Sunday, February 1, 2015

Prelude To A Title - Part 6: Patriots' Offensive Diversity Too Much, Even For Seahawks

"Within the scope of the Ehrhardt-Perkins scheme that Belichick employs, balance is so crucial that to tip the scales to one focus on the offense - in essence, to put all of your eggs in one basket - makes the offense easier to defend, particularly when facing an elite, attacking defense that can take away what you do best. So the best way to attack an entity like that is to do everything well, and to have as many weapons as possible to rotate onto the field - and in theory, this Patriots' offense will be able to do that in a fashion that is going to be described as 'Dizzying'." Foxborough Free Press, July 31, 2014

The New England Patriots are nothing if not diverse.

Indeed, these Patriots on offense are simply whatever they need to be in order to win.  Because of head ball coach Bill Belichick's philosophy that the 53rd man on the roster is just as important as the top gun, New England sports the type of depth chart that allows him to prepare game plans that can take advantage of his foes weaknesses simply by making minor tweaks from week to week...

...not just in personnel, but by having players on the roster that do multiple things well, identifying how their skill set fills the need to take advantage of his opponent, then building each players' strengths into the game plan.
The onus is on the Seahawks to find an answer for Gronkowski

Take the Patriots' offensive line for example.All three interior starters have professional experience at center, while left tackle Nate Solder is a former collegiate tight end and rookie tackle Cameron Fleming is athletic enough to play tight end and pull to the inside in the running game.  We've seen them all in those capacities at various points of the season

At receiver, both Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are prototypical slot receivers, but they have the speed and separation ability play both inside and out, and Brandon LaFell does the same, but at five inches taller to assume more of a possession receiver role.

But that's the thing with the Patriots' offense, and there's really no getting around it, no matter how much people wish for the big play: The Patriots are a ball-control, possession heavy, four-minute offense that relies on three yards and a cloud of rubber tire pellets from their passing game as well as their ground game.

The short, timing-based passing game that allows quarterback Tom Brady to get the ball out of his hand quickly also affords the receivers the opportunity to juke defenders and pick up extra yardage after the catch, a staple of the four-minute offense as it can be construed as an extension of the running game in that it forces the defenders to react rather than to be aggressive and dictate the pace... you can be sure that the Seattle Seahawks will push the envelope by trying to jam the Patriots' pass catchers at the line of scrimmage to disrupt Brady's timing with them - but they can't pick everyone, and with the threat of an established running game dancing in their brains, the Seahawks will be forced to read and react.

The Patriots certainly have the potential to bust a big play on any given possession, but the anatomy of the team philosophy dictates that it is best to control the clock with long, clock-eating drives, preferring to lull a defense to sleep with their methodical and predictable play calling, then hit them over the top or up the seam when they least expect it.

This benefits everyone.  It keeps the offense in a groove, their opposition off balance and their own defense rested and ready on the sidelines - so don't expect a game plan that varies from this recipe for success.

But as much as one would like to see the two teams compete on a level playing field, the fact that 3/4 of the vaunted Legion of Boom secondary are hobbled with a variety of injury, so the first thing that has to happen for New England is to assess the limitations - if any - of the injured birds.

Big strong safety Kam Chancellor is reported to have injured his left knee in Friday's practice, landing him on the injury report with fellow safety Earl Thomas (separated shoulder) and cornerback Richard Sherman (torn elbow ligaments) - but it would be foolish for the Patriots to go into this game assuming their level of limitation, as New England has been done in by sandbagging entities before (see Super Bowl losses to Giants).

So if Seattle is trying to lure the Patriots into a false sense of security, it would be prudent for the offense to conduct their own examination and come up with their own diagnosis - and do it early enough in the game to be able to adjust as needed.

One school of thought from the experts is that Chancellor will be matched up against New England's Rob Gronkowski, who is widely considered to be the best tight end in the business, given Chancellor's size and aggressive nature, not to mention his coverage ability.

If Chancellor is indeed in Gronkowski's face, the best idea would be to send Gronk off the line as the Flanker or set up out wide to the right in the formation where an inside move by Gronkowski will test the strong safety's injured left knee as he will have to plant and stick on an aggressive inside move to hang with Gronkowski.

Same idea if Sherman ends up on Gronkowski.  Sherman is a great perimeter defender in that he is an expert at gaining inside position on receivers and squeezing them out using the sideline as an immovable object.  The way to beat Sherman is to take him either inside or to properly execute back shoulder throws along the sidelines.

Sherman has proven to be an adept defender on the back shoulder throws because of his penchant for pinning the receivers to the sidelines and cutting off their angle, but Gronk's size and hands, Brady's accuracy and velocity on the ball, and Sherman's injured elbow all factor in to this being an advantage for New England.

I doesn't even have to be Gronkowski running the pattern, as LaFell and Tim Wright are big targets for the back shoulder throws.  It's a tight window for sure, but keeping everything to the outside on Sherman where he is forced to use his injured left arm to extend to the ball might have the Seattle defensive coaching staff rethinking and adjusting on the fly.

Add into the mix the probability that the Patriots will be able to wear down the small front seven with both the running game and Brady's quick release, there is no reason to think that New England won't score 30 points against the Seahawks' defense.

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