New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has a fairly simple scheme on defense: remove the opponent's top weapon and force them to win with their depth.
For this upcoming game against the New York Jets, there's no question that the Patriots will be focusing on stopping running back Chris Ivory.
"[Defending the Jets offense] definitely starts with the running game and [Chris] Ivory," Belichick said during a Tuesday press conference. "He's done a good job for them and been one of the best backs in the league, runs hard, tough guy to tackle, really physical player."
The Patriots know that if the Jets have a great run on first down, the passing game opens up for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and his array of receiving weapons. If New England is able to force the Jets into -and-long situations, the Patriots defense will be able to dictate a little more of the game plan.
"The run game is where they start, their offensive line - to give credit to them - they're doing a great job up front blocking and creating holes," Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia explained. "Ivory runs extremely hard, he comes downhill, he's very fast, he's got great speed to the edge, he can get open in space, he makes a lot of guys miss tackles, so it doesn't take much for him to get through the line of scrimmage and burst into that second level and really hit that third level pretty fast.
"It really starts for them with the run game, which then has kind of opened up the passing game, their ability to get the ball downfield, use [Brandon] Marshall and [Eric] Decker with the play action game off the run game and kind of create a lot of space in that intermediate to deep zone."
Based off of the press conferences, the Patriots coaches seem more comfortable with the idea of slowing Ryan Fitzpatrick if the quarterback is forced to win the game. They clearly believe that Fitzpatrick will make a couple errant throws that defensive backs will have the opportunity to intercept. What the coaches don't want is for the Jets to be in charge of how the pace of the game is played.
"We don't want to be down 17 points and have to throw the ball every down in the second half and let them run and play-action and do what they want to do offensively," Belichick said. "They've done a good job of getting themselves [ahead of their opponents]."
The Jets rely on their running game to soften defenses against the pass and to open up intermediate passing lanes for receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. New York can also rely on Ivory to close out the game.
"I'd say [Ivory's] a guy who gets stronger as the game goes on," Belichick said. "He's probably had more production in the second half than he's had in the first, so I think there is an element of that, whether that's him or the line or whatever, but he runs hard all of the time."
The Patriots could possibly dip into their game plan against the Cowboys, where they loaded their defensive front to stop the run and forced quarterback Brandon Weeden to try and win the game with his arm. Defensive tackles like Sealver Siliga, Alan Branch, Akiem Hicks, and Malcom Brown will have key roles on early downs as the Patriots try and take away what the Jets do best: run the ball.
The Jets like to play aggressive football on offense and defense with power running and aggressive blitzing. The best way to put them on their heels is by getting an early lead and taking away their downhill game plan. The offense will have to operate at a high level to put points on the board, but the key to breaking the Jets is taking away their engine in Ivory.