Sorry I missed the game everyone, but I'm glad the Patriots managed to squeak out with a huge win to increase their lead in the conference and become one step closer to sealing homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. In fact, only the Patriots losing out and the Jets winning out can take homefield advantage away from the Patriots. One win for the Patriots and they lock up the #1 seed for all of the playoffs.
Looking at the past game's highlights, it's clear the Patriots weren't playing at their best. The offense was getting shut off, the defense was leaking and they made plenty of terrible plays that got flagged. However, there was one aspect of the Patriots game that was statistically pleasing: 5 sacks. I know, I know, I predicted that the Patriots would register five sacks against the Bears, but I was really only one week early. The Patriots are noted as having only created pressure on the young and inexperience Matt Flynn when they rushed four or more, yet decided to only rush three and challenge Flynn to make the throws, which sounds like a highly unsuccessful defensive strategy that has failed before. The Patriots try and challenge young quarterbacks to make throws, and they make the throws 95% of the time. The Patriots force mistakes and bad throws when they pressure inexperienced quarterbacks, not when they drop everyone back into coverage. The Patriots need to keep this in mind as they face the young Chad Henne of the Dolphins and the inexperienced Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Bills. Rush the quarterback.
Enough about how the Patriots need to play defense against certain quarterbacks. On to the sacks!
Read about the sacks after the jump!
Sack 1: 1st Quarter, 9:34, 2nd Down and 6. The Packers have the ball on the 8 yard line and are knocking on the end zone's door step. The Patriots line up with Dane Fletcher at ROLB, Eric Moore at RDE, Vince Wilfork at NT, Tully Banta-Cain at LDE and Gary Guyton at LOLB. Jerod Mayo is sitting in the middle of the field to take away the underneath outlet pass. Ninkovich shows that he's planning on guarding the slot receiver who is lined up across from him. This reads "coverage" for the Packers, who believe that Ninkovich is not going to be a pass rusher. As a result, Wilfork is able to engage contact with the left guard and the center and collapses the pocket to the opposite side, towards the right tackle. Normally, the left guard wouldn't be asked to take Wilfork, especially with two players on the quarterback's blind side. However, they believe that Ninkovich is in coverage, so they think only one man will rush.
On the other side, Banta-Cain just runs into the right guard and is unable to generate anything with his spin move because Wilfork collapsed the pocket, prevent a TBC Stunt. Guyton is locked with the right tackle, but manages to disengage and run around the front of the pocket to prevent a Flynn scramble. This whole time, the Packers' left tackle is left on an island to face off against Moore and Ninkovich who rushed the quarterback after showing coverage. Clearly, this is a mismatch for the Packers as the tackle engages with Ninkovich, leaving Moore wide open up the middle to grab Flynn for the sack.
Key Players: Rob Ninkovich for confusing the Packers' offense and Vince Wilfork for collapsing the pocket away from Ninkovich.
Sack 2: 2nd Quarter, 12:38, 1st Down and 10. The Packers have the ball on their own 36 yard line and are moving down the field. The Patriots have Ninkovich at ROLB, Gerard Warren at RDE, Kyle Love at NT, Wilfork at LDE and Jermaine Cunningham at LOLB. Each player matches up with a Packers' lineman. Cunningham beats the right tackle and shows the huge difference between him and Banta-Cain. Cunningham muscles the tackle into the backfield, as opposed to TBC who tries to run around the tackle- and the tackle usually follows him and pushes him to the outside. Where TBC tends to overshoot the quarterback and try to spin inside towards the quarterback, Cunningham pushes off the tackle and inside towards the quarterback.
Wilfork actually gets handled by the right guard, should be Pro-Bowler Josh Sitton. Sitton keeps Wilfork on the outside, without any help, even though Wilfork is trying to collapse the pocket. I could understand if Wilfork was trying to maintain the point, but he was clearly trying to reach Flynn. Wilfork gets beaten. However, Love is extremely impressive at the nose. He bulls the center into the pocket, even though his jersey is being held. This isn't holding, though, because Love doesn't try to disengage from his blocker. Love has some strength and, if Pryor doesn't get healthy, I can see him challenging Pryor for a roster spot next season.
