Sunday, December 21, 2014

Patriots defense continues savage run, bails out offense in 17-16 win over Jets

Chandler Jones and Chris Jones both congratulate Vince Wilfork after he deflected a Nick Folk (2) field goal attempt
The New England Patriots' offense has some problems.  Fortunately for them, their defense causes even more problems for the opposing offense.

For the sixth consecutive game, the Patriots' defense held their opponents without a touchdown in the second half, while New England's fashionably late offense again scored enough after the break to give help them to their tenth victory in their last 11 games, their 17-16 win over New York at MetLife Stadium on Sunday afternoon clinching a first round bye for the Patriots.

One has to look all the way back to New England's 42-20 win over the Indianapolis Colts to find the last time an opposing offense has scored a second half touchdown on the stingy Patriots' defense.  In fact, since that game, the Patriots defense has allowed only 12 second half points in five games.

Ponder that for a moment, then consider that those four field goals were the combined production from 26 drives, a ridiculously miserly scoring rate of 15% - which has been crucial since the Patriots have gone into halftime trailing their opponents in three of their last five games, and have scored more than ten points in the second half themselves just once.

Obviously, the defense has been bailing out the offense lately, which shouldn't be the case when one considers the talent that New England offers on offense - but there is both a reason and solution.

Tom Brady was under siege all afternoon
The reason? No commitment to the running game.  The solution? Commit to the run.

The oldest principle in football is the running game.  Before the advent of the forward pass, before the rules that limited the number of players on each side to eleven and before even the ball became the oblong great Grandfather of today's pigskin, the running game is how teams moved up and down the field.

The second most fundamental principle in offensive football is to force the opposing defense to defend the entire field, which came into play with the advent of the forward pass.  Many believe that it takes a speedy wide receiver who can take the top off of the defense to force this issue, but the one true way that one can achieve this goal is through balance...

...another axiom of football that is misunderstood, in that balance in football doesn't necessarily mean equal parts running and passing - rather, it means to run the ball as many times as it takes for the defense to respect your commitment to the run.

That's it.  If you commit to the running game and stay with it regardless of success, it creates harmony for the offense and has a polarizing effect on the defense: Running the ball limits the personnel that they can dedicate to their pass defense, and the front seven are far more susceptible to the play action pass - with the linebackers freezing for a split-second before assuming their coverage responsibilities and the pass rushers forced to maintain their gap integrity for that same split-second before commencing their assault on the quarterback.

What this does is creates easier separation for the backs and tight ends curling out into the pattern and also affords the offensive linemen the opportunity to get in their stance and become anchored against the onslaught.
The Jets' defense held Rob Gronkowski in check...

If there is no balance, you get - well - you get what we saw today and, indeed, the past five weeks.  And heading into the post-season, that isn't going to make the nut.

For sure, The Jets were having their way with the Patriots on both sides of the ball in the first half but led by just three points at halftime, building that lead to six midway through the third quarter on a Nick Folk chipshot field goal - and it began to look like Brady and the offense would never stop spinning their wheels and gain some traction downfield...

...after all, their six possessions in the first half and their one coming out of the locker room at halftime yeilded little, as their only score, an athletic back-shoulder grab by Rob Gronkowski, came after Danny Amendola set up the offense at the New York 36 yard line with a fantastic punt return to open the second quarter. Of the others, three were of the three-and-out variety, one was a kneel down at the end of the half and the other two simply stalled short of paydirt.

But then, suddenly, the Patriots started to move the ball.  A combination of the no-huddle and four-minute offensive philosophies melded in unison, generating an eight play, 81 yard drive that produced a field goal to get the Patriots to within three, then an eight-play, 38 yard drive to take their first lead of the game ensued, capped by a Jonas Gray one-yard run.

What was the difference?  On the field goal drive, running back Shane Vereen carried the ball six times for 38 yards, then on the touchdown drive, Brady himself took to the ground, rushing twice for 12 yards, each time moving the chains.  Then after another Folk field goal trimmed New England's lead to just one point, Brandon Bolden toted the rock four times for 29 yards as the Patriots ran out the final 5:16 to secure their 12th victory of the season.

In those three drives, New England committed to the run, gaining 81 of their 85 rushing yards on the day, and a sterling 5.75 yards per pop - so it's not as if the Patriots couldn't run on the Jets.

The defense made big play after big play to bail out the sputtering Patriots' offense, a trend that continues from week-to-week, far protracted from the so-called tough part of their schedule and into the stretch run, and although the offense was without their top receiver and starting running back for the game, that has little bearing on the fact that it's been happening for weeks.

A Jamie Collins interception caused by defensive end Chandler Jones' hit on Jets' quarterback Geno Smith as he released the ball halted one promising-looking Jets' drive, and a timely hug blitz by middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower resulting in a sack forced a long field goal attempt by Folk that was deflected by Vince Wilfork, were perhaps game-altering plays, and the Patriots do not win this game were it not for them.

But in the end, it was a division win that assured the Patriots one of the top two seeds in the AFC, and the first round bye that comes with it - a win over Buffalo at home next Sunday to close out the season would certify that the road to the Super Bowl goes right through Gillette Stadium in the dead of winter, a very intimidating venue, particularly in gloomy weather...

...just the sort of weather that makes Foxborough a tough place for any team to visit - but to take advantage of the home field and all of the nasty things that it holds for the opposition, the Patriots must achieve balance and must commit to the run, or it all stands for naught.

No comments:

Post a Comment