Pats defense: Ongoing discussion

Saints Rest

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I thought it might be useful to have a place to talk about the Pats defense as it progresses over the course of the season. Much like we did pre-season, but now the games count, and the players are known and fully involved.

What's up with the front 7? Not a great showing in Week 1. Once again, if they cannot stop the run, this whole season will be a disaster.

Is Hightower washed up or is he just having issues hitting his stride after 20 months with no game action? My memory may be off, but I seem to recall another year, maybe even a year after a season-ending injury, where Hightower started the season looking DONE, and then he got his timing and instincts back and turned into the Hightower we love.
 

tims4wins

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I thought it might be useful to have a place to talk about the Pats defense as it progresses over the course of the season. Much like we did pre-season, but now the games count, and the players are known and fully involved.

What's up with the front 7? Not a great showing in Week 1. Once again, if they cannot stop the run, this whole season will be a disaster.

Is Hightower washed up or is he just having issues hitting his stride after 20 months with no game action? My memory may be off, but I seem to recall another year, maybe even a year after a season-ending injury, where Hightower started the season looking DONE, and then he got his timing and instincts back and turned into the Hightower we love.
It was 2017-2018 with Hightower. He got hurt midway through 2017, came back in 2018, looked pedestrian for the first 8-10 games, then was a complete beast down the stretch and in the playoffs.
 

Captaincoop

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Someone asked in last week's gamethread for an example of a guy Belichick irrationally seems to love - Bentley is example 1A. Every year I get more frustrated watching him not improve, and continue to get tons of snaps. He kills this defense when he's out there against crossing routes and other short passing attacks. He just is not fast enough, in my amateur opinion.
 

Eddie Jurak

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Someone asked in last week's gamethread for an example of a guy Belichick irrationally seems to love - Bentley is example 1A. Every year I get more frustrated watching him not improve, and continue to get tons of snaps. He kills this defense when he's out there against crossing routes and other short passing attacks. He just is not fast enough, in my amateur opinion.
He's the second coming of Gary Guyton.
 

Bowhemian

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Someone asked in last week's gamethread for an example of a guy Belichick irrationally seems to love - Bentley is example 1A. Every year I get more frustrated watching him not improve, and continue to get tons of snaps. He kills this defense when he's out there against crossing routes and other short passing attacks. He just is not fast enough, in my amateur opinion.
You are not alone. I had been reading that he had a decent camp, so I had hope that he improved over last season. Watching him this past Sunday, I can say that he indeed has not improved.
 

BaseballJones

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Roberts blew up the Pats on a few occasions this past week so there's still some use for guys like that.
 

SMU_Sox

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Bentley typically plays the Will role. The will role in this defense is more of a react and crash a gap. You sometimes send your will up the middle on a blitz. Will’s also are responsible for short zone drops. Uche is being used as an edge. Uche had some off-ball snaps last year but this year that isn’t his role. Personally I think Uche has the ability to play a Will role but he’s not the downhill thumper type they usually plug in for that role like E-Rob, Bentley, and drafting Cam McGrone. Uche is pretty fluid in coverage… where he might have an issue is stacking and shedding OLs in the run game. So yeah I think he can do it but he’s a different style of Will.
 
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Someone asked in last week's gamethread for an example of a guy Belichick irrationally seems to love - Bentley is example 1A. Every year I get more frustrated watching him not improve, and continue to get tons of snaps. He kills this defense when he's out there against crossing routes and other short passing attacks. He just is not fast enough, in my amateur opinion.
Deatrich Wise would like a word.
 

SMU_Sox

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Lazar brings up a good point on his pod about how the Patriots defend RPOs. The LBs don’t drop into shallow zones, they play the run. The problem with this is that gives the QB an easy pass read and that pass is then usually a 10-15 yard gain. Because Bill prefers bigger ILBs and plays the run first he’s setting himself up for a vulnerability against RPOs. If you had a guy like Darius Leonard or someone with sideline to sideline speed you can possibly have a better result because the LB might be able to close or recover enough to prevent first down yardage.
Kind of reminds me about the Uche question and if he can be an ILB. So in theory a guy like Uche who is the requisite 240+ (I think he bulked up to 250-255) would be an every down guy who has that sideline to sideline speed at ILB. Then on Passing downs Uche could kick outside to OLB.

