Sunday, February 1, 2015

Prelude To A Title - Part 7: Revis Is Patriots' 12th Man

"The real value of having a shutdown corner like Revis on the field is that it allows the defense to run with a single high safety that will shade to the corner opposite Revis in support of the direction that the ball will probably be going, which would allow the Patriots to run with four corners in a nickle without sacrificing run support.

Obviously, none of the Patriots' corners are in the same class as Revis, but they are of quality cloth and all would be starters or the first nickle option on other teams - so the dynamics would change and the single high safety idea would probably fade into oblivion, but the Patriots are more able to maintain integrity in the secondary that any of those other teams."
Foxborough Free Press, August 31, 2014

Without question, this New England Patriots' defense is the best to haunt Foxborough since the Championship days, and even the most casual of fans should have been aware of this the moment the Patriots signed cornerback Darrelle Revis to a rich free agent contract in the offseason.

Sure, having a healthy Vince Wilfork to plug the middle of the defense was key as well, as was signing Brandon Browner and trading for linebackers Akeem Ayers and Jonathan Casillas midseason - but nothing made the difference on the New England defense like having a true shutdown corner.
Revis is the best cover corner in the game today

And not just a true shutdown corner, but the best shutdown corner in the business.

Seahawk fans can argue all they want about Richard Sherman being the best, but when it comes to total value and diversity on the playing field, most knowledgeable fans would take Revis every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Why?  Simply because of the aforementioned versatility.  While Sherman shuts down one side of the field, that is pretty much the limit of his effectiveness.  Revis can shut down one side of the field, but he can also take the flanker on the rub, the tight end up the seam and the quick twitch slot man on the crosser, each with equal success.

The trickle down effect of having such a stopper is akin to having an extra man on the field, as his presence means that the Patriots are able to employ a single high safety and either drop the other safety into the box in run support or replace him with a nickle cover corner.

In essence, he is the Patriots' 12th man.

This is one of the main reasons why the New England Patriots are going to be walking out of University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday night with the Lombardi Trophy firmly in tow.

With all due respect to the other 50 players on the Patriots' roster, only Revis, quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski reside in such rarified air, players that have such an impact on the outcome of a game that they become keys by default, players whose skill at their given craft far exceed anyone else at their position.
Collins could end up garnering some MVP votes...

With Gronkowski, it's sheer physical ability combined with excellent size-speed ratio and gargantuan hands that swallow footballs, while with Brady it's merely playing at such a high level for such a long time that it's second-nature - though having a rocket launcher for an arm and the intensity of a speed freak doesn't hurt.

But it's a bit different with Revis, if only because the defense doesn't have to follow such stringent rules for formations and such like the offense must, and Revis' versatility is the perfect weapon to take advantage.

The main beneficiary of his presence on Super Bowl Sunday is the front seven, the linebackers in particular, and even more so against a team like the Seattle Seahawks, who have very limited depth among their pass catchers and rely mainly on the running game and the play-extending abilities of quarterback Russell Wilson.

What Revis' versatility does for the front seven is it allows the linebackers to concentrate on defending the read option by "spying" Wilson, which also enables them to move laterally down the line of scrimmage - essential for squaring up and tackling the illusive and powerful running back Marshawn Lynch.

Along with defensive backs Brandon Browner, Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington, the Patriots have enough in the secondary to account for whatever the Seahawks can throw at them - pardon the pun - and all are exceptional in run support - but where the Patriots could get into trouble is if they allow Wilson to extend plays outside of the pocket...

...because while his receivers are not household names and will probably have trouble in separating from the Patriots' defensive backfield initially, no cornerback can hold coverage forever, and the strength of Seahawk receivers Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin are in finding holes in the coverage once the pass rush breaks down and Wilson is in his element outside of the pocket.

To prevent this from happening, look for the Patriots to attack the Seahawks' offensive line right up the middle, while ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich float in their gaps to prevent Wilson from getting outside.  The interior rush should be keyed by Vince Wilfork's ability to tie up two blockers, and if New England runs with a five-man line and two linebackers - essentially a cloud defense - there's going to be a gap somewhere for either Jamie Collins or Dont'a Hightower to exploit.

The hug blitz will be huge in this game.  For the hug blitz to be effective, the linebacker who has the assignment on Lynch or whatever back is in the game, must maintain his spy station until the back engages a defender in pass protection - which is where the interior rush becomes so important - and provided he's not just chipping and curls out into the pattern, the free linebacker then sprints through the gap right into the quarterback's face.

And if the ends are doing their job and presses to contain the edges, Wilson will have no place to run and will either have to get rid of the ball in a hurry or take a sack.

That said, there is no excuse for the ends to not contain Wilson.  The coverage down the field should be solid and the Patriots have the advantage along the line of scrimmage, particularly rushing from their left because of the injury status and inexperience of the Seahawks' right guard and tackle - so all the ends have to do is maintain their gap integrity and not get pinned inside or escorted around the top of the pocket.

In theory, this is plausible - but when the game starts, theory ends and practical application rules - and whichever team handles reality best will end up winning the Lombardi Trophy.

If that ends up being New England, the MVP of the Super Bowl may very well come from the defensive side of the ball.

The idea is to keep him in the pocket and force him to throw over and around both his own offensive linemen and the rushing defenders, all of who have a significant height and size advantage over the demure (5' 11") third year signal caller.

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