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 2 on the failure to fit, Part 4 on the dangers of losing the edge, and here, the failure to flow.
Part 3 – Failure to Flow
Our initial foray illustrated the basic tenets of halting the run, including one of New England’s rare examples of success against the Jets. However, as we saw in Part 2, when gaps in the line aren’t properly filled by defenders, an offense can capitalize on a cascade of after-effects. Here, in Part 3, we’ll study how critical a defense’s lateral adjustments ‒ or lack thereof ‒ are to their football fortunes.
Moving on to late in the first half, with the Jets facing 2nd and 4 at the Patriots 25, the offense deploys 13 personnel with three tight ends up front and a singleback behind quarterback Geno Smith. New England has their 3-4 personnel on the field with five defenders on the line of scrimmage.
The Jets use motion pre-snap, shifting old pal and third tight end Zach Sudfeld from the closed side of the formation (near the tight ends) into the back field as an offset lead blocker on the open side of the formation (away from the tight ends). The New England defense, particularly Vince Wilfork lined up at right defensive end, has no opportunity to adjust technique (such as shifting head up over guard to better control either the A or B gap) since the snap immediately follows.
At the snap, the Jets offensive line, starting from the center Nick Mangold, will hard step left and angle the spill defenders towards the sideline. Linebacker Donta Hightower, who is reading the frontside blocking and QB/RB handoff action, elects to crash down into guard Oday Aboushi. The run blocking suggests a stretch run play, where the ball carrier sprints horizontally towards the sideline in search of a hole.
The All-Pro Mangold is able to easily seal off Casey Walker, who was head up with the center before the snap. The ability of (and trust in) Mangold to single-block the nose tackle and free up the nearby guard causes major hurdles for the run defense to overcome. With Hightower getting sucked into the frontside blockers on the assumed run side, he is soon met by Aboushi at the second level and taken out of the play.
Meanwhile, on the backside of the play, Sudfeld is in position to land a kick-out block on the only remaining unengaged defender (Jamie Collins) in the now-enormous running lane. In addition, guard Willie Colon delivers a legal chop block that takes WIlfork’s legs out from underneath him.
After a hard step left, running back Chris Ivory cuts back ever so slightly to tons of daylight with a second level blocker to his right. The run support from the secondary is slow to react as strong safety Patrick Chung is also initially drawn down towards the frontside action before eventually chasing down Ivory after a 9-yard gain.
This is a well-designed run play by the Jets with great individual execution as well as effective use of pre-snap motion to shift formation balance. It’s a difficult read for Hightower, whose job is made tougher due to the nose tackle’s inability to draw a double-team, but perhaps flowing frontside a little slower instead of shooting forward would have kept him in the play. His linebacking partner, Collins, is also placed in a near no-win situation due to the size of the alley he has to fill, not to mention the lead block he needs to shed in order to make a tackle. The above play illustrates a good example of when a good run scheme can cause breakdowns in defensive fundamentals.
In our fourth and final installment of this series, we’ll get a lesson in improper exterior containment.
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.