I’m wondering defensively if they switch it up. Maybe have the strong side guy drop back into a shallow zone and have the weak side guy scrape? That way you at least have an underneath defender who should be able to help defend the pass and if it is a run the weak side ILB would scrape and add a guy to run defense. You’d have to have good safety play on the backside of the play in case it is a run and there is a cutback but we see safeties doing that in college and in the NFL. I’m just brainstorming here because I don’t think the way they defend RPOs now (and last year) is a viable strategy.
Edit: I’m assuming the read is on the strong side LB which won’t always be the case.
Edit 2: Lazar’s idea was to drop both LBs back, force the run read and live with your DL being able to control them to limit their runs to 4-5 yard gains.
 
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SMU_Sox

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Another thing with Uche is while his coverage is raw he did cover KJ Hamler on IIRC a slot fade in college and kept up with him. But on the other hand ILB was his most raw position so perhaps he’s not ready to take on a complex role. ILB is probably the hardest position on defense coming from college to the NFL. I’m really curious what their long term development plan is for him. He has the athletic profile to be a Swiss Army knife - versatile. Unfortunately he didn’t have a ton of playing time in college so that adds to his being raw problem.
 

Over Guapo Grande

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@SMU_Sox Thanks- my non all 22 take was that the D was being burned on the backside slant from the RPO... so Miami would show left, and throw back right. Does my memory jive with what you see?
 

SteveF

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The NFL trend is probably going to be what Staley did with the Rams. He played 5 in the box to force the run read (defense can dictate whether the offense runs or passes off the RPO by how many players they play in the box). The linemen play a gap and a half technique to slow the running game down just enough to allow a safety they usually rotate into the box post snap to get their 6th run defender.

It seemed to be effective for the Rams last year, but I'm not sure whether it was the players, the newness of the scheme, or a combination of both.
 

SMU_Sox

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The NFL trend is probably going to be what Staley did with the Rams. He played 5 in the box to force the run read (defense can dictate whether the offense runs or passes off the RPO by how many players they play in the box). The linemen play a gap and a half technique to slow the running game down just enough to allow a safety they usually rotate into the box post snap to get their 6th run defender.

It seemed to be effective for the Rams last year, but I'm not sure whether it was the players, the newness of the scheme, or a combination of both.
If I can find the link I’ll come back here and post it but there was either a pod or an article detailing what Staley did and how it was both unique and effective.

That’s my thinking too with forcing the run read. Staley utilized a 2-high safety defense and the Pats like their single high but they mix it up of course… the gap and a half part is interesting. I think last year they didn’t have the DL and edges to be able to handle that but this year you’d think they could. Going from their defense to a Staley style is a big change in philosophy. It’s something I wonder about when DMC retires - do they stick with trying to get another guy who can be great at single high or do they want to go another route with perhaps more zone coverage and featuring more 2 high safety looks? It’s not like Bill hasn’t played virtually every scheme anyway at some point.

There was an argument on the pod or article that the Rams had such a good DL that they could execute it and that you need the horses to do it. Again though I think the Pats on paper have the guys to pull it off.
 

SMU_Sox

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@SMU_Sox Thanks- my non all 22 take was that the D was being burned on the backside slant from the RPO... so Miami would show left, and throw back right. Does my memory jive with what you see?
I think you are correct. And to make matters worse it was usually wide freaking open too /Sad-Panda.
 

SteveF

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I think some of those weren't play calls. If the defense is in off coverage, I think Tua is coached to just fire it out there instead of running the play that was called in the huddle. It's smart because the Dolphins have some wideouts you might not want to be in press coverage against all game long.
 

