So I made a bold prediction that the Patriots would manage to tag five sacks on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. I turned out wrong as there were only five sacks in the entire game, two of which were the Patriots' sacks. The Patriots' pass rush has often come under scrutiny due to their lack of high production in terms of sacks and tackles for loss (both are in the bottom of the league), so it's helpful to take a look at how the Patriots took down Cutler on Sunday. I'd love to look at pressures, but I don't have access to that kind of film. So let's look at the sacks!
The first sack took place late in the first quarter of the game, with the Patriots up 7-0. It was second and 14, which means a passing play for the Bears. The clip can be seen here. The Patriots float seven players at the line of scrimmage to confuse the Bears' offensive line, with Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton standing right in front of the A gaps and Rob Ninkovich standing at the right edge. Jermaine Cunningham took the left outside linebacker spot on the line and the rest of the players were Gerard Warren at right defensive end, Ron Brace at nose tackle and Vince Wilfork at left defensive end. All seven players are lined up, showing blitz, but Guyton and Mayo drop back into their zones and Ninkovich steps back to trail the tight end, leaving Cunningham, Wilfork, Brace and Warren to rush Jay Cutler at quarterback.
Bears' running back Matt Forte sees only four players rushing so he leaves the backfield to be the outlet on the right end. Vince Wilfork was kept out of the pocket by the Bears' right guard as Brace took the double team from the center and left guard- and Brace collapsed the pocket. Wilfork stayed in a semi-contain role at the point of attack, prevent Cutler from running up the middle and Cunningham managed to get an arm around Cutler, putting Cutler in "protect the ball" mode and preventing a throw-away pass. Brace's attack, which drew the center and left guard directly into the pocket allowed Warren to stunt around his blocker as the center and guard provided a "pick" for the tackle. Warren had an easy take down of Cutler.
Here's the sack timeline:
4:36 - Cutler snaps the ball.
4:35 - Brace draws the double team, setting the pick for Warren to stunt around his blocker. The secondary was playing deep enough to prevent a Cutler pass and none of the receivers were thinking of turning around and looking for the ball.
4:34 - Cunningham beats his blocker, generating pressure from Cutler's right side. Wilfork is sitting at the top of the pocket. Brace bulls his way through the pocket, setting the pick for Warren, giving Warren a free release.
4:33 - Cunningham gets his hands on Cutler, preventing a throw-away. Warren grabs Cutler and pancakes him.
The Patriots managed to sack Cutler in 3 seconds with only a four man pressure. The disguise confused the Bears' offensive line, but also the strong performance of Ron Brace gave Warren an open lane to attack Cutler. Cunningham used his high motor to get Cutler off-edge and the secondary and middle linebackers (and Ninkovich) were in position to stop any quick passes. Forte was supposed to be Cutler's outlet, but he was on Cutler's opposite side as Warren forced Cutler away from Forte.
Let's look at the second sack after the jump!
The second sack happened with 4:30 left in the second quarter, with the Patriots up 24-0 and they were facing the Bears on a first and 10. The clip can be seen here. The Patriots line up with five players at the line of scrimmage, with Tully Banta-Cain at right outside linebacker, Brace at right defensive end, Wilfork at nose tackle, new pick-up Eric Moore at left defensive end and Gary Guyton at left outside linebacker. The Patriots were running the 3-3-5 defense, with a heavier front because of the snow, with a deep safety.
Wilfork stood at the point of the pocket again, preventing a potential Cutler run up the middle. You can just watch Wilfork pushing around the center who is blocking him, with very little effort. Wilfork could have blown by him, but he was doing his job. The fullback steps up to block Guyton on the outside. Banta-Cain is easily contained by the left tackle. Moore draws the double team by the right tackle and right guard and Brace gets double blocked by the left guard and gets chipped at by the running back. Once Jerod Mayo sees the running back engage with Brace, he starts to run after Cutler because the man he was covering (the running back) was needed to block.
Moore easily bulls his way forward and splits his blockers, giving him an open lane at Cutler. Brace does the same and collapses the pocket from the opposite side. Mayo changes his role from "contain on Forte" to "contain on Cutler" and maintains his position to prevent a Cutler scramble to the outside. Moore continues to fight his way until he grabs Cutler and strips him of the ball, which Mayo recovered.
Here's the sack timeline:
4:30 - Cutler snaps the ball.
4:29 - Brace blows by the left guard, forcing Forte to be a blocker instead of an outlet for Cutler. Banta-Cain and Guyton are easily contained by their blockers. Wilfork sits and waits to prevent a Cutler scramble. Moore begins to split the right tackle and right guard.
