Print and Go Back ESPN.com: New England Patriots [Print without images]

Friday, September 13, 2013
Picked-up pieces after first-half review

By Mike Reiss

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Picked-up pieces from reviewing the first half of the Patriots’ 13-10 win over the Jets:

1. Didn’t think this was defensive lineman Vince Wilfork’s best game. Instead of playing through blocks, he was attempting to go around them at times. One example came on Chris Ivory's 5-yard rush with 6:23 to play in the first quarter. Overall, the Jets ran for 129 yards on 32 carries as the Patriots’ run fits were not as sharp as the norm. In the second quarter, it was a surprise to see Wilfork single-blocked by Vladimir Ducasse on Stephen Hill’s 16-yard reception. Credit to the Jets' offensive line as well.

Geno Smith
The Patriots tried to keep Jets QB Geno Smith in the pocket early in their game on Thursday night.
2. The Patriots seldom blitzed in the game, as the plan seemed to be to keep quarterback Geno Smith in the pocket and see if he could beat them with his arm. This showed up on the overturned touchdown pass to receiver Clyde Gates with 4:19 remaining in the first quarter when the defense rushed just three and dropped eight. Smith had all day to survey the field. The Patriots ultimately got the result they wanted in a play that reflected their overall philosophy in the game in terms of limited blitz pressure.

3. One general observation: The Patriots’ secondary has tackled well through the first two weeks of the season. It's been strong fundamental work, with cornerback Kyle Arrington’s open-field tackle for no gain on receiver Stephen Hill on third-and-1 the play that sparked that thought. That’s the type of play that Patriots strength coaches might look to as an example of their program providing solid results. In the matchup of Arrington (5-10, 190) vs. Hill (6-4, 215), the strength and technique of Arrington was the victor. Later, on a play that could fall into a similar category, safety Steve Gregory (5-11, 200) had a decisive takedown on tight end Kellen Winslow (6-4, 240).

4. The first offensive snap of the game provided a snapshot of how the Patriots are using fullback James Develin to help account for their personnel shortage at tight end. The team was in “21 personnel” – two backs and one tight end – but had Develin lined up in the left slot and quarterback Tom Brady in the shotgun. We’ve seen the Patriots do that with fullbacks in the past (Heath Evans comes to mind) and part of the reason is to get more pre-snap information on what coverage the defense is playing. This was a case were the pre-snap information indicated to Brady that the Jets were in man coverage.

5. Develin played 15 first-half snaps and although he's a fullback, he aligned all over the formation. Five of his 15 snaps came as either a lead blocker in the I-formation or as an offset fullback, while another five came split out wide. Three snaps came as an on-the-line-of-scrimmage tight end, while the remaining two were in a two-back set next to Tom Brady in the shotgun.

6. One of Julian Edelman’s strengths as a receiver is beating man coverage and on the game's opening play, he got off to a good start. He came in motion to the right, got into his route quickly as rookie cornerback Dee Milliner didn’t press him, and then used tight end Michael Hoomanawanui as a pick of sorts to create further separation on Milliner for a relatively easy 7-yard completion. That’s a veteran route runner in the Patriots’ system. For the most part, the difference between Edelman’s route running and the rest of the receivers was notable, and the Jets quickly picked up on that by doubling him in the red zone.

7. In retrospect, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels would probably like his play-call back on first-and-goal from the 8 after Devin McCourty's long fumble return. Throwing on first down with tight ends Matthew Mulligan and Michael Hoomanawanui on the field in “12 personnel” (one back, two tight ends) didn’t seem to be playing to the strengths of the offense, even if the intention was to get the Jets to bite on play-action (only two receivers went out in the route). When the space gets tight like that, it’s where the Patriots miss Rob Gronkowski’s presence and the bigger Jets’ base defense was easily able to cover its ground as Brady threw the ball away to Julian Edelman under the goal posts. It’s easy to say after the fact, but that was a chance to give the offensive line an opportunity to establish control of the line of scrimmage with a run play (they gained 5 yards on the next run) and then adjust accordingly on second down if it didn’t produce the desired results.

8. Another play-call that left us wondering: A third-and-1 long pass down the right sideline to Aaron Dobson with 2:17 remaining in the second quarter, in which Brady was in the shotgun. While Dobson had gained separation, it seemed like the one of the lowest-percentage options on a short-yardage situation, not to mention a curious situational decision with the clock in mind.

9. On the first-quarter play in which cornerback Aqib Talib forced a fumble that safety Devin McCourty returned 44 yards, the Patriots were in their base 4-3 defense for the first time in the game. The Jets lined up two receivers to the right, and middle linebacker Brandon Spikes dropped to that side, nearly running into Talib and creating a traffic jam that forced Talib to go around him. That Talib hung with the play and was able to jar the ball free from receiver Stephen Hill was impressive considering that it’s hard to imagine the coaches drew up a defense in which two players essentially run into each other. Not sure why the Patriots would have Spikes dropping 20 yards in coverage. The biggest takeaway on the play: Spikes’ work in coverage remains a question mark.

10. With all but one of their starters returning this season, the point has been made that the defense has been starting at a higher point and can now be more multiple. One example of this came on Chris Ivory’s 6-yard run with 1:14 remaining in the first quarter. The Patriots were in a 3-4 look, with Dont’a Hightower and Rob Ninkovich the outside linebackers, Vince Wilfork on the nose, and Joe Vellano and Chandler Jones playing 5-technique defensive end.