Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

04 Oct 2012

Film Room: Broncos-Patriots

by Andy Benoit

1. What will Denver do?

When you think of Peyton Manning, you probably have visions of him either hawking a product or gyrating at the line of scrimmage. His greatness in the latter has spawned his ubiquity in the former. We’ll focus on the latter. Manning seems to have one general (though flexible) rule in his audibles: if the defense shows a single high safety, check to a pass. If they show two high safeties, check to a run. Manning did this for the better part of 14 years in Indy. He’s now done it for four weeks in Denver.

The question is: this Sunday, will Manning be willing to check to a pass against a two-deep safety look? Unlike Denver’s first four opponents, New England doesn’t consistently drop a safety into the box to stop the run. Not prior to the snap, anyway. With clogger Vince Wilfork, a pair of fierce downhill strikers in Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes, and improvement setting the edge with Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, the Patriots believe they can stop the run with a seven-man -– and sometimes six-man –- front. So far, with the exception of Week 3 at Baltimore, they’ve been right.

The Broncos have a solid rushing attack. Willis McGahee is a methodical, consistent grinder who makes great use of interior double-team blocks. Now-healthy early third-round rookie Ronnie Hillman has shown good short area quickness and burst, expanding Denver’s already-effective shotgun ground game.

For argument's sake, let’s say the Broncos will be unable to run against New England. It’s actually easy to imagine this when you think about declining center Dan Koppen (who’s now starting after J.D. Walton’s ankle injury) and subpar right guard Manny Ramirez wrestling with Wilfork. It's also easy to imagine New England’s white-hot offense jumping out to a double-digit lead against a Broncos team that fell into early holes against the Falcons and Texans. All non-Broncos fans should root for this, as the Manning-Belichick chess match is much more interesting in the air.

2. Aerial chess match

Lately, some Boston media members have questioned the Patriots’ coverage schemes. In analyzing this, what first must be understood is that the Patriots don’t have great defensive backs. Devin McCourty is gifted, but inconsistent. Kyle Arrington makes interceptions but can be abused in man coverage. The third corner spot is a revolving door. All of New England’s safeties are instinctive, rangy, or hard-hitting ... but none are all three of those things. Deprived of the resources to consistently line up and shutdown opponents, Belichick has to either play it safe or rely on deception and disguise.

We tend to equate "deception and disguise" with complexity. Usually that’s valid –- especially with Belichick. Manning learned early in his career that the future Hall of Fame coach is a master at mixing hybrid coverages. But in recent years, without stars like Ty Law, Asante Samuel, or Rodney Harrison around, Belichick has had to scale back his coverage varieties and simplify his disguises. The "back to basics" approach has made for a bland secondary, but it has allowed that secondary to get by with fringe special-teamers and even wide receivers in the lineup.

New England’s secondary personnel has been stabilized this season, but Belichick is still keeping things relatively basic. The Patriots have played a ton of traditional Cover-2. When they have disguised coverages, it’s often been out of a two-high zone look. That’s somewhat unusual, as generally defensive disguises derive from more man-oriented concepts (like quarters coverage).

New England’s disguises are often subtle and short-lived. They generally involve the corners shifting just a few yards out of an off-coverage look or a safety rotating in just one half of the field. Belichick’s hope is that the small disguises can make a quarterback pause for the first few breaths of a play. That pause diminishes the weaknesses of New England’s defensive backs, and also gives the pass rush more time to get pressure.

A great example of a simple coverage disguise came in the first half against Buffalo:

Graphics by Matt Glickman

The Patriots broke the momentum of Buffalo’s first series by rotating from a Cover-2 to a Cover-3 (i.e. a zone with a single high safety) after the snap. The lower safety simply dropped down to become a fourth underneath defender. This is a standard, common coverage tactic in the NFL, and one the Patriots do regularly. The post-snap shift gave Ryan Fitzpatrick pause, ultimately forcing him to abandon the play and scramble.