Eddie Jurak

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Lazar brings up a good point on his pod about how the Patriots defend RPOs. The LBs don’t drop into shallow zones, they play the run. The problem with this is that gives the QB an easy pass read and that pass is then usually a 10-15 yard gain. Because Bill prefers bigger ILBs and plays the run first he’s setting himself up for a vulnerability against RPOs. If you had a guy like Darius Leonard or someone with sideline to sideline speed you can possibly have a better result because the LB might be able to close or recover enough to prevent first down yardage.
Kind of reminds me about the Uche question and if he can be an ILB. So in theory a guy like Uche who is the requisite 240+ (I think he bulked up to 250-255) would be an every down guy who has that sideline to sideline speed at ILB. Then on Passing downs Uche could kick outside to OLB.
What do you make of this? Usually BB doesn't deliberately run with a defensive plan that is doomed to fail.
 

rodderick

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Lazar brings up a good point on his pod about how the Patriots defend RPOs. The LBs don’t drop into shallow zones, they play the run. The problem with this is that gives the QB an easy pass read and that pass is then usually a 10-15 yard gain. Because Bill prefers bigger ILBs and plays the run first he’s setting himself up for a vulnerability against RPOs. If you had a guy like Darius Leonard or someone with sideline to sideline speed you can possibly have a better result because the LB might be able to close or recover enough to prevent first down yardage.
Kind of reminds me about the Uche question and if he can be an ILB. So in theory a guy like Uche who is the requisite 240+ (I think he bulked up to 250-255) would be an every down guy who has that sideline to sideline speed at ILB. Then on Passing downs Uche could kick outside to OLB.

I’m wondering defensively if they switch it up. Maybe have the strong side guy drop back into a shallow zone and have the weak side guy scrape? That way you at least have an underneath defender who should be able to help defend the pass and if it is a run the weak side ILB would scrape and add a guy to run defense. You’d have to have good safety play on the backside of the play in case it is a run and there is a cutback but we see safeties doing that in college and in the NFL. I’m just brainstorming here because I don’t think the way they defend RPOs now (and last year) is a viable strategy.
Edit: I’m assuming the read is on the strong side LB which won’t always be the case.
Edit 2: Lazar’s idea was to drop both LBs back, force the run read and live with your DL being able to control them to limit their runs to 4-5 yard gains.
It'd be ideal if Uche could turn into Jamie Collins, but I feel like it's been a while that there's been a discrepancy between what Bill looks for in a linebacker and the profile of linebackers that are among the league's best. They've simply lacked athleticism at that spot, Collins aside (and he's a complete freak because he's big as well).
 

SMU_Sox

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What do you make of this? Usually BB doesn't deliberately run with a defensive plan that is doomed to fail.
I think it’s just something BB and staff has to figure out. I was trying to see how Saban defended it as a hint to what the Pats might do and found this quote from 2021:


Basically it’s a hard play to defend against and it puts your linebackers in a bind. Also as @Over Guapo Grande pointed out that bang-bang slant is deadly…
 

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Willie Clay's Big Play

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My understanding of defensive concepts/formations if pretty basic, but I think it's safe to say that this puts a ton of stress on any defense. Is there anything that you think has kept this from becoming more prevalent across the entire NFL? QB skill set/O-line characteristics?
 

BaseballJones

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Is the RPO the way a lot of teams run it even legal? So I'm watching this video here:

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUGp69L1ryc


And at 0:55 there's the Eagles running an RPO play. The ball is being snapped at 2 yards past the big yard line (we can't tell which one). The QB (Wentz) goes through his run option, ultimately not handing the ball off to #36. He pulls it back in and goes to throw. By the time he throws the ball, watch where the center (#62) is. He's way past the NEXT major yard line, so a good three yards downfield. In fact, basically the entire offensive line is past the line of scrimmage, though it's possible that some of them are within the one-yard limit. But the center is way past there.

At 3:20, the LOS is the 28. The left tackle is at the 30 when the pass is thrown. Again, past the one-yard legal zone.

I am sure that it's not always this way. But in order for the RPO to really work as a running play, the linemen need to fire past the LOS. You don't gain yards running when your offensive line is stacked up at the line of scrimmage. They need to get some push. But when they get good push, they're 2-3 (or more) yards past the LOS, then the QB pulls the ball back and makes the pass. But that would make it an illegal play. I see it all the time with the RPO.

So what's going on here? Are refs not noticing it? I mean in some of these examples, the linemen are WAY downfield. Hard to miss. Or is it that they're allowing this play to be called differently than other plays?
 

