The New England Patriots welcomed back defensive tackle Sealver Siliga from a lengthy absence due to injury and the run-stuffer immediately made his presence felt, recording three tackles and half a sack against the San Diego Chargers in NFL Week 14.
The New England Patriots interior defensive line suffered a setback when the team placed defensive tackle Sealver Siliga on short-term injured reserve in late September with a foot injury. Siliga, promoted from the practice squad last year and helped stabilize a struggling – and injured – Patriots defensive line, was expected to be a key contributor this season, particularly against the run.
While not all of New England’s struggles to defend the run in the first half of the season can be tied to the loss of Siliga, the defense’s inconsistencies against opposing ground attacks in his absence did play a role in the team’s eventual signing of defensive tackle Alan Branch.
Healthy and active for the first time since Week 3, Siliga rejoined the suddenly deep defensive line in Week 14 against the San Diego Chargers. Over 56 defensive snaps (including penalties but not kneel downs), the Patriots rotated Vince Wilfork (31 snaps), Siliga (25 snaps), Chris Jones (24 snaps), Branch (16 snaps) and Dominique Easley (9 snaps) along the interior line.
While the Patriots mostly deployed the 6-2, 325-pound Siliga nose up over center (0-technique), he also lined up on the outside shoulder of center (1-technique), head-up over guard (2-technique), on the outside shoulder of guard (3-technique), head-up over tackle (4-technique) and even once wide of the O-line (9-technique). The range of techniques demonstrated that the coaching staff views Siliga as not only a capable 2-gap space-eater but also a viable 1-gap penetrator.
Finishing with 3 assisted tackles and sharing a sack, Siliga made his presence felt early against the run and then later as a pass rusher.
Welcome Back, Sealver Siliga
On 1st and 10 near midfield in the first quarter, the Chargers attempt to enter Patriots territory on a run play up the gut:
Aligned directly over the center (0-technique) at the snap, Siliga extends his arms inside the shoulders of rookie center Chris Watt (#65), creating separation from the blocker. With his head up and eyes on the ball carrier, Siliga slides into the running lane. The collision between running back Ryan Mathews and Siliga results in a minimal 1-yard gain
Despite being used primarily on first and second downs (only three 3rd-down snaps, all of which came with less than 5 yards to go), Siliga only faced six rush attempts (for 6 yards allowed) in the game. Siliga also forced guard Chad Rinehart to commit an offensive holding penalty on a negated running play.
More often, Siliga served as an interior pass rusher against the Chargers. Midway through the fourth quarter, good coverage allowed Siliga enough time to beat a double-team and bring down the quarterback:
At the snap, Siliga explodes forward and high into guard Johnnie Troutman (#63), snapping the blocker’s head back (a borderline case for an illegal use of hands penalty). The guard receives late help from Watt, but Siliga brushes off the backside shove from the center as he continues to manhandle Troutman into the backfield before discarding him. Siliga’s penetration forces quarterback Philip Rivers to move up in the pocket. But with no open receivers to be found, Rivers steps into the arms of Jones, who receives an assist from Siliga from behind for the sack.
Interior pass rush is one area the Patriots would like to see improvement. While generally used as a run-stuffing anchor in the middle, Siliga showed an ability to reach the passer last year, tallying three sacks in five regular season games.
With Siliga back in the mix and the rest of the big-bodied defensive lineman healthy, head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia now have a versatile and capable unit. Down the stretch run of the regular season, the group can be rotated throughout the game to limit fatigue and be utilized on a situational basis.
All video and images courtesy the NFL and NFL Game Rewind.
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