3. Attacking New England through the air

The problem with simplified coverage disguises is they’re easy to exploit once identified. It took Fitzpatrick nearly an entire half to recognize that New England’s disguises were often just tiny bells and whistles. It will take Manning however long the first snap lasts. When the tiny bells and whistles are figured out, the corners pay for their soft cushions and the safeties are prone to manipulation. This suddenly becomes a secondary that’s either caught in a coverage it’s not capable of consistently playing (like man-to-man across the board) or, more often, it’s a secondary that’s revealed to be in a vanilla two-deep zone. At this point, the Patriots, who rarely blitz, become almost utterly dependent on their somewhat-pedestrian four-man pass rush.

The way to attack a two-deep zone is with a 3x1 receiver set: this is a staple formation in Denver’s offense. In a 3x1 (or a 3x2), the safeties get stretched horizontally, which opens up the seam. For New England, this strands slot corner Arrington in space or gets linebackers Mayo and Spikes matched up on a tight end. Mayo is a decent pass defender, though mostly in underneath zones. His comfort level drops when he has to take his eyes off the quarterback. Spikes is a greater liability: he doesn’t have the speed or open-field agility to cover consistently.

Manning utilizes the seams as effectively as any passer in the NFL. He has two versatile interior weapons in tight ends Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme. He also has a shrewd veteran wideout in Brandon Stokley. Manning might also have a dynamic backfield receiving weapon in Hillman. We don’t know yet for sure, as we’ve only seen Hillman catch passes in the flats or on checkdowns thus far. It may behoove the Broncos to send the third-round rookie out on genuine pass routes between the numbers this Sunday. As the Bills showed, this can put a greater stress on New England’s linebackers in coverage.

Graphics by Matt Glickman

Correctly guessing that the Patriots would be in a two-high zone coverage, the Bills used a 3x2 set that commanded a favorable matchup for tight end Scott Chandler against linebacker Spikes. Spikes was a bit preoccupied with the threat of C.J. Spiller coming out of the backfield and appeared to be unsure of his coverage responsibilities. His expected help over the top wasn’t there because the Bills used simple formation tactics to widen the safeties. They did this by aligning three receivers to the left (which forced one safety to drift that way outside) and having the receiver down below run his route towards the sideline (which forced the other safety to drift outside).

On the strong side in 3x1 or 3x2 sets, the Broncos also make great use of picks and rubs to open up receivers underneath. This is something all offenses do against man-to-man, but Denver can do it against zone. They use interior seam routes to lift the safeties and put the underneath linebackers in disadvantageous positions for picking up crossing routes that come off the picks.

4. Patriots offense vs. Broncos defense

The Broncos were dominant with their man-free coverages and third-level blitzes last week. That was mostly because, with Darrius Heyward-Bey out, the Raiders may be the most enticing passing offense in the league to play against. Don’t expect John Fox and Jack Del Rio to use this aggressive strategy again this Sunday. Not only does New England’s passing attack have infinitely more weapons than Oakland’s, it also has quicker routes. Third-level blitzes can work against a slow-developing vertical passing game; they can’t work against a fast-developing horizontal passing game like New England’s.

A new feature to New England’s passing attack this season is play-action from under center. Last year, the passing game was virtually all shotgun for Brady. This year, with a renewed commitment to the run, New England is doing more with condensed formations. The formations and well-executed run-action fakes alone make for a viable play-action game, though it doesn’t hurt that the Patriots are also moving the ball proficiently on the ground. Even without Logan Mankins last week, the Patriots front five continued to provide outstanding power blocks for second-year running back Stevan Ridley and undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden. Both are disciplined downhill runners. Ridley has good change-of-direction quickness in confined areas and Bolden, though less dynamic, plays with a good center of gravity.

With middle linebacker Joe Mays back from suspension, the Broncos should have a solid run defense. This defense has won the ground battle in three of its four outings this season. Worth noting, however, is that the one outing it didn’t win was two weeks ago against Houston. The Texans are the only offense the Broncos have faced that effectively intertwines its run and pass games. The Patriots will be the second such offense.

5. Tom Brady

So much of the Brady-Manning discussion has been predicated on accolades and statistics. What about how these guys play? What truly makes them special? Most people know about Manning’s strengths: football IQ, pocket poise, accuracy, and ... football IQ again. Surprisingly, we don’t hear much about Brady’s strengths. Unless you count "being a winner" and having "it" –- which aren’t strengths, but rather, mere descriptors used by analysts who don’t actually analyze.

