Patriots Defense Is Changing, But Not Against Wilson
Now that the election hysteria has subsided for the moment, it is time to get back to football. Just about a week ago, the Patriots traded linebacker Jamie Collins to the Cleveland Browns and now the unit will be forced to undergo some changes. But if you’re like many fans and expecting them to be more aggressive on defense, those changes aren’t coming, at least not this week.
The most immediate focus on Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is how they play on replacing Collins in the defense and number two is, how to breathe some life in what has been a moribund pass rush.
First, what’s the plan on replacing Collins? As we’ve now been already aware, the Patriots had planned on making Collins a part-time player and already against Buffalo, they replaced him on early downs by rookie linebacker Elandon Roberts. Roberts is a smaller player at 6’0, and 235 pounds but doesn’t play that way. He’s a downhill, physical player with a great burst.
“He’s a missile, man,” Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower said earlier in an interview. “He’s a torpedo. He’s a hammer.”
While he’s definitely a force against the run as his play against All-Pro tackle Joe Thomas in the Cleveland game will attest, he’s not as comfortable in his coverage role. The Patriots know that they’ll have to live with his learning that aspect of his craft on the job. But for third downs or obvious passing downs, there will be some tinkering to do.
The obvious choice would be to use Barkevious Mingo, who, not possessing the strength or the size of Collins, is at least as close as one can get in the athletic department. Recent addition Kyle Van Noy and Shea McClellin, as well as Rob Ninkovich, may get some looks there.
Hightower remains the key member of the unit, he can do it all. The Pats signal caller on defense is a big, physical run-stuffer inside and can bring great pressure on the A-gap blitzes up the middle. They can also shift him to the outside and force plays out on the edge where he had some experience as an outside edge rusher while at Alabama. Expect them to tinker with different combinations to find the right mix.
Which brings us to the pass rush, if you are expecting them to get more aggressive this week, think again. Although Russell Wilson has been banged up and still doesn’t have the normal burst and quickness that we’ve seen out of him in the past, he’s quickly getting there. Watching the Buffalo game showed that he’s almost got his mobility back.
And if there’s one thing that Bill Belichick will preach this week, it will be containment. This has been the Patriots M.O. when facing mobile quarterbacks, they’re willing to sacrifice pass rush pressure to keep the quarterback in the pocket. That is especially important to a team that likes to play man-to-man coverage like the Patriots do.
With defensive backs trying to stay plastered to a wide receiver down the field, if a quarterback escapes the pocket and begins to run, their job then becomes much more difficult. Invariably once a QB breaks containment or a would-be sack, someone becomes wide open down the field.
The problem becomes one of time. How long can you expect the secondary to hold their coverage before someone breaks open? And with a QB like Wilson, he’s much better suited for hitting plays from the pocket than a player like the Pats faced two weeks ago in Tyrod Taylor.
With the Seattle running game mired in neutral this season and averaging just about 81 yards per game, those problems running center around the health of Wilson who has averaged much more yardage rushing in the past. The Patriots may opt to keep a spy on Wilson and get after him a bit more, but history has shown that they’ll try to contain him on the edge and slowly force the pocket closed.
With Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and tight end Jimmy Graham, Wilson has plenty of options to stretch the field and if he begins to make plays with his feet, they can easily break off a big play down the field. He hit Baldwin on a 50-yarder on Monday night against the Bills.
The Patriots don’t want to see that; their focus is on denying the big plays down the field and they have been very good at preventing those. They’ve only allowed one 40+ yard pass play this season.
So on Sunday night, expect to see much of what we’ve seen before when facing QBs like Wilson. They’ll be in the containment mode and try to squeeze the pocket. If there is some pressure, look for it up the middle in trying to force Wilson into getting rid of the ball quickly. As always, that can be a dangerous proposition against the mobile Seattle QB.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2016 NFL Season 2016 Patriots season Barkevious Mingo Bill Belichick Buffalo Bills Dont'a Hightower Doug Baldwin Elandon Roberts Jabaal Sheard Jamie Collins Jermaine Kearse Jimmy Graham Kyle Van Noy Malcolm Butler New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Rob Ninkovich Russell Wilson Seattle Seahawks Shea McClellin Trey Flowers
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