Next to Love is Warren and Ninkovich. While Love prevents Flynn from escaping out the front of the pocket, Flynn never gets a pocket as Warren pushes the left guard right into Flynn off the snap. As Warren is pushing the guard into Flynn, Ninkovich is able to stunt around Warren and the left guard as they block the left tackle from following Nink. Nink's able to easily grab Flynn for the sack.
Flynn is trying to throw the ball towards one of his running backs, but Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton do a great job of taking away the outlet players and forcing Flynn to stay in the pocket.
Key Players: Mayo and Guyton for taking away Flynn's targets, and then everyone except for Wilfork for making the play happen.
Sack 3: 4th Quarter, 10:59, 1st Down and 10. The Packers are on their own 21 yard line after a kickoff. The Patriots line up Safety and nickelback Pat Chung in the box to keep the quarterback's eyes away from Devin McCourty at LCB. The Patriots are playing 4-2-5, with Moore at RDE, Warren at DT, Wilfork at NT and Banta-Cain at LDE. Dane Fletcher and Jerod Mayo are the linebackers and they drop back during the play to take away any underneath pass to the Packers' receivers. Banta-Cain gets blocked and easily contained by the Packers' tight end and right tackle. Their right guard stands unengaged with no Patriot in front of him to block. Wilfork gets blocked by the Packers' center (the same one that Love bulled into the pocket), but Wilfork gets held on this play. The difference between this jersey hold and the Love jersey hold is that Wilfork tries to disengage with his blocker (as shown by his pushing off of the blocker). Wilfork is prevented from disengaging, so this should have been a holding call.
Warren gets controlled by his blocker and tries a weak spin move, but is easily contained by the left guard. Moore pushes back the left tackle and starts to break inside, but Flynn had moved away towards the double block on Banta-Cain, keeping him away from Moore. However, Patriots CB Devin McCourty comes off his receiver to rush Flynn. The Packers fake the hand-off and the running back recovers to try and block McCourty. However, McCourty brushes off the running back as Flynn tries to scramble past him. McCourty pulls him down for the sack.
Key Players: Pat Chung for distracting Flynn and keeping his eyes off of Devin McCourty. McCourty for making the sack. The Packers O-Line pretty much had the Patriots contained.
Sack 4: 4th Quarter, 1:05, 1st Down and 10. The Packers are driving and have the ball on the Patriots 24 yard line. The Patriots are in the 3-3-5 sub defense, with Moore at RDE, Wilfork at NT and Banta-Cain at LDE. Mayo sits in the middle of the field as MLB and Gary Guyton and Dane Fletcher creep up to the line of scrimmage as ROLB and LOLB, respectively. Moore and Banta-Cain are set up at the 5-Technique, which means they're lined up on the outside shoulder of the tackles, which means their job is to contain the tackles and give the OLBs space to crash the quarterback. Guyton was blocked by the running back, but manages to push the blocker backwards. Moore contains the left tackle and gets blocked. Wilfork matches up against the left guard and center in a double team, but Mayo crashes the line to engage with the center. Banta-Cain locks up the right tackle to give Dane Fletcher free reign at the quarterback.
The Packers' right guard is supposed to swing around to block Fletcher, but Banta-Cain manages to make the right tackle take one step backwards and trip up the right guard. The guard is watching Fletcher before the snap, so it's clear that he means to block him. However, Fletcher manages to reach Flynn in under two seconds. Kid's got speed and has much better closing speed that Jermaine Cunningham. He'll be a treat to watch as a solid defender in the future.
Key Players: Tully Banta-Cain for setting a solid edge against the right tackle and blocking the right guard. Dane Fletcher for his blazing speed.