SMU_Sox

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My understanding of defensive concepts/formations if pretty basic, but I think it's safe to say that this puts a ton of stress on any defense. Is there anything that you think has kept this from becoming more prevalent across the entire NFL? QB skill set/O-line characteristics?
Chiefs ran 21% RPOs last year and the league average was around 8.6%. Power five teams ran about 21% RPOs. I think it’s just a matter of time and for teams with younger QBs you see more RPOs in the league already. PFF looked at run plays and the average EPA for a run play was -0.108, but RPO runs had an EPA of +0.07. They are easy to install, easy to run, and effective. Again it’s just a matter of time to me.
 

BaseballJones

ivanvamp
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What percentage of plays have the QB behind center these days? It's WAY less than it used to be, right?
 

SMU_Sox

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The thing for the Pats with defending against RPOs is it will stress your LBs in coverage and the Pats ILBs right now are not guys who do well in coverage so I’m curious what they will do to adjust. Guys like Phillips could handle it but he’s small for an ILB. Uche has all the athletic traits to handle it but like I said up thread he needs work learning that position and the team might not even see him in that role. It’s definitely something they need to figure out though because if you can’t defend the RPO well how do you expect to beat the Chiefs?
 

BaseballJones

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The thing for the Pats with defending against RPOs is it will stress your LBs in coverage and the Pats ILBs right now are not guys who do well in coverage so I’m curious what they will do to adjust. Guys like Phillips could handle it but he’s small for an ILB. Uche has all the athletic traits to handle it but like I said up thread he needs work learning that position and the team might not even see him in that role. It’s definitely something they need to figure out though because if you can’t defend the RPO well how do you expect to beat the Chiefs?
Well....last year with a decent (not great...but decent) defense, they held the Chiefs' offense to 19 points, 3.8 yards per rush, and 4-11 on third downs. And they did this despite committing 4 turnovers themselves. So I know it's a major tall task, but they did ok last year defensively against them.
 

tims4wins

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Is the RPO the way a lot of teams run it even legal? So I'm watching this video here:

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUGp69L1ryc


And at 0:55 there's the Eagles running an RPO play. The ball is being snapped at 2 yards past the big yard line (we can't tell which one). The QB (Wentz) goes through his run option, ultimately not handing the ball off to #36. He pulls it back in and goes to throw. By the time he throws the ball, watch where the center (#62) is. He's way past the NEXT major yard line, so a good three yards downfield. In fact, basically the entire offensive line is past the line of scrimmage, though it's possible that some of them are within the one-yard limit. But the center is way past there.

At 3:20, the LOS is the 28. The left tackle is at the 30 when the pass is thrown. Again, past the one-yard legal zone.

I am sure that it's not always this way. But in order for the RPO to really work as a running play, the linemen need to fire past the LOS. You don't gain yards running when your offensive line is stacked up at the line of scrimmage. They need to get some push. But when they get good push, they're 2-3 (or more) yards past the LOS, then the QB pulls the ball back and makes the pass. But that would make it an illegal play. I see it all the time with the RPO.

So what's going on here? Are refs not noticing it? I mean in some of these examples, the linemen are WAY downfield. Hard to miss. Or is it that they're allowing this play to be called differently than other plays?
It's legal as long as they are still blocking defensive players:

Item 1. Legally Downfield. An ineligible player is not illegally downfield if, after initiating contact with an opponent within one yard of the line of scrimmage during his initial charge:

  1. he moves more than one yard beyond the line while legally blocking or being blocked by an opponent
  2. after breaking legal contact with an opponent more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage, he remains stationary until a forward pass is thrown
  3. after losing legal contact with an opponent more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage, he is forced behind the line of scrimmage by an opponent, at which time he is again subject to normal blocking restrictions for an ineligible offensive player.
 

SMU_Sox

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Well....last year with a decent (not great...but decent) defense, they held the Chiefs' offense to 19 points, 3.8 yards per rush, and 4-11 on third downs. And they did this despite committing 4 turnovers themselves. So I know it's a major tall task, but they did ok last year defensively against them.
Good point. I wonder if gamepass still has the all-22 from last year. Would be a good idea to check out that game.
 

