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Film room: Patriots defense continues to dominate, and how James Develin’s absence is felt in the run game

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Let’s find out how the Patriots defense shut out the Jets offense.

New York Jets v New England Patriots Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images

The New England Patriots faced the New York Jets on Sunday as historic favorites for the second straight week, and they delivered again. Coming into this game, the Jets looked solid on defense and Le’Veon Bell was making ridiculous plays, despite his team’s awful run blocking sometimes. And the Jets actually showed that they do have a good run defense, holding the Patriots to only 69 yards.

The Patriots did not look like their normal selves on the ground, and some of that has to do with James Develin’s unfortunate injury after he had played 41.5% of snaps through two games. New England did get it going in the passing game, though, thanks to some big Josh Gordon catches, and play action passes, which I’ll get to later. And while Bell got his yards, it wasn’t much and the Patriots never let him break free (his longest run was 8 yards).

Let’s go to the film to see how it happened.

Patriots on Defense

1. Stopping the run

When New England was on defense on base downs (first and second downs), it usually played a 3-4. The team used Jamie Collins Sr. and Kyle Van Noy as the outside linebackers, rotated through Dont’a Hightower, Patrick Chung, Elandon Roberts, and Ja’Whaun Bentley as the inside linebackers, and rotated through Danny Shelton, Adam Butler, Lawrence Guy, John Simon, Michael Bennett, and Deatrich Wise Jr. as the down linemen.

The Jets had a mere 36 yards on 20 carries, with their longest run being 8 yards, so this front did its job quite well. The down linemen won their one-on-ones and kept the linebackers clean to flow quickly to the ball:

On runs where the Jets did a bit better, they ran more downhill, didn’t pull anyone, and got a good push up front with double teams. However, they weren’t able to stack these runs consistently to sustain a drive:

2. A mix of man and zone coverage

Behind this front, New England played a pretty even mix of man and zone. The Jets did better throwing the ball against zone, but could never really put together multiple completions to sustain a drive. Here are clips of the Patriots running a cover 3 defense:

And here are clips of the Patriots running cover 2:

When the Patriots went man coverage on these base downs, they went with their favorite: cover 1. This enabled them to get that extra man in the box and plaster on the Jets’ receivers. They did get open on a few occasions against New England’s elite man coverage defensive back group, but not for many big plays. Here are the incomplete passes the Jets had versus the Patriots’ cover 1 defense:

And here are the completions they had against the Patriots’ cover 1:

3. The Patriots dominate on third down yet again

On third downs, the Patriots went to their usual dime 1-4-6 formation with one defensive lineman, four linebackers and six defensive backs. They rotated through Chase Winovich, Dont’a Hightower, and Deatrich Wise Jr. as the edge rushers; Adam Butler got all the snaps at nose tackle on third downs, with Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy playing as the inside linebackers:

The Patriots continued their third down dominance against the Jets, with New York going an awful 0-for-12. The Patriots were of course playing man coverage in the back end and using various rushes and stunts from this front to collapse the pocket quickly. Here’s the team doing a teach tape on man coverage on third downs:

And here’s the Patriots pass rush on third downs. The Jets tried to get the ball out quickly, but New England’s rushers did a great job of collapsing the pocket and moving quarterback Luke Falk off of his spot:

Patriots Offense

1. Some struggles in the run game

The Patriots had 25 carries on Sunday for only 69 yards. It wasn’t a great performance on the ground, and I think most of that has to do with James Develin being out, since the Patriots only ran the ball out of one-back sets against the Jets, and they were ready for it.

Coming into this game, I anticipated that the Patriots would try to attack the perimeter in the run game because the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns had success doing that in the first two weeks against New York. Unfortunately, the Jets were not going to let the Patriots get to the edge in this game. The Patriots’ worst runs came when they tried to get to the edge on runs like the pin and pull sweep and outside zone (expect for that first touchdown).

The Patriots did find success running draw plays out of shotgun, which makes sense because of the threat of New England’s potent passing game out of the gun.

2. Play action game remains strong

It seems like people are worrying about the running game. While there is certainly room for improvement, I think the offensive line is still getting used to the new group and being with Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo at tight end, and that the running game will always lack that punch that it normally brings when Develin isn’t suited up. I also think this running back group is talented and capable of putting up big numbers this year.

So overall, I wouldn’t worry too much about the running game, as more practice together will strengthen this aspect of the offense. And despite these running game woes, the Patriots’ play action game continues to excel as one of the best in the league.

Here are my two favorites from the Jets game. They both come off of one of the Patriots’ favorite running plays called “Duo”. Here is a diagram of it, courtesy of James Light:

https://twitter.com/jamesalight

In this first clip, we see the Patriots running the ball using the “duo” blocking scheme. In the second clip, we see the Patriots looking like they’re running duo again, but it’s play action. The tight end, Ryan Izzo, releases from his block late and gets downfield where he’s wide open for a 41-yard gain:

And here’s another great play action fake off of the duo concept. The first clip again shows the Patriots running it. In the second clip, it looks like they’re running duo again, but they go play action and are sending Phillip Dorsett on an over route behind the linebackers, who get sucked towards the line of scrimmage by the run fake.


Conclusion

The Patriots overall have breezed through the first three weeks of the season. They’ve stuffed the run game of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolphins, and now the Jets. They also continue to not give up big passing plays, and are always asking the offense to stack short gains on top of each other in order to sustain a scoring drive. This eventually leads to third downs, where the Patriots are unstoppable so far. Although the team hasn’t faced a top offense in the league yet, it is certainly showing signs of an elite, all-around defense.

On offense, it will continue to be tough to run the ball without James Develin. However, more experience with the group up front will help, and Josh McDaniels will continue to deliver on these perfectly timed play action passes that lie to the defense until it’s too late.