This sort of play earns a ride on the bench. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Okay, I lied. I can't stay away for long. After the Patriots shellacked the Bills to clinch homefield advantage and the AFC East, I knew I had to come post my notes about the Patriots' defense. Once the score reached "Week 13 Jets"-level, my friends wanted to go play football so I decided to take a break and go out. It was awesome as my team won and I threw for three touchdowns and caught one. Pretty good day- but we haven't done anything yet! Oh, and the Patriots haven't done anything yet, either! So without further ado, here are my defensive notes from the first half.
The Patriots began the day with their 3-4 base defense, to very little success. They decided to feature a package of Vince Wilfork at LDE, Kyle Love at NT and Eric Moore at RDE. Well, Moore is way too small of a player (not any fault of his own) to handle the two gap 3-4 base defense, so this was poor personnel management by the coaching staff. As a result, the Bills ran Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller right between Moore and Love (both players who can be handled with single linemen), with the free lineman blocking Jerod Mayo and freeing space for Jackson. The Bills marched down the field with Spiller and Jackson picking up 59 yards on six runs. Luckily for the Patriots, the Bills inexplicably stopped running the ball and threw two back corner balls to wide receiver Steve Johnson, over both Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington- and both were incomplete. The Bills settled for a field goal, but I feel like the final result had more to do with poor Bills coaching, instead of solid defensive play by the Patriots.
After the Patriots got the ball, Zoltan Mesko was called upon to punt the ball and, as he's done before this season, he pinned the Bills deep in their half of the field. The Bills started their second drive from their own eight and faced the same Patriots defense from the first set- a defensive line of Moore, Love and Wilfork.
Sadly, just like their previous drive, the Bills ran the ball down the Patriots' throats and reached the end zone. Whoops. The Bills decided to throw the ball. In a game where the Patriots weren't starting Ron Brace because of his lingering concussion (he came in later for a couple sets), where Mike Wright, Brandon Deaderick and Myron Pryor were called OUT and when Gerard Warren is banged up, the Bills decided to throw the ball. Hah.
The Bills started to throw the ball against the Patriots. Darius Butler had a fantastic pass break-up on third down to stop the Bills (and I feel like he outshone Kyle Arrington on the deep coverage). Ryan Fitzpatrick was forced to throw short passes as Brandon Meriweather played a very solid game, no doubt after the coaching staff gave him a stern talking to. The Patriots forced a punt, which led to a Patriots touchdown by Danny Woodhead. The Patriots played phenomenal coverage defense, but I'm still wondering why the Bills didn't run the ball.
Read more notes after the jump!
After the Bills got the ball back, down 7-3, they
ran the ball again threw the deep pass to C.J. Spiller over Kyle Arrington, who still struggles to turn his head when covering deep. However, the Patriots switched their defensive front and played Ron Brace at LDE, Vince Wilfork at NT and Gerard Warren at RDE and the Bills weren't able to run the ball on their next play. Arrington couldn't defend Steve Johnson's hitch route (no one could cover his hitch route all game) and allowed the first down. Luckily for Arrington and the Patriots, Ryan Fitzpatrick decided to run with the ball and fumbled it in the red zone, ending their drive. I wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots started Darius Butler at RCB next week and put Arrington as the nickelback because Arrington has been struggling to cover the go route (when the receiver runs right down the field). The Patriots even replaced Arrington with Butler later in the game because of how much he was being exploited. Arrington let up two 40+ passes down his sideline, which is unacceptable.
The Patriots marched down the field to score and the Bills got the ball back down 14-3. The Patriots put Wilfork on the bench for the next set and put Landon Cohen at RDE, Kyle Love at NT and Gerard Warren at LDE. The Bills saw some success running the ball, but they started to balance their offense with running and passing plays. However, the Bills held a Patriots player, forcing them to a 1st and 20 and Ryan Fitzpatrick was unable to connect with his receivers to move the chains. The Patriots were able stop the Bills on 4th down and get the ball. All this drive suggests is that the Patriots shouldn't put Eric Moore at defensive end in the base 3-4- and that the Bills were willing to split the Patriots' defensive line between Kyle Love and whoever was playing next to him.
The Patriots were able to score a field goal and the Bills started off on their own 20. Devin McCourty was beat by Steve Johnson on the first play of the drive, as the Patriots reverted to their 4-3 sub defense with Moore, Rob Ninkovich and Tully Banta-Cain as the defensive ends and Cohen and Wilfork/Love at the tackle position. Jerod Mayo showed that he has improved greatly with his pass coverage skills, forcing a couple pass break-ups in the game, with a major break-up on this drive. Pat Chung ended the drive by intercepting an errant Ryan Fitzpatrick throw. Cohen provided excellent pressure by forcing Fitzpatrick to throw the ball on the move. Cohen should provide solid depth down the final stretch and could even allow the Patriots to put one of their many injured linemen on the injured reserve. He is also the ideal size for a 3-4 DE, standing at 6'3, 300 lbs, which means he could earn a spot to be a part of the Patriots' future.
The Patriots scored a touchdown, pushing the score to 24-3 and putting the time under the two minute warning. The Bills got the ball with one final drive before the half. It appeared the Bills were going to try slinging the ball to get a quick score, but Brandon Meriweather laid to wood and put a solid hit on Bills receiver Donald Jones, forcing him to drop the ball and end the Bills' drive. Meriweather was in position and took solid angles, from what I saw, for most of the game. If he can play solid fundamental football, he'll be very well as the Patriots' safety. However, I still feel like he's itching to be the star of a defense and will leave after his contract runs out. Regardless, if he plays the rest of the season like he played today, then the Patriots will go deep in the playoffs with a solid centerfielder in their secondary.
Those are my notes for the first half defense. The Patriots were lucky the Bills abandoned the run, but they made the necessary personnel changes to prevent the run on later downs. It appeared the Patriots expected the Bills to come out of the gates slinging, and were in poor position to stop the run. Kyle Arrington was benched in favor of Darius Butler, who had an extremely solid game and could be looking at his starting role, once again. The Patriots managed to make adjustments before they became dire necessities and had an extremely solid first half of defense. With so many sub players having solid games, the Patriots' depth looks to be an extremely helpful part of the team as the Patriots enter the final stretch of the season.