Extra Points

Patriots Take 2: Poor Performance by Offensive Line Nearly Doomed New England

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The New England Patriots’ win over the New York Jets was a lot closer than some Patriots fans would have liked, but it should come as no surprise at this point.

The past four games between these two teams have been decided by a total of nine points, or 2.25 points per game.

Say a lot of things about Rex Ryan, if you want, but you can never say he didn’t go down swinging.

The Jets played their usual smashmouth brand of football, and gave the Patriots all they could handle for four quarters. Thanks to a Denver Broncos loss on Monday night against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Patriots’ win over the Jets also means they hold the No. 1 overall seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

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It wasn’t pretty, but here’s a look back at how the Patriots pulled it off — and nearly let the opportunity slip away.


Under Pressure:
Here’s our weekly look at which players created and allowed the most pressure this past Sunday:
Offense (41 total pass snaps):
Ryan Wendell: 41 pass-block snaps; 1 hurry
Bryan Stork: 41 pass-block snaps; 1 hurry; 1 hit; 0.5 sack
Sebastian Vollmer: 41 pass-block snaps; 1 hurry; 0.5 sack
Nate Solder: 24 pass-block snaps; 1 hurry
Cameron Fleming: 22 pass-block snaps; 3 hurries; 1 hit
Josh Kline: 19 pass-block snaps; 1 hurry; 0.5 sack
Marcus Cannon: 12 pass-block snaps; 1 hurry; 0.5 sack
Rob Gronkowski: 6 pass-block snaps; 0.5 sack
Shane Vereen: 6 pass-block snaps; 1 hit; 0.5 sack
In total, Brady was pressured 17 times (nine hurries, four hits, four sacks) on 41 dropbacks.
The Jets have pressured Brady quite a bit this season, notching 18 pressures (11 hurries, seven hits) on 35 dropbacks earlier this season. Their total of 35 pressures on 86 dropbacks means they pressured Brady on 40.7 percent of his dropbacks this season.
I wrote in-depth at Bleacher Report on how the Jets were able to generate so much pressure on Brady, and the jist of it is this: a fierce interior rush, a spin-the-dial defensive philosophy, and confusion on the Patriots’ offensive line.
Jets head coach Rex Ryan is known for his aggressive scheme on defense and exotic pressure packages, but it’s not like he just sends the kitchen sink at a quarterback on every down. He is smart about how he sends his pressure.

Take, for example, a tandem sack for defensive ends Calvin Pace and Jason Babin. The two were stacked next to each other across from left tackle Nate Solder, with no one in to help. Pace and Babin came screaming off the Patriots’ left side, along with linebacker Demario Davis.
It was only a four-man rush, but the Jets were able to create the holy grail of pass-rushing: the unblocked defender. And not just one, but two.

There was also the case of interior pressure by defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who had an All-Pro day at the expense of backup guards Josh Kline and Cameron Fleming. The two men split time, with Kline starting the game and Fleming finishing it, but it truly didn’t matter; they were both completely outmatched.
Richardson created pressure on Brady by bull-rushing Fleming to the ground using a move that resembles something the late great Yokozuna would have used to pulverize his opponents into submission. The 6-foot-3, 294-pound defensive tackle put Fleming on skates, and then put him in the ground, forcing Brady to drift to his left as he tried to hit Gronkowski running to his right.
The result was a pass that was thrown behind Gronkowski, with the All-Pro tight end unable to adjust to the pass before it fell incomplete.
Who knows if the absence of Dan Connolly (knee) is what led to the dramatic decline of the offensive line. Regardless, the Patriots will need to resolve their issues up front if they are going to make any noise in the playoffs.
Defense (30 total pass snaps):
Chandler Jones: 30 pass-rush snaps; 2 hits; 1 hurry
Vince Wilfork: 25 pass-rush snaps; 0 hurries
Rob Ninkovich: 21 pass-rush snaps; 1 hurry
Sealver Siliga: 17 pass-rush snaps; 1 hit; 1 sack
Dont’a Hightower: 12 pass-rush snaps; 1 hurry; 1 sack
Chris Jones: 9 pass-rush snaps; 0 hurries
Alan Branch: 9 pass-rush snaps; 0 hurries
Jamie Collins: 7 pass-rush snaps; 0 hurries
Akeem Ayers: 3 pass-rush snaps; 0 hurries
Devin McCourty: 2 pass-rush snaps; 0 hurries
Tavon Wilson: 1 pass-rush snap; 0 hurries
In total, the Patriots got pressure on Geno Smith seven times (two hurries, three hits, two sacks) on his 30 dropbacks. That’s a dramatic change from last time these two teams faced, when the Patriots got to Smith on 22 of his 42 dropbacks.
One notable item from the data is the lack of playing time for linebacker Akeem Ayers. The Patriots had used him frequently with Chandler Jones out of the lineup, and had even used both on the field at the same time last week, when Jones returned to action against the Miami Dolphins. He was on the field for three of the first five passing snaps for the Jets, and then was not seen again.
There is still a role for him on defense, especially if he is rushing from the outside with Jones kicked inside. But the Patriots appeared to favor a heavy front this week, often using a combination of three of Vince Wilfork, Alan Branch, Sealver Siliga, and Chris Jones in a base 3-4 alignment with Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich as outside linebackers.

Dont’a Hightower notched a game-changing sack on the Jets’ final offensive play of the game on a linebacker pressure. He was one of four rushers going after the quarterback from the defense’s left side, while Chandler Jones was the only rusher coming from the right.
The Patriots gave the Jets a dose of their own medicine with this overload concept, which freed up Hightower to get a good rush on Smith and deliver a German Suplex style sack. Running back Bilal Powell was supposed to pick up the blitz from Hightower, but got his wires crossed in protection as Hightower breezed right by him.
Before the sack, the Jets had 3rd-and-4 from the Patriots’ 24-yard line. After the sack, they had 4th-and-14 and were forced to try a field goal, which was blocked by “Air Vince” Wilfork.

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Chandler Jones’ Pressure Keys Defensive Swing Play
The Patriots weren’t living in the Jets’ backfield by any means, but one of the few occasions the rush got home also proved to be one of the key plays in the game.

Chandler Jones was able to get some pressure at Geno Smith’s feet on 2nd-and-9 with 1:19 remaining in the third quarter. Smith, who was trying to fit a pass to tight end Jace Amaro running toward the sideline, could not get everything he wanted on the throw. A late, high pass was errant enough for Collins to reach up and make the interception.
That being said, this interception was no gimme for Collins, who had to reach high over his head and make a leaping grab to snare the pass. He was also able to trail Amaro 20 yards downfield from where he had initially lined up, highlighting his top-notch athleticism (though we won’t ask what he was thinking when he lateraled the ball to teammate Brandon Browner).
The Patriots had just scored a field goal less than a minute earlier, so the turnover helped keep momentum on their side and allowed them to score a go-ahead touchdown just a few minutes later.
A little pressure goes a long way.

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