The New York Jets rolled up 218 yards against the New England Patriots run defense. What went wrong for New England? Part 1 of this four-part series explores what things look like when they go right, Part 3 the failure to flow and in Part 4 the dangers of losing the edge.
Part 2 – Failure to Fit
In Part 1, we looked at the various roles and responsibilities of defenders in stopping the run, including a Week 7 play where New England executed flawlessly against the Jets early in the game. Alas, that was one of the Patriots’ few bright spots in that area on Thursday night.
Even before losing linebacker Jerod Mayo to a season-ending injury one weekend prior, the New England run defense could, at best, be described as Jekyll-and-Hyde in nature. Having already allowed 191 rushing yards to the Dolphins in Week 1 and 207 rushing yards to the Chiefs in Week 4, the Patriots run defense transformed into Mr. Hyde once again on Thursday night as the Jets piled up 218 yards on the ground. Undisciplined and, at times, overpowered, the Patriots put on a clinic of how not to defend the run. And it was a full team effort that nearly cost them the game.
In Part 2, we’ll examine how failure to properly fill the gaps between linemen can leave a defense flat-footed.
We pick things up with 10:36 left in the 1st quarter, just five snaps after the play we reviewed in Part 1. On 3rd and 1 at the New England 38, the Jets go heavy with 22 personnel in the i-formation. The Patriots are in 3-4 personnel with 5-2 front alignment and both safeties nearing the box in anticipation of the run. Just prior to the snap, the Jets motion the tight end over to the wide side of the field to balance out the formation. This late offensive shift causes defensive ends Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones to adjust from a wide technique to head-up over the tight end on their respective sides.
At the snap, the Jets work a double-team block on nose tackle Casey Walker that he beats, and he follows with penetration into the backfield. However, the run action is away from him. Guard Willie Colon, working a man block, is able to leverage Vince Wilfork inside, freeing the rushing lane for the fullback to deliver a block at the linebacker level.
Due to the pre-snap shift in formation, Ninkovich is faced with a difficult assignment as he takes on a tackle head-on with a tight end ready to block nearby. He elects to (effectively) drive block the tackle into the backfield, but sacrifices containment. He relies on the secondary force player ‒ in this case, safety Devin McCourty ‒ to set the edge against the tight end and funnel the ball carrier back inside, if not make the tackle. However, this doesn’t happen.
But first, let’s trace back to the linebackers in the spill area. Instead of scraping one gap over to take on the fullback at an angle – thereby freeing up Jamie Collins to fit the hole between the new force and nearest spill defenders – Donta Hightower elects to shoot a snug gap and make a play in the backfield. Unfortunately, Hightower stumbles across the line of scrimmage, tripped up by the rub of the passing fullback and a falling boulder in the form of Wilfork. The fullback now has the perfect angle to take on Collins and temporarily delay his pursuit.
Running back Chris Ivory now has a large window just outside the hash mark to run through, but Collins does a good job to quickly get back into the play to plug the hole. Seeing this, while also noticing the leverage of his blocking tight end, Ivory jab-stabs into the hole and then cuts back to the outside, causing McCourty and Collins to pick each other off. It should be noted that tight end Jace Amaro gets away with a fairly obvious tug and hold of McCourty’s inside arm.
With cornerback Darrelle Revis running with the outside receiver all the way to the locker room, Ivory has nothing but green ahead of him, picking up 15-yards on the play.
On this play, the Jets made things difficult for New England with their pre-snap shift, Colon’s well-executed block on Wilfork, and Ivory’s juke move. The lack of a flag on Amaro didn’t aid their cause, either. However, Hightower’s choice to try squeezing through a narrow gap – instead of scraping over to his left to fill a wider vacancy – set in motion a series of falling Patriot dominoes capped off by the Collins-McCourty collision.
In Part 3, we’ll look at how breakdowns in lateral flow by the defense can lead to big gains by an exploitive running attack.
Find all 4 parts to this primer on defending the run here: Part 1: When things go right; Part 2: Failure to Fit; Part 3: Failure to Flow; and Part 3: Losing the Edge.
All video and images courtesy NFL.com and NFL Game Rewind.