Brady’s "it" is his incredible ability to gather his mechanics while making throws from a congested pocket. True, he doesn’t like to be hit. Most quarterbacks don’t. But instead of avoiding hits by ducking or running, Brady avoids them by stepping up in the pocket or sidestepping the rush. In performing these pocket motions, Brady does a better job at keeping his eyes downfield and reclaiming his readiness to throw than anyone in the game. He’s incredibly quick in his fundamentals. It’s subtle-but-significant traits like this that turn sixth-round picks into Hall of Famers.

Quick Reels

BEARS-JAGUARS

Bears offense vs. Jaguars defense

After a loss at Green Bay earlier this season, Jay Cutler was asked why he wasn’t able to get the ball to Brandon Marshall more. "Two man," he answered. (In true Cutler fashion, "two man" was literally his entire answer.) Cutler’s offensive coordinator, Mike Tice, observed the ease with which Green Bay eliminated his top outside weapon. A press-man defender underneath and safety over the top was all it took.

Facing a Cowboys team last Monday night that’s big on man coverage, Tice made the adjustment of using Marshall more inside. Just about all of Marshall’s seven receptions came with him in the slot or off some sort of interior motion. It's a great tactic; not only does the absence of a sideline make it harder and more expensive to double-team an inside receiver, but the nature of most defensive alignments requires that a linebacker or strong safety be part of those double teams. No linebacker or strong safety is equipped to guard Marshall. Will Tice employ this tactic if the Jaguars play their traditional two-deep zones on Sunday? The Jaguars corners played well in man coverage at Cincinnati last week. (The catches A.J. Green had were just spectacular plays by a budding star.) That said, the Jags are primarily a zone team and they’ll probably want to use a comfortable scheme against a Bears offense that has more firepower than Cincinnati. Tice must not let Jacksonville’s plainness coax him away from creative designs for his top receiver.

Jaguars offense vs. Bears defense

A realistic over/under on total Blaine Gabbert sacks this game would be seven. The Bears have a fervid pass rush, highlighted by the multiplicity of Julius Peppers’ alignments. The 11th-year star regularly lines up in all four different positions, seeking specific matchups he wants to exploit. Choosing a matchup along Jacksonville’s line will feel like trying to choose an item off a Cheesecake Factory menu. There’s left tackle Eugene Monroe, who hasn’t shown the improved raw power that many hoped for this season. There’s left guard Eben Britton, whom Marvin Lewis should have given a game ball to for his work in the first half of Cincinnati’s win last week. Britton could lose his starting job to undrafted rookie Mike Brewster this week. Another enticing opponent for Peppers is right tackle Cameron Bradfield, who simply hasn’t shown the necessary foot speed to pass block at an NFL level.

EAGLES-STEELERS

Eagles offense vs. Steelers defense

Andy Reid ran the ball in the second half against New York and got a victory. Will he stay grounded against a tough (and rested) Steelers defense? It’s a defense that actually struggled against quality zone-running teams all last season -– especially on off-tackle runs, which are LeSean McCoy’s forte.

More important is whether Reid will keep Michael Vick in the pocket again this week. It might seem like a good idea to put Vick in motion, but on the move, Vick seems to subconsciously stop being a quarterback. His field-reading and mechanics suffer, and there’s a cumulative mental effect that leads to Vick playing too frenetically in his standard dropbacks. Running McCoy and calling five-step timing passes that help keep Vick regimented in his dropbacks is Philly’s best chance at avoiding third-and-long. That’s vital, as third-and-long is where the Steelers unleash the type of blitzes that their former secondary coach, Ray Horton, beat Vick and the Eagles with two weeks ago.

Steelers offense vs. Eagles defense

There will be some great individual matchups in the passing game to watch this Sunday. Nnamdi Asomugha is having a very stellar season in man coverage. He’s one of the few corners in the league with the lankiness to match up to Mike Wallace. Asomugha may not draw that assignment, though, as Philly tends to put Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the opponent’s best deep threat. Rodgers-Cromartie has actually been a better all-around man-to-man defender than Asomugha this year, so it might make more sense to put him on Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh’s best all-around wide receiver. There’s another compelling matchup inside: Mychal Kendricks on Heath Miller. The rookie linebacker was rock-solid in coverage the first quarter of the season. Don’t be surprised if Juan Castillo entrusts him to line up across from the soft-handed tight end who has assumed a bigger downfield role in Todd Haley’s offense.

