Before the regular season, I wrote that the Patriots have an embarrassment of talent on the defensive line and a nice arsenal of pass rushers to work with. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the pass rush was very ineffective in large part due to designed plays and the Patriots somewhat conceding the run and the Steelers milking the clock all game. With 10 days to fix mistakes and game plan for an inferior opponent (sorry Bills fans), the Patriots pass rush came alive. The Patriots recorded 8 sacks of Tyrod Taylor, with Chandler Jones breaking out for 3 sacks of his own. When you can put up that much pressure on the quarterback, it changes the entire game.
Sack #1: 3rd and 9 BUF 28 7:04 1st Q NE 0, BUF 7
Rob Ninkovich runs Tyrod Taylor out of bounds pic.twitter.com/hB4zu5TOLU— Michael McDermott (@michaelmcd8393) September 21, 2015
On a 3rd and 9 play, the Patriots input their 3 defensive end package and walked linebacker Jamie Collins to the line of scrimmage. The three defensive ends were Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, and Rufus Johnson (rush DT). The Patriots secondary does a good job of taking away the first read, which causes Taylor to scramble to his right. Ninkovich takes a good angle in pursuit and is able to close the ground between the QB and the sideline. Johnson was also able to get off his block and close any potential escape lane. Taylor is forced to step out of bounds and Ninkovich gets credited for a sack because of great hustle.
Sack #2: 3rd and 10 BUF 10 2:33 1st Q NE 7, BUF 7
Jamie Collins sacks Taylor at the 1/2 yard line. https://t.co/lSBWt9A8bC— Michael McDermott (@michaelmcd8393) September 21, 2015
On 3rd and 10, the Patriots bring out the same package as the first sack except with Jabaal Sheard playing the edge and Jones now inside. Once again, Collins blitzes and this time is able get to free. On the edge, Ninkovich and Sheard are walk their blockers into the QB and collapse the pocket. Taylor has no chance to escape the pocket and gets flattened by Collins, who knifed under the center Eric Wood and get a free lane to the QB. Once again, the Patriots pass rush gets the job done on 3rd down.
Sack #3: 3rd and 2 BUF 28 11:53 2nd Q NE 21, BUF 7
Pressure + Coverage + No Escape Routes = Sack https://t.co/wQb7oNpk08— Michael McDermott (@michaelmcd8393) September 21, 2015
The Patriots show the illusion of a potential double A-gap pressure on 3rd and 2, but only rush 5 out of 6 defenders at the line of scrimmage. Initially Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins rush past the QB, which is a mistake when dealing with a mobile QB, but Taylor tries to scramble to his right after Jones is able to beat Cordy Glenn on the edge. Ninkovich does a good job to get in position to defend a potential scramble, which forces Taylor to stop his feet. That allows Jones to be able to sneak up from behind and bring the QB down.
Sack #4: 1st and 10 NE 43 0:44 2nd Q NE 24, BUF 13
Chandler Jones rips inside Cordy Glenn for his 2nd sack https://t.co/MNEi4T3shZ— Michael McDermott (@michaelmcd8393) September 21, 2015
With Buffalo trying to make this game a 1-score game going into the half, the Patriots once again needed a play from their pass rush. The Patriots rush four defensive ends, with both Sheard and Jones getting quick pressure. While Jones is able to get inside Glenn, Sheard is able to beat the right guard for the initial pressure. As Taylor tries to escape that pressure, Chandler Jones is able to make a shoe-string tackle on Taylor to kill a promising Bills drive that ended with a Duron Harmon interception.
