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My Blueprint for the Defense

Discussion in 'Patriots Draft Talk' started by mayoclinic, Feb 3, 2014.

  1. mayoclinic

    mayoclinic PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    Hightower has always been an enigma to me, from the day when he was picked. He's obviously a very solid player, but I just never understood the fit. Lavonte David was my binky in 2012, and he played at a DPOY level in 2013 (145 tackles, 7 sacks, 2 FF, 10 PD and 5 INTs). I try not to get caught up in "what could have been scenarios", but of all the missed opportunities the one that most haunts me is that the Pats could have taken Harrison Smith at 25 and David at 48, and had a defense that looks like this:

    DL: Ninkovich - Wilfork - Easley - Jones
    LB: Collins (SAM) - Mayo (MLB) - David (WLB)
    S: McCourty - Smith
    DB: Revis - Browner - Dennard/Ryan - Arrington

    As I mentioned elsewhere, Hightower has nice burst and explosiveness (his 1.58 10 yard split is comparable to that of Ryan Shazier, Von Miller and Jadeveon Clowney) but horrible mobility (his 7.55 3-cone and 4.64 short shuttle wore worse than those of many offensive linemen). He's just not a guy who is well equipped to play in space.

    I personally think that Hightower's best chance of success is to play a "buck" role similar to what Donte Fowler currently plays for Will Muschamp (and to how Muschamp used Brian Orapko at Texas). Make him essentially a line player who moves forward, whether standing up or rushing from a 3 point stance, and limit him in space. The main problem with that right now is that I'm not sure Hightower would be better in that role than Rob Ninkovich, and the Pats are very thin at LB.

    I think it's a no-brainer that the Pats pick up Chandler Jones' 2016 option next spring, but I think it's still a very open question as to whether they do so for Hightower. He's a solid player, but is he worth $7M/year or more? He'll need to show a lot more this year to justify that kind of investment, IMHO.
     
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  2. mayoclinic

    mayoclinic PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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  3. mayoclinic

    mayoclinic PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    It's just OTAs, but Pete Carroll thinks he may just possibly have another find in 2012 5th round draft pick and 2013 PS LB Korey Toomer:

    http://12thmanrising.com/2014/06/10/korey-toomer-making-big-plays-big-statement-otas/

    Toomer, from Idaho, was cut during roster cut-downs and spent 2012 on the PS. He spent 2013 on IR. He is 6'2" 234# and ran a 4.53 40 with a 42" VJ, 10'10" BJ, 4.0 SS and 6.87 3-cone.

    The Seahawks have used day 3 picks in recent years on KJ Wright (2011 4th round), Malcolm Smith (2011 7th round; 4.44 40, 39" VJ at 6' 226#), Kevin Pierre Louis (2014 4th round; 4.46 40, 39" VJ, 10'8" BJ, 4.02 SS and 6.92 3C at 6' 232#) and Toomer. It's very clear that Carroll and Schneider value speed at the second level. The Seahawks' DL and secondary both got lots of attention, but I think that the pure speed and athleticism that they have at LB (2012 2nd round pick Bobby Wagner also ran a 4.46 40 with a 39.5" VJ and 11" BJ) is a major factor on their defense.
     
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  4. captain stone

    captain stone Veteran Starter w/Big Long Term Deal

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    I don't think that we'll see a lot of Revis following the opponent's best WR; could be instead that he
    lines-up usually at RCB in order to make the QB to look to his right side, during which time the rolling
    coverage would have confused him just long enough to allow the blind-side pressure to either force a bad throw, or sack him.
     
  5. mayoclinic

    mayoclinic PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    From Reiss' chat today:

    http://espn.go.com/sportsnation/chat/_/id/50749/patriots-with-mike-reiss

    And again:

    I've been openly skeptical of Wilfork's ability to come back from his Achilles' injury at a meaningful level this year, if at all. While it's way too soon to come to any definitive conclusions based on limited practice without contact, this is certainly more than I expected at this point, and I will be thrilled if proven wrong. In the best case scenario, Wilfork+Easley at near full strength would be a very dominant interior combination, the likes of which we've never seen before under BB.
     
