Defenses rely on eleven players doing their jobs. Brian Filipiak breaks down how the New England Patriots team sack of Miami Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill shows it takes a village.
The Dolphins offense uses a heavy dose of misdirection in an attempt to deceive opposing defenses, both in the running and passing game. But the Patriots defense rarely fell victim to the Dolphins multitude of pre-snap moving chess pieces in Week 8. On their first of five sacks recorded in a 36-7 victory over Miami, the Patriots demonstrated how decisive recognition and constant awareness on the football field can be the difference between a new set of downs for the offense and forcing a punt.
Outside linebacker / defensive end Chandler Jones picked up two sacks in the contest against the Dolphins, increasing his year-to-date total to a league-leading 8.5 through Week 8, tied with Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt. While his second sack in the game was a result of great individual effort in which he barreled through a double-team to quickly bring down the quarterback, Jones’s first QB takedown was a textbook example of good team defense coming together.
Here’s the third down play as seen on the broadcast:
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The Dolphins fail to execute the jet sweep play action pass, with Jones swooping in for the cleanup sack to complete the third down stop. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. A combination of interior penetration, excellent recognition and individual defenders staying within the framework of the defense come together to defeat the misdirection play from the outset.
Faced with 3rd and 8 from their own 48-yard line, Miami sends 11 offensive personnel onto the field in shotgun formation. Initially showing a split backs look, the Dolphins have running back Lamar Miller split out wide left and leave wide receiver Jarvis Landry offset right in the backfield.
The Patriots counter the spread formation with dime personnel, bringing six defensive backs onto the field. Linebacker Jamie Collins follows the split out Miller, which indicates man coverage in front of the single high safety alignment.
Although we know the end result of the play, Miami’s misdirection concept is sound in theory against the Cover 1 dime defense presented by New England:
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By using the motion from the jet sweep in concert with two drag routes to clear out the left side, quarterback Ryan Tannehill has the opportunity to then connect on a pass to Landry on the swing route, leading the wide receiver into the open field with plenty of room to run. Cornerback Malcolm Butler, who has Landry in coverage, would then have to race across the formation and deal with at least one, if not two, pulling play-side offensive linemen now in position to act as a blocking convoy toward the first down marker.
But the Patriots defense disrupts the flow of the play action pass in multiple ways, eventually putting a stop to the Miami drive. It starts with good recognition from safety Patrick Chung.
Lined heads up over tight end Jordan Cameron (#84) prior to the snap, Chung (#23) is primed to blitz from the slot as part of a five-man pass rush while fellow safety Devin McCourty (#32) picks up Cameron in coverage. Only Chung quickly recognizes the screen pass and redirects his initial momentum into the backfield toward Landry (#14) releasing into the flat:
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While Chung’s presence shuts down the swing pass, the defensive line finishes off the play by containing Tannehill on the scramble. Defensive end Geneo Grissom (#92) – aligned in 3 technique – gains penetration into the backfield by default, since left guard Dallas Thomas (#63) chips the defender before sprinting outside in preparation for the screen. But defensive tackle Dominique Easley (#99) – also aligned as a 3 technique – provides unexpected heat on Tannehill by escaping the block of right guard Jamil Douglas (#77) with a spin move.
Outside linebacker / defensive end Rob Ninkovich (#50) rushes with contain from his wide 9 alignment, placing himself in position to first defend an actual jet sweep without sacrificing his rush lane on a potential scramble.
On the opposite side, Jones (#95) displays quick feet to avoid the cut block from left tackle Branden Albert (#76) and follows the jet sweep action. He, like Chung, recognizes the fake and pivots back toward the flat area while keeping an eye on Tannehill in the pocket. With the QB managing to slip by both Grissom and Easley, the trio of Jones, Ninkovich and cornerback Justin Coleman (#22), breaking off his man coverage, all converge on Tannehill.
Jones reaps the benefits on the play, bringing down the QB for a six-yard loss. But without Chung’s proper diagnosis of the quick hitting swing pass and the subsequent defensive dominoes that followed, Landry may have been able to either convert the third down or possibly gain enough yards for the offense to go for it on a manageable fourth down in Patriots territory.
A unit that works in unison is always greater than the sum of its individual parts. While having a pass rusher capable of beating double-teams and wreaking havoc in the backfield is a luxury, more often than not a defense relies upon eleven defenders executing assignments and making decisive reads in order to bring down the quarterback for a sack. Chung’s awareness on the above play goes unaccounted for in the stat sheet, but it no doubt receives high praise from the coaching staff in the film room.
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Brian Filipiak knows about proper blocking technique, the basics of run defense, how to defeat an overload, and the point-of-attack.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass & NFL Network.