Vince Wilfork is the rock upon which the Patriots defense is built. His torn Achilles tendon last season made the run defense porous and his loss to the pass rush hurt the pass defense. Jeremy Turner looks at Wilfork’s performance so far this season.
Consternation abounds regarding the New England Patriots’ mammoth defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. Last year saw a quick end to his season when he suffered a torn Achilles tendon during a Week 4 game in Atlanta, leading to concern over Wilfork’s ability to return to form in 2014. We went back and looked at the film to see how he’s progressed this season. Our analysis focuses on the most recent games in which Wilfork has played more than 85% of the possible defensive snaps.
WEEK 3 – OAKLAND
The Raiders spent much of the first half running toward whichever side of the line took them away from Wilfork. This is a strategy employed by many teams around the NFL; avoid the big run-stopper. Vince did his job of occupying blockers on pass plays but didn’t generate much pressure into the backfield. In the second half, Wilfork had multiple plays where he showed excellent technique but that didn’t directly show up on a stat sheet.
With 11:04 remaining in the third quarter he is lined up in a 0 technique, directly over the center. At the snap the center steps to the left, while the left guard (LG) pulls to the right. The right guard (RG) comes across to block Wilfork while the tight end (TE) makes a block on Joe Vellano at defensive end (DE). This allows the left tackle (LT) to move into the second level to block linebacker (LB) Dont’a Hightower. This design should allow the ball carrier a clean release through the B gap into the second level. Wilfork is able to easily overpower the RG and push him into the backfield, causing the pulling LG to adjust his route, obstructing the running back (RB). Patriots DE Rob Ninkovich is able to throw his blocker out of the way and make the tackle in the backfield, as the runner is caught in the jam created by Wilfork:
In the third quarter, with 6:09 remaining, Wilfork again proves adept in run defense. Lined up at defensive tackle (DT) in a 2 technique, he gets an excellent jump off the snap. After a minimal chip from the RG, the center comes across to attempt to block Wilfork. The DT is able to quickly use the opposing lineman’s momentum to reverse position and force him into the backfield. By the time the handoff is complete, WIlfork has pushed his blocker two yards into the backfield, forcing a major route adjustment by RB Darren McFadden that takes him right into the waiting defenders:
With 13:00 remaining in the fourth quarter, the man-mountain shows a flash of the Wilfork of old, bursting off the snap and around the pulling lineman. With no attempt to block him he is able to quickly close on the running back before he finds the running lane:
The Raiders generally avoided running in the direction where Wilfork was lined up, and he was still able to beat single blocks to get into the backfield when given the opportunity.
WEEK 4 – at KANSAS CITY
The Chiefs attempted many misdirection running plays, generally away from Wilfork as they tried to exploit overpursuit and neutralize the big defensive lineman. Their second play of the game, with 14:24 remaining in the first quarter, is an excellent example. Wilfork lines up as a 2 technique but after an initial block, the RG peels off toward the lane being created for RB Jamaal Charles. Wilfork jumps quickly into the backfield and is able to close on Charles for the tackle:
With 5:30 remaining in the second quarter, the Chiefs attempt to run a stretch play to the offensive right. Wilfork is lined up in a 2 technique and is double teamed by the RG and center off the snap. He holds his ground and moves along the line of scrimmage toward the play. When the center is forced to peel back to block LB Jerod Mayo, Wilfork is able to shed his blocker and grab RB Knile Davis before he can get upfield, which allows LB Jamie Collins to clean up the tackle:
The Chiefs take advantage of Wilfork using misdirection with 11:00 remaining in the third quarter. Wilfork sees the action move toward the offensive left and tries to swim inside his blocker, leaving a huge hole where the large human used to be. Davis quickly hits the hole for a short gain:
While Wilfork was part of the problems against the Chiefs, his issues were no greater than the rest of the defenders. He did a great job shedding single blocks to re-route runners but occasionally fell victim to misdirection. He wasn’t often able to get into the backfield on passing plays but dropped back into a short zone when it was clear he wouldn’t get to QB Alex Smith in time.
WEEK 5 – CINCINNATI
Wilfork started out strong against the Bengals. On New England’s first defensive snap, shown below, he blows past the block of the center and just misses a tackle in the backfield for a loss. His penetration forces the run to bounce outside where DT Dominique Easley and strong safety Patrick Chung are waiting to force him out of bounds:
With 6:41 remaining in the second quarter, the Bengals attempt to run at Wilfork. At the snap the RG and RT collapse and double-block to push Wilfork and create a running lane. Wilfork holds his ground. By not allowing movement, even in the face of a double block, the hole doesn’t materialize and RB Giovani Bernard is held to a short gain:
Wilfork had an all around excellent game against Cincinnati. Disruptive in both the run and pass game, he again showed flashes of young Vince.
WEEK 6 – at BUFFALO
Wilfork again had an excellent start to a game against Buffalo. On this early play, with 14:23 remaining in the first quarter Vince lines up as a 6-technique DE over the RT. The Bills attempt to block him one-on-one and Wilfork holds his ground, then begins moving along the line of scrimmage in the direction of the RB. As the ball carrier hits the hole Wilfork gets off his block and dives to make the tackle:
With 1:43 left in the second quarter Wilfork shows a great example of his instincts. He comes off the snap and is double-teamed. He makes progress into the backfield and, when the RG pulls off the double team, Wilfork slips past the RT to close on the RB slipping out for a screen. While he can’t finish the tackle he does slow down the back enough to allow the rest of the defense to converge:
Wilfork again had an excellent game. After a few lackluster performances he appeared to be rounding back into his old self, seemingly gaining confidence in his previously injured lower leg.
WEEK 7 – NEW YORK JETS
Wilfork had a rough game against New York. It’s unclear to what extent his struggles were due to the team’s short rest between games, the losses of other key Patriots on defense, or the excellent job done by the Jets offensive line that Thursday night.
With 9:19 remaining in the first quarter, Wilfork is playing left DE in a wide 9 technique. He starts upfield and, when easily blocked by the RT, he tries to swing inside. This leaves the right side of the field wide open for QB Geno Smith as the linebackers were both in zone coverage allowing Smith to scramble for an easy 10-yard pickup:
With 5:06 left, Wilfork is lined up as a 3-technique DT. He attempts to slip through the B gap but is easily pushed out of the way by the RG. The runner goes right where Wilfork had been at the snap and gains a first down:
Until the Jets game, Wilfork had looked close to the force we’ve come to expect based on his previous years. While not as consistently unmoveable, he was still able to cause problems for opposing running games. Playing against a divisional rival, on short rest, and without the presence of extraordinary clean-up man Jerod Mayo, all of these factors seemed to create problems for Wilfork – and the rest of the defense. Moving forward, expect to see him continue clogging up one side of the field in the running game, but it will be up to the rest of the defense to also make plays.
Follow Jeremy on Twitter @jturner1540.