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  6. mayoclinic

    mayoclinic PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    Karen Guregian notes that there are already signs in OTAs of a more aggressive, attacking defense for 2014:

    http://bostonherald.com/sports/patriots_nfl/new_england_patriots/2014/06/with_new_additions_patriots_look_to_attack

    The original premise of the OP was exactly that - that the defense needed to get more aggressive, including more disruption in the secondary and more attacking up front. Though not everyone agreed with this premise, the offseason moves certainly seem consistent with that. We can only hope it plays out like that on the field.
     
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    Last edited: Jun 14, 2014
  7. mayoclinic

    mayoclinic PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    Going back to the OP, there were 4 main goals stated:

    As Karen Guregian notes, "the Patriots appear primed to play defense with a different mindset. It can be summed up in one word: attack." That's a huge change of attitude and approach from past defenses. Rob Ninkovich talks about playing "aggressively". Troy Brown notes that "You can’t sit back and wait for the other team to make a mistake. You have to be aggressive.” All consistent with a move to a more aggressive and attacking defense, without completely abandoning BB's basic tenets of gap control and discipline.

    Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly are back. At DE, Will Smith has been added and a developmental prospect in Zach Moore. The Pats flirted with signing Kevin Williams, and Quentin Groves is still a possibility. Most significantly, the Pats used their 1st round pick on Dominique Easley, one of the most aggressive and disruptive defenders in the draft.

    Brandon Spikes was allowed to walk, and replaced as the #4 LB by James Anderson, a much more mobile and coverage-oriented player. I'd still like to see one more mobile LB added.

    The team took this one literally with the Brandon Browner signing. The addition of Browner and Darrelle Revis transforms the back end of this defense. Aggressive press man coverage with disruption of timing routes. This is very consistent with Rob Ninkovich's observation that "“Any time you play aggressively, the ball’s going to come out quick, so you have to have guys that are on top of people covering tight. In this league, if you’re going to try to beat people with the blitz, they’re going to try to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands as fast as possible. So you better be tight on them in coverage.”

    The Pats seem to have approached the offseason on defense with a very methodical plan to transform the defense to allow for more controlled aggression and attacking: (1) add Revis and Browner, which will create "disruption on the perimeter" (to use Guys Bradley's term); (2) add Dominique Easley, who, along with Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower will provide the ability to bring pressure from different schemes and directions (see post #33 above); (3) add quality depth with guys like Will Smith and James Anderson.

    It will be fun to see how this plays out.
     
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  8. mayoclinic

    mayoclinic PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    An interesting read on what the Kevin Williams signing could mean for Seattle:

    http://blogs.seattletimes.com/seaha...vin-williams-signing-could-mean-for-seattle/

    What stands out for me is this:

    Seattle had a dominant defensive line with no lineman participating in more than 58% of the defensive snaps. They had no single dominant player, but they had 7-8 very good players who they rotated to keep guys fresh and scheme pressure in different ways. Food for thought.
     
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  9. mayoclinic

    mayoclinic PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    Looking back through this thread, I came upon post #713, which referenced a January 24 Bleacher Report article my Pats' Propaganda's Mike Dussault:

    http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1932903-3-changes-the-new-england-patriots-must-make-on-defense

    Dussault noted nearly 5 months ago that since 2010 the Pats' D has had the worst 3rd down % in the NFL, and has given up the most plays over 20 yards. Egregious. Dussault focused on 3 areas that he thought needed to be improved:

    1. The interior pass rush:

    2. The sub rusher position:

    3. Retaining Aqib Talib:

    So what have the Pats done to address these 3 concerns:

    1. Upgraded Talib to Darelle Revis and added Brandon Browner. It's safe to say that the brain trust isn't trying to "go back to the kind of primary-zone defense that gets eaten alive every time they try to run it against the better quarterbacks".

