PATRIOTS SPREAD O VS. OPPONENTS NICKEL D
THE SITUATION The Pats are in a three-wide, one-back, one-tight-end set. Opponents often see this from New England and read run, because it gives the Pats smallish offensive line fewer crowded boxes to work against.
THE REACTION During their 34-20 win on Halloween last season, the Steelers responded by setting up their three defensive linemen in the guard-tackle gaps. That caused a pileup in the middle and opened up outside gaps for the linebackers to crash. They also cheated SS Troy Polamalu to within five yards of the line, creating a seven-man front.
THE SNAP The Steelers sent two linebackers on a blitz. That disrupted run blocking because linebackers were shooting gaps while the Patriots linemen were getting into position. THE PLAY The Steelers kept their left outside linebacker home, to spy on the running back, and Polamalu on the right side, to shadow the tight end.
THE RESULT The three defensive linemen bunched up the middle. The two blitzers filled the running lane, which allowed Polamalu to sit back, read run and make the tackle one yard behind the original line of scrimmage. Chances are youll see this setup again when the Pats visit the Steelers on Sept. 25.
PATRIOTS EMPTY BACKFIELD VS. OPPONENTS DIME COVERAGE
THE SITUATION The Patriots like to mix in some empty sets in opponents territory. On this play against the Ravens last November, they used one running back in one slot, one tight end in the other and three wide receivers. This formation gives QB Tom Brady options and pressures the D-backs.
THE REACTION Bradys biggest weaknesses are staying still in the pocket and deep-ball consistency. The Ravens used a four-man front with three defensive linemen and one linebacker. They also kept MLB Ray Lewis in his usual spot just off the line of scrimmage. All five cover guys (one safety, four corners) were in press-man coverage.
THE SNAP Lewis blitzed on the inside. Rushing five is essential because it plays to Bradys tendency to dance in the pocket. The key is to speed up his delivery while preventing him from setting his feet before throwing. Meanwhile, the D-backs on the outside receivers shoved them at the line, forcing them wide.
THE PLAY The Ravens executed this disguised blitz flawlessly. The rush hurried Brady, and when the defensive backs forced the receivers outside, Brady could only make the tougher vertical throw.
THE RESULT Brady threw offbalance, missing his target 30 yards downfield. The Jets have the personnel for this coverage in two December games against the Pats.
PLAY-ACTION PASS VS. PATRIOTS MAN COVERAGE
THE SITUATION This hasnt happened yet, but it will. With Ty Law gone, the Pats no longer have a shutdown cover corner. None of the five cornerbacksDuane Starks, Chad Scott, Asante Samuel, Tyrone Poole or Randall Gayis trustworthy on an island. The Patriots love to mix up schemes, so theyll still blend in man coverage. When they do, opponents must see the mismatch.
THE REACTION Isolate the best wide receiver on the Patriots left cornerback, running a skinny post route. The key read for the quarterback will be FS Eugene Wilson, who is in center field.
THE SNAP A fake off-tackle handoff left will help freeze Wilson. After the fake, the running back picks up right outside linebacker Mike Vrabel in pass protection. A mini-bootleg off the play fake generates flow to the right. With Wilson frozen and backers flowing away, the QB has a window.
THE PLAY A skinny post helps the receiver get position. For bigger guys like Randy Moss, whom the Pats will face in their season opener, the pattern is an opportunity to box out the cornerback. For smaller pass catchers like Steve Smith of the Panthers, the Pats opponent 10 days later, it emphasizes sharp cuts and separation from the coverage.
THE RESULT The Pats may get burned by Moss in the season opener, but by the time they face the Panthers, Belichick will know how to protect his corners.
CUTBACK RUNS VS. PATRIOTS TWO-GAP SCHEME
THE SITUATION The Patriots defense is notorious for its discipline, but it is vulnerable to a cutback. The two-gap scheme the Pats execute is designed to occupy blockers and free up linebackers to roam. But with all the flow going to one side, there is typically a gaping backside lane for running backs to hit off a cutback pivot. The Steelers did this well with Duce Staley last October. Look for more of the same in the Pats-Steelers September rematch.
THE REACTION Zone blocking. Unlike one-on-one matchups, zone-blocking schemes make each lineman responsible for the first man who crosses his area. The handoff should be five yards deep and three yards wide, which running backs love because it provides flexibility and a head of steam once they decide which crease to attack.
THE SNAP The offensive line must take quick first steps to the play side and generate a strong flow that way. The weakside blocker must seal off the backside outside linebacker, who works upfield and then laterally in pursuit.
THE PLAY Cut back and go. Once the running back feels the backside lane opening up, his goal is to pivot and get through it as quickly as he can. Typically it then becomes a one-on-one between the runner and the backside corner. The reason for lining up both wides on the strong side is to get the safeties to roll over.
THE RESULT The backside corner is usually the worst open-field tackler on the team. And in this instance, Staley gained 10 yards.
BY TODD McSHAY, SCOUTS, INC.
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