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Patriots Defensive Line Was Big Difference in Houston, All-22 Study

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
8 years ago at 9:14 am ET
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary

Patriots Defensive Line Was Big Difference in Houston, All-22 StudyTroy Taormina - USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots got back on the winning track in Houston on Sunday Night Football with a convincing 27-6 win as the defense dominated the Texans offense and limited them to just a pair of first half field goals. Houston could only muster 189 total yards of offense with just 102 net yards thru the air.

Part of that reason was the very good coverage by cornerbacks Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Leonard Johnson who all had solid performances. Johnson had been on the team less than a week and just seven days before had worked out for the team. He received a lot of praise from Bill Belichick for the hard work he put in, trying to learn the Patriots defense in a very short amount of time.

But the defensive linemen were the ones who really turned the tide in this one; they notched six sacks of Texans quarterbacks and were putting them under pressure all night long. It was a total group effort with the interior players pushing the pocket and the edge rushers bringing pressure outside. Surprisingly, the dominant performance by the Pats defensive line was on a night where the team’s lead in sacks, Chandler Jones had a pretty quiet night.

But Jabaal Sheard and Rob Ninkovich more than made for that on the other edge. Sheard has regained his health now after having some ankle issues and is playing once again at a very high level. Unlike some dedicated pass rushers that the team has had in the past, Sheard is far from a one-trick pony. He’s smart, versatile and plays the run extremely well. His signing this spring was a coup; at the time an under the radar steal from the Browns.

Akiem Hicks in the interior is playing some of his best football right now. The team traded for him with New Orleans and he’s beginning to return to form that they had hoped for. He, Alan Branch, Dominique Easley and Malcom Brown have put together quite a rotation inside.

Here’s a look at the Patriots sacks via the coaches’ film from the NFL’s All-22 Game Pass:

On the Texans first series, Easley uses a bull rush to defeat his blocker and just overpowers him, pushing him violently back into Brian Hoyer causing  a third down sack and forcing the Texans to punt. Jones looped around the inside was right there with Easley giving Hoyer no chance at escape.

DEasley sack2

It was a great effort by the defensive line as a whole as they totally collapsed the pocket and didn’t allow Hoyer to step up or have the time to make a play.

On Jabaal Sheard’s first sack, it was significant because the loss of 21 yards took the Texans out of field goal position and nearly resulted in a turnover at midfield. Sheard lined up wide at left DE. There was confusion in the Texans OL. The right tackle, Brown, took Jamie Collins who lined up inside of Sheard and was showing blitz. Sheard was unblocked and flew off the edge. The running back should have at least chipped Sheard on the way out into the flat. It was a breakdown all around and Sheard came in untouched and knocked the ball loose.

Sheard sack -21 (3)

Ninkovich follows with a sack of his own. He lines up wide at the LDE position, Sheard is playing inside and brings pressure up the middle along with Akiem Hicks who also pushes the pocket from the RT position. Ninkovich does a nice should dip and blows right past Brown who won’t enjoy his film review this week for the Texans.

Ninkovich sack(2)

Sheard comes up with another gem, which ultimately leads to a Patriots touchdown. He lines up wide at LDE and this time takes an inside move and runs a stunt behind Alan Branch. He wins the matchup cleanly and as he gets to Hoyer he flings him to the ground causing a fumble. Malcom Brown who was playing on the nose, was double-teamed but didn’t quit on the play and alertly jumped on the ball recovering at the seven-yard line.

Sheard strip sack(2)

Hicks who had a very strong game, lines up on this play at 0-technique right over the center. He pushes the pocket back onto Hoyer. Sheard brings pressure from the outside again and is visibly held (non-call), but his play forces Hoyer to step up, right into the arms of Hicks who flings him down. Hoyer was injured on the play and didn’t return.

Hicks sack Hoyer(2)

Hicks then welcomed Yates to the party by sacking him at the six yard line. Hicks lined up at LDT and once again pushes the pocket back. Sheard brings tremendous pressure off of the LDE side and once again is obviously being held. But Hicks is able to push through his blockers and get to Yates. Ninkovich is also bringing pressure from the outside RDE position.

Hicks sack Yates(2)

This was a great performance by the Patriots defensive line on Sunday night. Coupled with strong play by the secondary, it was a dominant effort  against albeit a limited offensive team but doesn’t take away from their production as a unit.

Bill Belichick always states that defense is a team effort with the pass rush and coverage working in concert. Sunday was another big game for this unit. Normally they rely on A-gap pressure from Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower. But this was a night for the defensive line. If the Patriots can get consistent pressure like this from the line, it will serve them well down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

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Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Akiem Hicks Alan Branch Bill Belichick Brian Hoyer Chandler Jones Dominique Easley Houston Texans Jabaal Sheard Malcom Brown New England Patriots NFL Patriots patriots defensive line Patriots edge rushers Pats predictions Rob Ninkovich Tom Brady

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