Sack 5: 4th Quarter, 0:04, 4th Down and 1. The Packers are still driving down the field and have one play to score a touchdown and win the game. The Patriots are still in their 3-3-5 sub defense, with Moore at RDE, Wilfork at NT and Banta-Cain at LDE. The linebackers are playing in the middle of the zone to prevent the Bears from throwing a dump screen, and also to take away an underneath pass. The Patriots' secondary play phenomenal coverage as Flynn doesn't have an open target. Wilfork is double teamed by the left guard and center, as the right guard stands without blocking anyone. Moore runs through the left tackle and towards Flynn, forcing Flynn to step up and towards the right. Luckily for Banta-Cain, he's able to use his only pass rushing move and can spin off of the right tackle and right into Flynn. Flynn is unprepared as TBC knocks the ball from his hand and Wilfork recovers.
Key Players: Eric Moore for forcing Flynn to step up and away in the pocket, directly into Tully Banta-Cain. TBC for making the sack.
Tully Banta-Cain had a part in four of the five sacks, but really worked hard on the final three sacks. He helped set the edge to keep McCourty and Fletcher unblocked on their set and he finished Flynn on the last play of the game.
Eric Moore is definitely a great asset and seems to have a knack of forcing the quarterback into other players. He collapses the pocket and not only helps other players make plays, he makes plays on his own.
Vince Wilfork was contained by the right guard, but the Patriots wrote up plays to keep their defenders away from the right guard. Wilfork did a solid job of dictating where the Packers' O-Line collapsed, which helped to create mismatches for other defenders.
Rob Ninkovich was a wily veteran and confused the quarterback on a couple of the sacks. It's interesting how every OLB got in on a sack.
Dane Fletcher needs to see more field time. He has closing speed and he can beat linemen. His versatility as an OLB and an ILB should have him be on the field in the 3-3-5 sub set for the rest of the season and into the future.
Ron Brace was missed as Wilfork was the only lineman who commanded double teams. Having a space eater allows other players to have mismatches and rush fewer players to generate the same amount of pressure.
Packers Sacks on the Patriots
1st Sack: The Packers rush six, but two back out into coverage, confusing the Patriots' offensive line. Logan Mankins engages with B.J. Raji and Raji just muscles his way around Mankins. Every other Patriots' lineman sets solid blocks on their defensive counterpart, but Raji just beats Mankins and takes down Tom Brady.
2nd Sack: The Packers rush three, and then have two linebackers rushing off a delay. Dan Connolly gets beat by Raji at right guard and forces BenJarvus Green-Ellis to step up and help block Raji. However, that leaves Brady wide open up the gut and Dan Koppen can't block two players. The delay forces the Patriots' linemen and BJGE to commit to blocking early and it allows the Packers to know they can rush up the middle without being blocked.
3rd Sack: The Packers rush six, with all six committing to rush after the quarterback. The Patriots O-Line has a terrible read as no one wants to engage with Raji. Mankins opts to block CB Charles Woodson and Koppen decides to block LB A.J. Hawk. That leaves RB Danny Woodhead (5'7, 195 lbs) to block NT B.J. Raji (6'2, 340) one on one. Not a good match-up.
Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, Dan Koppen, and eventually Ryan Wendell were beat by B.J. Raji. The Patriots didn't have an answer for him as the Packers overloaded rushes and prevented double teams on Raji. Maybe the Patriots could take notes and utilize Wilfork in a similar manner.
Those are the sacks that happened for and against the Patriots. The Patriots relied on basic rushes and moves (stunts, spins, swims) to reach the quarterback. The Packers used a variety of different looks to confuse the offensive line. The Patriots could take a leaf out of Dom Capers' defensive book and starting using their Joker front they used last season with Wilfork as the only down lineman with a bunch of linebackers running around. Imagine a front with five defensive backs as the Patriots can have five roaming linebackers. Jermaine Cunningham, Dane Fletcher, Jerod Mayo, Eric Moore and Rob Ninkovich all roam around to confuse the quarterback. This provides four pass rushers (Cunningham, Fletcher, Moore and Ninkovich) and three cover guys (Mayo, Fletcher and Ninkovich- and maybe even Cunningham). The opposing offensive line would not know who to cover and the Patriots could line up in a variety of ways to reach the quarterback.
The Patriots succeeded in reaching the quarterback with their basic rushes. It might be useful to have some more unique looks as they face teams in the playoffs.