    2. Added an incredibly disruptive interior rusher in Dominique Easley. The return of Tommy Kelly will also help, and possibly Armond Armstead if he can ever get on the field. The Pats also looked at Kevin Williams, though they missed out on that one.

    3. Added Easley and Will Smith. Quentin Groves could be an interesting depth signing if that happens. We should also see Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins blitzing much more this year.

    The Pats are in much better shape "to generate a consistent pass rush for four quarters" via a group effort and to play aggressive coverage than they were 5 months ago.
     
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  10. Mike the Brit

    Mike the Brit Minuteman Target PatsFans.com Supporter

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    So the surprising (and, if you like, alarming) fact is that, despite the Pats' fantastic overall record, and despite the fact that their Head Coach is a defensive specialist, the Pats have been carried by their offense.

    Why should that be? It's not that the top draft picks have been spent on offense -- in fact, I can't remember any high picks spent on the offense in that time with the exceptions of Solder and Vereen.

    The obvious answer is that the Pats failed to adapt effectively to changing times. I'm not sure that that is true. Still, the facts are what they are and require some explanation.
     
  11. mayoclinic

    mayoclinic PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    The Pats have spent 5 1st or 2nd round picks on offense since 2010, including this year:

    - Rob Gronkowski (2010, #42)
    - Nate Solder (2011, #17)
    - Shane Vereen (2011, #56)
    - Aaron Dobson (2013, #59)
    - Jimmy Garoppolo (2014, #62; obviously, hasn't had any effect yet)

    Sebastian Vollmer was a 2nd round pick (#58 overall) in 2009.

    During that time they've spent 9 1st or 2nd round picks on defense, including 4 1st round picks:

    - Devin McCourty (2010, #27)
    - Jermaine Cunningham (2010, #53)
    - Brandon Spikes (2010, #62)
    - Ras-I Dowling (2011, #33)
    - Chandler Jones (2012, #21)
    - Dont'a Hightower (2012, #25)
    - Tavon Wilson (2012, #48)
    - Jamie Collins (2013, #52)
    - Dominique Easley (2014, #29; obviously, hasn't had any effect yet)

    So there's been roughly a 2:1 spending ratio in favor of defense. Some of those picks have not contributed very much (Cunningham, Dowling, Wilson; add to that Ron Brace and Darius Butler in 2009 if you like). The defense also had considerably more ground to make up, and they didn't have a Brady to build around.

    Some possible reasons include:

    1. Failing to "adapt effectively to changing times". This might include sticking with a more reactive defensive philosophy, sticking to larger and less fast players, etc.

    2. Failing to adopt a consistent and coherent approach and aggressively implement it.

    3. Poor drafting. Ron Brace, Jermaine Cunningham and Tavon Wilson were all major reaches, none of whom have contributed anything significant. No defensive player drafted in the second round in the BB era has received a second contract to date; that includes Eugene Wilson (#36, 2003), Marquise Hill (#63, 2004), Terrance Wheatley (#62, 2008), Pat Chung (#34, 2009), Ron Brace (#40, 2009), Darius Butler (#41, 2009), Jermaine Cunningham (#53, 2010), Brandon Spikes (#62, 2010) and Ras-I Dowling (#33 2011). Eugene Wilson was probably the only one of those guys who might have merited a second contract. Tavon Wilson (#48, 2012) doesn't seem likely to break that trend, but hopefully Jamie Collins (#52, 2013) is likely to turn out differently, though it's still early. In contrast, Matt Light (#48 in 2001), Sebastian Vollmer (#58 in 2009) and Rob Gronkowski (#42 in 2010) all got sizable second contracts, and Deion Branch (#65 in 2002) got a fairly hefty offer while holding out.

    4. Too much turnover. As a result of the above, there has been more turnover on defense than there has been on offense. Wilfork, Mayo, McCourty and Ninkovich have been the only starters to date to start 3 or more consecutive seasons.

    Food for thought.
     