BaseballJones

ivanvamp
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It's legal as long as they are still blocking defensive players:

Item 1. Legally Downfield. An ineligible player is not illegally downfield if, after initiating contact with an opponent within one yard of the line of scrimmage during his initial charge:

  1. he moves more than one yard beyond the line while legally blocking or being blocked by an opponent
  2. after breaking legal contact with an opponent more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage, he remains stationary until a forward pass is thrown
  3. after losing legal contact with an opponent more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage, he is forced behind the line of scrimmage by an opponent, at which time he is again subject to normal blocking restrictions for an ineligible offensive player.
Helpful. So it seems to me that one way to maybe better pass protect would be on every play, fire out and engage defenders. Not only would it simulate a run (you could do this on an old-school play-action play, not just an RPO) which would give the defense just a little something extra to think about, as it wouldn't be a dead giveaway as a pass play, but also it would create more space for the QB to throw. Instead of letting the defenders crash towards the QB, you have the OL push the defenders back across the line of scrimmage.

So there must be a reason why teams don't block pass plays like this.
 

tims4wins

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Helpful. So it seems to me that one way to maybe better pass protect would be on every play, fire out and engage defenders. Not only would it simulate a run (you could do this on an old-school play-action play, not just an RPO) which would give the defense just a little something extra to think about, as it wouldn't be a dead giveaway as a pass play, but also it would create more space for the QB to throw. Instead of letting the defenders crash towards the QB, you have the OL push the defenders back across the line of scrimmage.

So there must be a reason why teams don't block pass plays like this.
Yeah, because if you are moving forward, it's much easier for the defender to get around you. It works in the running game because if a defender gets around you, it could be too late and open huge holes. But in the passing game it just means a free run at the QB.
 

BaseballJones

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Yeah, because if you are moving forward, it's much easier for the defender to get around you. It works in the running game because if a defender gets around you, it could be too late and open huge holes. But in the passing game it just means a free run at the QB.
But if you run forward, and the defender goes around you, he doesn't know that when you fake a handoff that you're actually faking the handoff and he's opening himself up to getting gashed.

I dunno. (apparently!)
 

Saints Rest

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I thought it might be useful to have a place to talk about the Pats defense as it progresses over the course of the season. Much like we did pre-season, but now the games count, and the players are known and fully involved.

What's up with the front 7? Not a great showing in Week 1. Once again, if they cannot stop the run, this whole season will be a disaster.

Is Hightower washed up or is he just having issues hitting his stride after 20 months with no game action? My memory may be off, but I seem to recall another year, maybe even a year after a season-ending injury, where Hightower started the season looking DONE, and then he got his timing and instincts back and turned into the Hightower we love.
Stopping the run was no better this week. Two weeks against suspect offensive lines. Yikes.

On the bright side, the pass rush looked better as did Hightower.

Release Josh Uche!
 
Apr 24, 2019
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If this team could just add a #1 WR, a true run-stuffing DT to pair with Barmore, and a high-end LT, they'd really have something! ;)

Hoping the DL at least is just taking a little while to get their early season shit together. This ain't good.
 

ehaz

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I just refuse to be concerned about the defense until we get a few more weeks in. Lots of new faces and opt-outs back. It usually takes a couple weeks for a BB defense to hit their stride. Just too much talent.

Judon looks great. He’ll never put up the counting stats to be a DPOY candidate, but I think we’ll eventually look at this signing the way we look at Bill’s last defensive big money free agency acquisition (Gilmore).
 

BaseballJones

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They've given up 23 points over two weeks. I'm not concerned at this time.
The Jets had 11 possessions, not counting the last-second kneel-down at the end of the first half. 336 total yards and 6 points.

So they gained an average of 30.5 yards per possession.
They scored an average of 0.5 points per possession.
They got 1.6 first downs per possession.

Last week the Pats' defensive performance was downgraded due to not having to be on the field for that many possessions (9, I think).

Miami last week:

Gained 28.8 yards per possession.
Scored 1.8 points per possession.
Got 1.8 first downs per possession.

So it's very similar numbers to last week except, of course, the points per possession being way down this time.