BILLS-49ERS

Bills offense vs. 49ers defense

Buffalo got C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson back in the lineup last week, but they still struggled to run against New England’s stingy front seven. Expect those struggles to continue in Week 5. It’s still too early to make dramatic declarations, but the 49ers may have an even better run defense than a year ago. Which, if true, means they have far-and-away the best run defense in football. The difference is Aldon Smith, who played only in nickel packages most of last season. Since joining the base 3-4, Smith has emerged as one of the best edge-setters in the league. Many figured it’d take the youngster more time to learn the mechanics of playing on first and second down. We probably shouldn’t be surprised by Smith’s success; violent hands and strong thighs aren’t attributes that help only in pass rushing.

49ers offense vs. Bills defense

Two weeks ago, the Bills stymied the Browns’ run game en route to victory. Last week, they got destroyed by the Patriots’ run game en route to defeat. Which Bills should we expect this week? The group from two weeks ago ... theoretically. New England ran primarily against Buffalo’s sub packages, exploiting backup safety Bryan Scott’s lack of physical power in the box. San Francisco’s rushing attack is better than New England’s, but it takes place out of base and heavy personnel. Thus, Buffalo can respond by using more linebackers and tightening their spacing in the box. This doesn’t mean the Bills will shine. San Francisco may not have a high-drafted young workhorse like Trent Richardson to dial in on, but they have great depth and feature the best-designed rushing concepts in football.

VIKINGS-TITANS

Vikings offense vs. Titans defense

The nicest thing we could say about Minnesota’s offense at Detroit last week was that it didn’t do anything to lose the game. Adrian Peterson looked sharp and explosive, but he had to fight for every yard. Christian Ponder was relegated to defined reads and rarely pulled the trigger downfield against a Lions team that plays a lot of base Cover-2. Expect more of this conservative play-calling in Week 5. The Titans, amazingly, play an even blander base Cover-2 than the Lions. Their safeties regularly align 15-18 yards off the ball. One of those safeties will probably creep into the box on first and second down (the Peterson factor), making the Cover 2 a Cover 3. Those will be good opportunities for the Vikings to take some downfield shots outside with Jerome Simpson. They actually did this three times last week, all on simple, low-risk reads for Ponder. Those three shots, all against rookie corner Bill Bentley, produced two defensive pass interference penalties and a long completion. Tennessee’s corners pose a tougher challenge, but getting Simpson more involved is a worthy goal for Minnesota. With Percy Harvin being primarily a slashing gadget player, Simpson is the closest thing this offense has to a vertical presence.

Titans offense vs. Vikings defense

Kendall Wright, Damian Williams, Nate Washington, and Kenny Britt (if he plays) had better be prepared to take a hit. (No pun intended with Britt). One of the key ingredients to Minnesota’s surprising 3-1 start has been the physicality of their secondary. It’s not the most talented group, but its members, sitting back in zone stances, are regularly in position to wind up and unload on receivers in space. And unload they have. Safety Jamarca Sanford and rookie nickel corner Josh Robinson, in particular, have stood out. And, of course, veteran Antoine Winfield, though not big enough to be a thumper, has long been one of the craftiest, quickest tacklers in the game.

GIANTS-BROWNS

Giants offense vs. Browns defense

Eli Manning doesn’t get enough credit for his toughness. No quarterback is better at throwing the ball before taking a shot. It’s amazing how often announcers fail to highlight Manning’s greatness here. Four or five times a game, Manning will see an oncoming rusher (usually a blitzer), quickly gather himself and, falling away, uncork a perfect strike just as the defender implants his facemask between his numbers. For whatever reason, the catch is usually what Giants viewers find most spectacular on these plays. Every passer in the league should study Manning under duress. Not only does he have a perfect sense for timing, he has a perfect sense for protecting himself. This Sunday, if the Browns can get pressure (big if), watch the way Manning contorts his body to lessen the blows he takes. It’s artistic.