4:28 - Brace beats his double team of left guard and running back and Moore easily splits his double team of right tackle and right guard. Wilfork sits on contain and Mayo moves up into the offensive backfield to play extra contain on Cutler, since Forte was blocking Brace. Guyton and Banta-Cain stay engaged with and contained by their blockers.
4:27 - Cutler starts to scramble to the outside and Mayo steps up in contain to prevent him from running away. Brace sits in the middle of the former pocket, preventing three blockers (running back, left guard, right guard) from helping Cutler. Moore stays in hot pursuit as the right tackle tries to chase him and the running back tries to chip at him. Banta-Cain and Guyton are still engaged with their initial blockers.
4:26 - Moore sacks Cutler and forces a fumble. Guyton and Banta-Cain are still blocked and Wilfork has moved his blocker while still containing a potential Cutler run. Brace stands in the way so four Bears players cannot recover the fumble (right tackle, right guard, left guard, running back).
4:25 - Mayo falls on the ball to collect the fumble.
It was another great team play for the Patriots on a five-man rush. The most notable contributions were by, clearly, Moore who used his strength and motor to reach Cutler and by Brace who, once again, destroyed the pocket and took numerous blockers out of the play with his positioning.
Some thoughts from these sacks:
Cunningham has a much better motor and first step than Banta-Cain. Seriously. Cunningham is way more dangerous.
Guyton showed why he's not a real consideration for OLB. He lacks the strength to shed blockers- which is also another reason he struggles in run defense.
Brace is playing himself into a starting job. He may not do the deed himself, but he's destroying the pocket and letting other players make the plays. He's a keeper and he's totally shedding his "bust" status. I don't know if anyone could think of him as a bust anymore.
Mayo plays patient and plays smart. He doesn't leave his man until the other guy is fully engaged.
Moore should play extremely well against run-based teams. He looks like he can be a solid 3-4 elephant OLB, or a constant contributor on sub packages at 3-4 DE, where he could take Banta-Cain's spot and provide better strength.
Wilfork and Brace should rotate together to confuse offenses. Both have shown the ability to beat double teams and both are capable of disrupting the pocket. They can both man the point and play pocket-run prevention.
Overall, it was very enlightening to see the Patriots pass rush at work. They've been playing extremely well and generating pressure, even if they don't record the sacks all the time. This group continues to get stronger as young players like Brace and Cunningham emerge as integral players on the defense.
I took a quick look at the Bears' sacks on Brady. I was actually surprised to see that it could be called Brady's fault on two of the three sacks. Here's what happened:
First Sack: 11:52 in the 1st quarter, 3rd down for the Patriots. Bears rush four and Brian Urlacher sits in the middle of the box. Brady, for some reason, stutter steps in the pocket and decides to run to the side. The tackle Mankins was blocking stepped in Brady's lane, forcing Brady to run to the side. When he runs to the side, he runs right into Julius Peppers. Brady manages to spin away from Peppers, but the guy who Vollmer had already taken down had gotten back up and grabbed Brady from behind. Urlacher stole the sack. Brady could have thrown the ball, but he ran right into the Bears. He panicked when he say Tommie Harris, the guy Mankins was blocking, and ran to the side, despite the fact that Mankins still had him covered. Brady turned right into Peppers, who Light had had blocked, until Brady ran right into him. Vollmer had taken out his guy, but Brady held onto the ball long enough for him to get back into the play. Brady stopped looking for receivers as soon as Harris jumped in front of him. I could blame this on Brady, but it's 50/50. His line gave him 4-5 seconds of pocket time, but he scrambled early.
Second Sack: 10:02 in the 4th quarter, 3rd down for the Patriots. Bears rush four again. Brady sees Peppers on Matt Light and decides to pull a spin move- despite the fact that Peppers was still being blocked by Light. Brady's spin move put him outside the pocket and right next to Peppers. Peppers releases himself from Light to grab onto Brady and pick up the sack. It was a poor decision by Brady and this sack is his fault. There was no pressure and he had no reason to spin TOWARDS Peppers. There was nobody on the other side.
Third Sack: 5:45 in the 4th quarter, 2nd down for the Patriots. Bears rush four again. Peppers splits Matt Light to the inside, forcing Light inside. Brady sees the pressure and steps outside because Peppers had committed himself, leaving nobody on outside contain. Unfortunately, Anthony Adams easily disengages himself from Logan Mankins and throws Brady down for the sack. This isn't Brady's fault, but just pure skill by the Bears. Peppers puts Light out of position and Adams takes advantage of no blocker being towards his right- which is exactly where Brady ran towards. Just pure dominance by Peppers on this one play- Light had him under control for most of the rest of the game.