out who’s the Mike, where they’re sliding to, basically. It worked well for us.”
Another benefit in these looks was getting the interior defensive linemen off the field. With only four available, the coaches had to resort to using Derrick Burgess (who isn’t exactly huge by outside linebacker standards) to play as a 5-technique end.
But that was limited as the coaches could cycle their down linemen off the field in those nickel situations.
“We’re low on guys, that’s part of it,” Jarvis Green said. “We gotta be sure guys have the strength and energy to go 60 minutes.”
Was it different? Yes. But the Bills expected it, and still couldn’t stop it.
“That’s what New England does, we knew that coming into the game and we knew with a new group starting, we were gonna see all sorts of stuff,” Richie Incognito told me afterward. I can’t tell if it was guys getting beat on one-on-one blocks or it was scheme breakdowns, we gotta watch the film on that. But we didn’t protect well enough.”
That was obvious and, for one week, the Patriots pass rush was plenty good enough.
The test now will be whether it can be when the opponent’s more formidable and less helpful to New England’s cause.