Sack #5: 1st and 10 BUF 20 3:24 3rd Q NE 34, BUF 13
Alan Branch overpowers the guard and swipes the ball out as he's passing the QB. https://t.co/M9cVIpgx0D— Michael McDermott (@michaelmcd8393) September 21, 2015
After scoring a touchdown to make it a 34-13 lead, the Patriots were now looking to bury the Bills. On the first play of the ensuing drive, the Patriots were in their base defense with Alan Branch and Malcom Brown as the defensive tackles along with Chandler Jones and Jabaal Sheard as the ends. Alan Branch is able to get quick leverage on his blocker and walk him back to the QB. Even though the guard tries to get Branch to rush beyond the QB, Branch is able to stick a hand out as his passes the QB and knocks the football free. While Taylor was able to recover his own fumble, Sheard quickly took care of the play.
Sack #6: 2nd and 15 BUF 15 2:57 3rd Q NE 34, BUF 13
Jamie Collins say hello. https://t.co/lGmfWO9Iy8— Michael McDermott (@michaelmcd8393) September 21, 2015
After getting a sack on first down, the Patriots once again called for another blitz on the QB. Jamie Collins blitzed again and this time was untouched on the way to the QB. It looked like there was confusion in the protection call, as LeSean McCoy stepped up to the wrong side of the field and did not recognize the blitz quick enough. Collins gets to the QB so fast, that Taylor didn't even have enough time to finish his drop. Taylor fumbles on consecutive plays and McCoy somewhat salvages the play by advancing the ball 7 yards past the line of scrimmage.
Sack #7: 3rd and 9 BUF 21 2:18 3rd Q NE 34, BUF 13
Chandler Jones is pressing his Staples Button right now. https://t.co/xWBuhH7ciJ— Michael McDermott (@michaelmcd8393) September 21, 2015
Once again on a 3rd and long situation, the Patriots went with speed and played 4 defensive ends on the field. In this case, the Patriots secondary is able to get Taylor off the first read. Jones and Nink are able to get off their blocks and close in on the QB. Taylor falls down, despite having a pocket to step up into, which makes it easy for Jones to record his 3rd sack. The Patriots defense forced a 3 sacks and out drive there as the offense built up a 24-point lead.
Sack #8: 1st and 10 BUF 44 14:30 4th Q NE 37, BUF 13
RIP Tyrod Taylor https://t.co/qTZLaF1p40— Michael McDermott (@michaelmcd8393) September 21, 2015
The Patriots crowd the box with 7 potential rushers and bring 6 with Ninkovich dropping out and Patrick Chung blitzing as a result of the running back staying in to block. With all the confusion on the Bills offensive line and where to slide down, Hightower is able to get through and has a shot at the QB before whiffing. Even though he doesn't get home immediately, the Hightower pressure caused Taylor's eyes to look down at the rush and not the receivers downfield. As he attempts to escape, Hightower grabs him by the ankles before Jamie Collins and Malcom Brown knock him to the turf.
A sack is a possible result when all 11 players on the defense do their job. The Patriots pass rush did a great job of harassing Tyrod Taylor all afternoon. The Patriots employed Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, and Rufus Johnson as their top 4 pass rushers and mixed in blitzes from Jamie Collins to create pressure. Nink, Sheard, and Jones played in 3 DE packages with Johnson as the 4th DE. It should be interesting to see how the Patriots employ Trey Flowers, who gives the Patriots a 5th quality edge rusher. Jones finished with 3 sacks, Collins 2.5, Ninkovich 1, Branch 1, and HIghtower 0.5. While the Patriots figure out their CB situation over the course of the season, the pass rush can help the defense get off the field.
On 3rd downs, the Patriots were able to record 4 sacks and hold Buffalo to 4/13 on 3rd down attempts. Another sack killed a potential drive at the end of the first half. In a game where the Bills defensive line was hyped up for the game, which I unfortunately bought into and sat Tom Brady, it was the Patriots defensive line that had a big game. The Patriots were able to confuse Taylor or got quick pressure off him and caused him to panic. While the Bills offensive line is not even close to average as a unit, 8 sacks and 4 more QB hits is a strong day from the pass rush. I'm not sure how it will translate to the Jacksonville Jaguars offensive line in Week 3. Hopefully the pass rush has an encore performance in them in Week 3.