For those with an interest in the X’s and O’s aspect of the game, Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s weekly breakdown on Patriots.com is a worthy time investment. This week, the breakdown was included as part of the “Patriots All-Access” television show and here were some of the things highlighted by Belichick (around the 29-minute mark):
1. Pressure leads to interception – Ninkovich “game” sets it up. In a different wrinkle, Belichick shows how the defense runs a “game” with defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who plays off rushes by Vince Wilfork and Justin Francis by looping up the middle and pressuring Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill into an early throw that is intercepted by safety Steve Gregory. There is good man coverage down the field and Gregory makes a nice break on the ball. Solid all-around defense.
2. Jones lauded for best game of year. On the Gregory interception, Belichick points out a strong one-on-one rush by rookie defensive end Chandler Jones which also tightens the pocket. “Chandler played probably his best game of the year,” Belichick says, highlighting how Jones used a power rush on rookie left tackle Jonathan Martin before coming back inside.
3. Special teams & field position. Belichick pointed out that the Patriots had solid field position for most of the season-ending win over the Dolphins, and showed one play on kickoff coverage that pinned Miami in close. Linebacker Niko Koutouvides, defensive back Malcolm Williams and safety Tavon Wilson are three players mentioned, as the Dolphins show the look of a “right return” but really want to come across the field to the left. The key is coverage players staying in their lanes. “Our field position in the game was outstanding. Our special teams did a great job,” Belichick says.
4. Strong coverage + strong pass rush = good defense. As he’s pointed out all season, Belichick picked a play in which the Patriots paired good coverage with a good pass rush, showing how the two complement each other. On this first-quarter play, it leads to one of seven sacks. A good jam by cornerback Devin McCourty contributes to the play (knocking down receiver Brian Hartline), and there is good man coverage on the other side of the field. That forces Tannehill to hold on to the ball longer than he desires, giving the pass rush – sparked by strong rushes from Rob Ninkovich and Vince Wilfork -- more time to get there (Justin Francis, who is in “perfect position” in front of Tannehill, slides off and ends up with the sack).
5. More pressure but with a wrinkle. Belichick picks another play in which the Patriots generated good pressure, doing so with a different twist as interior defensive linemen Vince Wilfork and Brandon Deaderick power rushed from an outside position. That collapsed the pocket against overmatched Dolphins tackles, who had no help because Miami was in an empty set. Combined with good coverage, with safety Steve Gregory coming down to take the under route, leads to another sack.