Passes Defended or Yards After the Catch?

Peyton Manning last Sunday. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

We all know how poorly Darius Butler has played in the secondary- in fact, the secondary as a whole just seems to let everything go by. Some may chalk this up to poor performance by players. Others want to point in the direction of the coaches. Let's take a look, shall we?

The whole goal of the Patriots defense is to "bend" and not "break." That means the defense is trying to eliminate all big plays by opposing offenses and, if the offense manages to put together a solid drive, the defense will force a field goal attempt. How well is the defense doing? Here are some rankings.

24th worst in Yards/Attempt

25th worst in Total Passing Yards

28th worst in Opposing Quarterback Rating

30th worst in Opposing Quarterback Completion Rate

Tied Worst in the League in Touchdown Passes Against

In a nutshell, this secondary might as well stay on the sideline because they're not producing on the field. Does the lack of pressure by the defensive front 7 have anything to do with the terrible performance of the secondary? Absolutely. But when all of the passes are completed within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, that means the quarterback is releasing the ball before the linebackers and linemen can cause pressure. An opposing quarterback's quick release can eliminate the pressure of the defensive front 7. So how's the bending going?

Find out after the jump!

Let's look at some secondary players' stats, courtesy of ESPN.com. These numbers represent what type of passing play these players got their tackle.

 


Behind LOS
1-10 Yard Pass
10+ Yard Pass
Brandon Meriweather

2

1

2

Pat Chung

3

4

2

James Sanders

0

4

2

Devin McCourty

0

5

0

Darius Butler

2

7

1

Jonathan Wilhite

0

4

2

Total:
7
25
9

 

I'm not including Kyle Arrington because his only tackle against a wide receiver was 30+ yards down the field. Yuck. The other tackles are by linebackers and linemen. These numbers are the tackles these defensive backs have tallied on passing plays. What is it telling us? Opposing quarterbacks are having a field day. While the general trend is for passes to fall in the middle category, the question at hand is: How are the Patriots adapting?

Let's go back to the bend-don't-break defense. That means that cornerbacks are going to give receivers a little more cushion (hence the 25 throws between 1-10 yards down field). If receivers are doing short routes, the quarterback can release the ball before the Patriots can get pressure on the quarterback. It's no coincidence that the two interceptions against the Bills came on plays where QB Ryan Fitzpatrick was looking far down the field, giving the defense time to create pressure.

On first downs, when Fitzy had 10 yards to go, he was completing passes at a 91.7% rate. His one incompletion on first down was an interception- and that was with 3:05 to go in the GAME as the Bills needed a late score to force overtime. Translation: 1st down was a gimme throw for Fitz. With lots of space before a first down, the secondary watched where the first down markers were and, in turn, gave opposing wide receivers plenty of space to work with. Fitzpatrick was able to throw the ball quickly before the defensive pressure started because the secondary was giving receivers large cushions.

So what was the Patriots' strategy? They weren't giving the Bills easy throws on purpose. With bend-don't-break, the goal is to eliminate yards after the catch. Opposing teams have just 186 yards after the catch, which is impressive due to the 812 passing yards the defense has allowed. The Patriots, on the other hand, have 329 of their 758 passing yards after the catch. The defense is stopping the play once it happens, but the problem is that they're letting the play happen.

The goal is to stop the yards after the catch, even if it means letting the play happen. The Patriots secondary has not been in position to prevent the play from happening since they're preventing yards after the play occurs. The team has only 8 passes defended (compared to 20 by the Dolphins, 19 by the Jets). This is what happens with the bend-don't-break defense that resorts to prevent on every first down- no yards after the catch, but a catch every time.

So what can the Patriots do to fix this? It's clear the team wants to stick with the "bending" idea (but with the league worst 7 TD passes allowed, it's definitely not working.), so how does the team incorporate the bending with a strong and helpful defense? Two steps. The team can continue to play the same style- give the receivers some room by not jamming them at the line, stay far enough back they won't get burned- but they need to take two steps towards the receiver. Instead of 7 yards back, be 5 yards away. Instead of 10 yards, be 8 yards.

Everyone watching the game has seen the receiver be one step behind the ball. Quarterbacks have two options with the big cushions- quick throw or the hook/comeback. Neither pass is defendable with the current defense. Two steps closer will stop wide receivers from getting the quick throw. Two steps closer will allow the cornerback to break up a hook pass. Two steps closer won't get the cornerback burned, especially with how far back they've been playing.

Coaches, just two steps. That's all I want. Don't even tell your players to jam the receiver. Just two steps so they can be in the position to make a play or prevent one from happening. Two steps.

And that will be a step in the right direction.

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