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  12. mayoclinic

    mayoclinic PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    A couple of tidbits from Reiss' Quick Hits this morning:

    http://espn.go.com/blog/boston/new-...64058/quick-hit-thoughts-around-nfl-pats-184

    Two areas to monitor closely in training camp.
     
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  13. Mike the Brit

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    First, thanks so much. It's fantastic to have my vague impressions confronted with (and to an extent confirmed by) solid facts. The figures for high draft picks are even more skewed if you only take the first round -- 4 to 1.

    I've posted this article before to the usual chorus of catcalls that confront anything that seem to show that BB is less than perfect (I'm thinking particularly of section 3). In fact, it seems to me to do about as good a job statistically as it's possible to do and you can spin it either way -- it shows what a fantastic organization BB runs if it can do as well as it does without being better than average at drafting.

    http://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2014/2/25/5430150/nfl-draft-history-worst-picks

    So I think the less-than-stellar-drafting explanation has some force.

    Another possible explanation has to do with coaching. As we know, BB is incredibly conservative about coaching. He places a huge premium on having a tight, coherent group, promotes from within (by and large -- this off season is unusual). The only coaches I can remember him moving on rather than leaving of their own accord were defensive coaches (Dean Pees, Pepper -- and a DB coach whose name I forget but probably shouldn't count because he was only there for a season). But, of course, Pees won a Superbowl as a DC after leaving, so I think we can assume that he is a pretty good coach with the right players. And everyone who has been in the organization tells us that everything goes back to BB.

    Pats-haters who yearn for the good times to come to an end may say that this all points to the Pats having lucked out on a quarterback 14 years ago, that he's responsible for their success and that it will disappear when he retires. Apart from deserving the credit for making Brady Brady, that ignores the 2008 season (still burns me -- if only they had got into the playoffs that year, they would have been a match for anyone).

    So yes, I think you have to point the finger at the greatest head coach in the NFL. As I see it, BB is incredible at playing to his strengths. He is obsessive, compulsive and detail-oriented. He said it himself in tribute to Chuck Noll -- his greatness lay in running a consistent organization. Yet BB also knows that the most important thing in football is to keep your opponents off balance -- it's poker, not chess.

    How he does those two things together is what makes watching him in action such a fascinating privilege.
     
  14. mayoclinic

    mayoclinic PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    I don't really want to turn this thread into another second-guessing of BB. There's plenty of threads for that. Suffice it to say that he has many, many strengths, his weaknesses are sometimes the flip side of those strengths, and he's made some mistakes and missed some opportunities. No one's perfect. But he's still the best of the best, certainly as a coach, and up there as a GM and talent evaluator. The defense is loaded with talent that he's drafted, from Wilfork (2004), Mayo (2008), McCourty (2010), Jones (2012), Hightower (2012), Dennard (2012), Collins (2013), Ryan (2013) and Easley (2014). That's 9 starting-caliber players. Not many teams have drafted as much defensive talent, especially since 2010.
     
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  15. Mike the Brit

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    Agreed!

    So I did a little bit of scientifically flawed research. I looked at the ranking of defenses over the last 5 years on Pro Football Reference. I gave 10 points for having the best defense down to 1 point for the 10th. Even that was interesting, though.

    First, no team had a top-10 defense in all 5 seasons. Three had top-10 defenses in 4 seasons out of 5: 49ers, Bengals and Patriots.

    The top teams in order were:

    1 49ers: 33 points (max=50)

    2= Steelers: 25 points

    2= Ravens: 25 points

    4 Seahawks 24 points

    5= Jets 15 points

    5= Bengals 15 points

    7 Patriots 12 points

    Some idea of the variation. Neither the Steelers nor the Ravens had top-10 defenses this year. The Jets had the best defense 5 years ago but have been out of the top 10 for the last 3 years. Over the last three years, the 9ers (3rd, 2nd, 2nd) and Seahawks (1st, 1st, 7th) have been way out ahead.

    I think that that -- even admitting the crudeness of the numbers -- gives some food for thought.
     
