On Sunday, the New England Patriots’ defense will have to go up against what is arguably the NFL’s premier offensive line: the Los Angeles Rams’ blockers have done a tremendous job of both clearing out space for the team’s running backs and giving quarterback Jared Goff time in the pocket. Needless to say that the Patriots need to be well prepared heading into the matchup, and one of their assets in helping achieve that is their very own O-line.
New England’s offensive line will, of course, have its hands full going against Aaron Donald and company on Sunday. Leading into the game, however, the group and its coach Dante Scarencchia are equally important when it comes to preparing New England’s defenders for their own challenge ahead. “Sometimes our offensive linemen do come and give pointers, sometimes coach Scar gives pointers,” Adam Butler told Pats Pulpit today.
“But really, we get our best looks from our look team and our practice squad. They do a great job mimicking what our opponents do for that week,” the second-year defensive tackle continued. The look team Butler is talking about usually consists of depth players on the active roster or players on the team’s practice squad. One member of the first group is interior lineman James Ferentz.
Over his two years since joining the Patriots, Ferentz went from practice squad guy to backup lineman on the Patriots’ 53-man team. And now, he is among a group of players helping prepare New England’s defense for what might be its biggest challenge to date. So how does this job look like? Let the 29-year old, who already owns one Super Bowl ring from a previous stint with the Denver Broncos, explain.
“You kind of do like a reverse scout, so we — the scout-five guys — watch the Rams offensive line and we just try to see how they go about doing their business and how they approach blocking,” said Ferentz. “Then we try to mimic that to the best of our ability, which obviously is an impossible task. But it’s important that we try to do some of those things so that the defensive line can try to get a feel what to expect on Sunday.”
“There’s nothing in the world like experience, you can’t compensate for that,” Ferentz continued when talking about the importance of proper scout team work in the grand scheme of preparation. The aforementioned Butler certainly seems to appreciate what the veteran player brings to the table. “James Ferentz, he’s gotten practice player of the week just about every week,” Butler said.
“He’s very good at just mimicking what our opponents do week in and week out. That gives us live-action because he’s so good at it,” continued Butler. Fellow defensive tackle Danny Shelton also spoke about the scout team’s importance when it comes to getting the defense ready for the Rams. “They play the biggest role, because if we don’t get a good look we won’t know exactly how it will feel like in the game,” he said.
“For me, I’m a player that likes to feel everything: double-teams coming down or play action happening or a screen. We need to have those looks by our offensive line and I feel like they’ve been doing a great job this whole year giving us great looks and preparing us,” continued the first-year Patriot Shelton. It is quite obvious that this preparation worked well for New England throughout the playoffs so far.
The Patriots were able to put consistent pressure on both the Los Angeles Chargers’ and the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive lines, either by using stunts or simply by winning their one-on-one battles straight up. The invaluable knowledge of how to attack linemen and being able to prepare for all the different types of players and their tendencies — provided by the scout team — is a big reason for that.
“Even some of the scout team guys are active players. You’re playing against some of the best of the best. They’ve given us great looks, they watch the film and how the opponents play, and we try to emulate defensively and offensively and vice versa,” said defensive edge Derek Rivers about how the scout team assists the defense in preparing for an opponent. “They help us out a lot.”
On Sunday, they will hardly get noticed on the field — if they even make it so far. Ferentz, for example, was inactive against both the Chargers and the Chiefs. However, their impact will still be felt whenever New England makes a positive defensive play up front: it was the scout team and its under-the-radar contributions that to a certain degree helped make it possible. Even though few will actually think about it at that moment.