After re-watching the second half of the Patriots Week 16 win over the Jaguars, passing along picked-up notes and observations.
1. The Patriots began the second half with a productive offense drive that yielded a field goal, and running back Stevan Ridley was the go-to guy on the ground. A carry of note was on a 1st & 10 from the Jaguars 35-yard line. Bill Belichick often talks about what separates good running backs from the rest as those who can get yards beyond what the line blocks for them. On this play, Ridley's line blocked very well for the most part, but he helped his own cause too. Out of a shotgun formation, quarterback Tom Brady gave Ridley the football on a run designed to hit the left side of the line. Left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Logan Mankins and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui were all blocking down on the play, although Mankins got less contact than he wanted on defensive tackle Tyson Alualu. The rest of the play was blocked very well, but Ridley had to use a nifty lateral cut to get past the penetrating Alualu. These kinds of runs separate Ridley from the average NFL back.
2. Setting the edge is a popular phrase around the Patriots, as it's a critical part of their defensive schemes. The team didn't seem to do a great job of setting the edge in the second half, and an early third-quarter carry by Jaguars back Richard Murphy exemplified the difficulties. The Patriots ushered out a 3-4 front with Chandler Jones as the left end and Rob Ninkovich as a stand-up outside linebacker. Jacksonville ran off tackle to the right side, and right guard Steve Vallos was able to reach block Jones, while right tackle Guy Whimper overpowered Ninkovich on the edge. The play went for just six yards, but it was the kind of run the Patriots are more capable to stop.
3. Breaking down the interception by cornerback Marquice Cole: the Patriots had their sub defense personnel in the game, and looked to be running a Cover 4 concept with four players dropping into coverage down the field, and three players scanning the underneath part of the field. Cole, aligned over the left slot, had underneath coverage to his side of the field. The Jaguars had an outside receiver, Justin Blackmon, to Cole's side, as well as slot man Jordan Shipley. This play was a case where Cole mirrored Chad Henne's eyes and read the throw, as he dropped out from the underneath-flat area coverage he was supposed to have and jumped the route by Blackmon. With Henne telegraphing the throw, Cole showed his veteran savvy to abandon the flat route by Shipley and take advantage of an offensive error. Nice play.
4. On they play following Cole's interception, Brady got walloped by defensive end Jeremy Mincey on what was a helmet-to-helmet hit (Mincey was penalized on the play). Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer attempted to cut Mincey on the play, which is a suggestion that the Patriots were looking to work the short, timing passing game. With Vollmer whiffing, Brady was unable to load up a throw to any of his receivers, who were working to generate space in the underneath route tree. A last ditch effort by right guard Dan Connolly to help out Vollmer didn't work, and Brady was on the wrong end of a big crunch.
5. We've talked before in this space about the implementation of a "rub" concept near the goal line for the Patriots which involves two receivers to the same side of the pattern running off of each other's route to set sort of a natural pick. On Wes Welker's fourth quarter touchdown, he motioned to build a stacked set behind Brandon Lloyd, and at the snap, both players broke outwards. Lloyd, the outside receiver in the stacked set, planted to drive back inside on slant action (he was defended by Derek Cox, who was called for pass interference on the play), and the move helped create just enough space for Welker to break free (as did a great route by Welker). The modified rub concept once again paid off.
6. In a related play, the Jaguars tried to use crossing patterns from opposite sides of the formation near the goal line to stress Patriots cornerbacks Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty late in the game. Arrington had coverage on Justin Blackmon on the play, who ran across the field from left to right, and hauled a pass in at the two-yard line. Arrington was able to work over the coverage of linebacker Tracy White and through traffic in order to get to a point where he could make a tackle on Blackmon. The touchdown-saving stop would prove to be critical, as the Patriots held Jacksonville to zero points on the drive. Arrington went a long ways to make an important stop
7. Two plays later, the Jaguars faced a 3rd & goal from the one-yard line, but tight end Zach Potter was called for a false start. After the game, Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey said that he alerted the referee to a tactic he believed the Patriots used near the goal line in which the defense calls out a cadence to try to lure an offensive player into a false start. On the play, the Patriots entire defensive line shifted one gap in unison -- a legal tactic it often employs -- but it did not sound like from the televsion replay that the Patriots were calling out a cadence. Those kinds of things are difficult to discern, but the bottom line is the Jaguars committed a costly error that no offense can afford.
8. Defensive end Chandler Jones has had a quiet streak of play after a red-hot start to his rookie season, but he flashed the same promise that made him such an asset to his defense earlier this season in beating left tackle Eugene Monroe around the edge on a critical fourth and goal play. Jones grabbed hold of the arm of Henne, who launched a ball into the air and right to safety Patrick Chung. Jones relied on what could be called the signature move of his rookie season -- a deliberate, almost stutter step out of his stance, a quick closing burst to engage the tackle, and then a hands move to beat him around the edge. He came up big late in the game for his team.
9. Don't think there is a whole lot to break down about the late sack of Brady by Alualu. The third-year player was to be blocked by Connolly, but Alualu brushed Connolly to the side with a hands maneuver and burst through the line of scrimmage. Brady had no shot to throw the football.
10. After playing Cover 2 defense for much of the final drive of the game, the Patriots brought pressure to clinch the game, with Jerod Mayo working as the fifth rusher. With the condensed field near the goal line, the Patriots secondary was not responsible for as much space to cover, and both Mayo and Rob Ninkovich managed to disrupt Henne on the play. Chung came up with his second interception of the day, although batting the football down would have also been a smart play to prevent any sort of bobbled catch and attempt for the Jaguars to steal it away.