  16. mayoclinic

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  17. captain stone

    captain stone Veteran Starter w/Big Long Term Deal

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    Bingo. Don't forget Chicken Legs Crable (when Cliff Avril was still available) and (eventually) Jake
    the Fake Bequette to the stable of Bill's many draft busts on defense.
     
  18. mayoclinic

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    Every team misses out on prospects and makes mistakes. The Pats have added Devin McCourty, Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower, Alfonzo Dennard, Jamie Collins, Logan Ryan and Dominique Easley since 2010. That's 7 really good defensive players to build around, all while drafting from the back end of each round. They've moved up aggressively, traded back, and grabbed some talent that slipped further than it should have. I think that McCourty, Jones, Collins and hopefully Easley will be "foundational" players that are long term cornerstones of the defense; Hightower and Ryan could possibly get there as well, though it's too early to tell.

    Not many other teams have added that kind of defensive talent, and some of those that have have benefitted from better draft position and more draft picks:

    - St. Louis: Robert Quinn (1st round, #14 overall, 2011), Michael Brockers (1st round, #14 overall, 2012), Janorris Jenkins (2nd round, #39 overall, 2012), Trumaine Johnson (3rd round, #65 overall, 2012), Alec Ogletree (1st round, #30 overall, 2013), Aaron Donald (1st round, #13 overall, 2014), Lamarcus Joyner (2nd round, #41 overall, 2014). That's 3 top-15 picks and 6 top-41 picks. The Rams have added a ton of talent on defense, but they've had the picks to do it, and they haven't yet fielded a top 5 defense.

    - Seattle: Earl Thomas (1st round, #14 overall, 2010), Kam Chancellor (4th round, #133 overall, 2010) KJ Wright (4th round, #99 overall, 2011), Richard Sherman (5th round, #154 overall, 2011), Bruce Irvin (1st round, #15 overall, 2012), Bobby Wagner (2nd round, #47, 2012). Even though the Seahawks did some masterful day 3 drafting, they used 2 top-15 picks on defense in a 3 year period.

    During that period the Baltimore Ravens with Ozzie Newsome drafted Sergio Kindle (2nd round, 2010), Terrance Cody (2nd round, 2010), Jimmy Smith (1st round, 2011), Courtney Upshaw (2nd round, 2012), Matt Elam (1st round, 2013) and Arthur Brown (2nd round (2013), in addition to 2 2014 early picks (CJ Mosely 1st round and Timmy Jernigan 2nd round). Not one of those guys has emerged as a clear impact player so far, and at least a couple were busts. And before drafting Ryan Shazier (1st round) and Stephon Tuitt (2nd round) this year, the Pittsburgh Stelelers had drafted Jason Worilds (2nd round, 2010), Cameron Heyward (1st round, 2011), Sean Spence (3rd round, 2012) and Jarvis Jones (1st round, 2013), with only Worilds looking like a stud (and that only after 3 years of fairly mundane play).

    Sure, the Pats have had some misses and made some mistakes. But they've built the foundation of what should be a really fearsome defense, and there's been some damn fine drafting in that period, IMHO. I personally consider Jones, Dennard, Collins, Ryan and Easley to potentially be among the best defensive picks of their respective drafts.
     
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  19. mayoclinic

    mayoclinic PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    Oliver Thomas of NE Patriots' Draft looks in detail at James Anderson:

    http://www.nepatriotsdraft.com/2014...ning-patriots-linebacker-james-anderson.html

    I think that Thomas hits the nail on the head when he discusses the potential for Anderson's coverage ability on 3rd down to potentially allow Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower to be freed up as sub rushers in those situations. That alone could potentially transform the defense on 3rd down.
     
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  20. captain stone

    captain stone Veteran Starter w/Big Long Term Deal

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    Yeah, as long as most everyone stays relatively healthy, I will be very disappointed if this defense
    does not improve, significantly, on 3rd downs to at least a middle-of-the-pack ranking.
     

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