The New England Patriots edged the New York Jets 17-16 in Week 16, relying on their defense and some innovative play design from defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to seal the victory.
New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan gets lots of praise for his imaginative blitzes, but Patricia showed Sunday that he too can design some clever pressure schemes. He pulled out all the stops on a 3rd-and-4 late in the game with New England clinging to a one-point lead. The Patriots needed a stop but had sacked Jets quarterback Geno Smith just once to that point, so Patricia reached into his bag of tricks. After the game, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick gave credit to the 40-year-old Patricia: “That was a look we hadn’t run all game; I thought Matt [Patricia] made a great call in that situation.”
The end zone view shows an unusual formation. The Patriots align defensive tackles Chris Jones (#94) and Vince Wilfork (#75) in the “A-gaps” between the center and the guards – a very tight look. Linebacker Jamie Collins (#91) lines up on the line of scrimmage in the B-gap between the left tackle and left guard, while his counterpart Dont’a Hightower (#54) lines up opposite the right tackle. Edge rushers Chandler Jones (#95) and Rob Ninkovich (#50) are extremely wide – so wide, in fact, that you can barely see Jones when this clip begins. It’s a bizarre look – tight in the middle, but very wide on the sides:
Collins shows blitz and then drops back into coverage; everyone else rushes the passer. The tackles push up the middle, Hightower shoots the B-gap, and the wide rushers come from the outside. Neither running back Bilal Powell (#29) nor right tackle Breno Giacomini (#68) appear to recognize that Ninkovich is coming, so initially they both block Hightower. Once they realize their mistake, they make an even worse one: Both Jets abandon Hightower to block Ninkovich. Hightower has Smith (#7) dead to rights, and hauls him down for a 10-yard-loss. Air Wilfork blocked the ensuing 52-yard field goal attempt, and the Patriots were able to hang on for the win.
Patricia’s creative alignment helped cause the confusion and the protection breakdown, and the spacing also created favorable matchups and angles. Jones and Ninkovich are so wide that it’s fruitless to double-team them, and Jones uses the space to build up a head of steam and drive back left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson (#60), collapsing the pocket so Smith can’t escape. Wilfork also draws only one blocker because the gaps to both sides of him are occupied, allowing him to get push on right guard Willie Colon (#66). Even if Giacomini and Powell had blocked the correct assignments, the collapsed pocket and one-on-one matchups still might have resulted in a sack or a poor throw.
The Patriots defense is much improved this season, jumping from 26th in yards allowed in 2013 all the way to 13th. New additions in the secondary have been a major part of that, but Patricia deserves a lot of credit for using his players effectively to maximize results. On Sunday, in the game’s most critical situation, Patricia called the blitz that preserved a Patriots victory.
All video and images courtesy NFL.com and NFL Game Rewind.
Follow Brian on Twitter @Brian_Filipiak.