Browns offense vs. Giants defense

This is the week Cleveland’s offensive tackles need to step up. Since getting abused by Jason Babin in the season opener, rookie Mitchell Schwartz has gradually improved on the right side. Those improvements will be tested by the cagey Justin Tuck, who might have the largest collection of exterior and interior phone-booth moves in the NFL. On the left side, Joe Thomas has been surprisingly shaky in a few games. Given that he’s a five-time Pro Bowler, we know the talent is there to play better. But Thomas needs to right his ship, as Jason Pierre-Paul is someone who can capitalize on poor blocking.

Posted by: Andy Benoit on 04 Oct 2012

31 comments, Last at 08 Oct 2012, 5:10pm by LionInAZ

Comments

1
by steveNC (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2012 - 4:13pm

This article mentions a tough Steelers defense, but DVOA ranks them 30th, interesting.

2
by glickmania :: Thu, 10/04/2012 - 5:30pm

DVOA doesn't take injuries into account but you're right, the Steelers have been pathetic on defense with Harrison and the Hair out.

3
by countertorque :: Thu, 10/04/2012 - 9:49pm

I agree that the writer could have made better use of the website's advanced stats instead of repeating conventional wisdom.

4
by glickmania :: Thu, 10/04/2012 - 10:34pm

To be fair, "tough" isn't really one of those words that implies the same thing to everyone. And generally speaking the Steelers are a tough team even if they have under-performed to date.

6
by dryheat :: Fri, 10/05/2012 - 8:21am

I agree. Don't be quick to confuse "tough" with "good". They're not synonymous, or even in the ballpark. The Raiders have had tough defenses for years. Also the Lions in recent years. I would say the Ravens truly have a tough defense that is also a very good defense.

Back to the article, I really enjoyed reading it. I don't know what Andy Benoit's scouting credentials are -- according to his FO Bio, apparently just watching a lot of football, but he comes off very authoritatively in the opening segment. I look forward to seeing how it compares to the actual game on Sunday. His description of Brady's "it" might be the best I've heard given.

5
by DragonPie (not verified) :: Fri, 10/05/2012 - 1:41am

The stats on this website are an analytical tool, not the end all be all of information on a team. The Steelers have shown that they can have a pretty good defense with the players that they have and that should be respected. A couple of games in which they underplayed that isn't enough to strip them of that expectation especially when we know that in a couple of those games they were playing without some key players.

So, yes, it still makes sense to call them a tough defense, but if they don't improve from their earlier performances from here on out, then we can strip the tough label from them.

7
by LionInAZ :: Fri, 10/05/2012 - 3:52pm

I can't believe the Broncos are actually starting Manny Ramirez at guard. He wasn't good enough to retain a spot as backup on the Lions, which is pretty bad. I expect Wilfork to have a very good day.

8
by dryheat :: Fri, 10/05/2012 - 4:21pm

Add to that Koppen, who while being a competent center, has never done well with bigger players. Wilfork is going to live two yards deep.

9
by theslothook :: Fri, 10/05/2012 - 5:54pm

I charted the raider game- ramirez was a clear liability in run block- ok in pass protection(thanks peyton and his rbs), but mcgahee was good enough to run against easy fronts. AS ben muth said- most o lines-save for great ones like NE's or Houstons have one guy that makes you nervous but you can work around it.

10
by commissionerleaf :: Fri, 10/05/2012 - 6:42pm

Thanks for mentioning this.

I suppose Peyton is just glad that the weak link in his line is now no longer:

(1) Left Tackle (2007-2008 Colts)
(2) Every position except maybe Center (2009-2010 Colts)

NE fans complain a lot about pass protection, but every time I watch a NE game, Brady has forever to throw and barely has to move around in the pocket. My impression is that NE's offensive line is one of the best in the league, if not the best.

I remember reading that Clady had been less than stellar since coming back from some injuries. Any opinions on his play?

14
by Alex K (not verified) :: Sat, 10/06/2012 - 2:30am

The main reason Brady has so much time is that other teams almost never blitz him. Also, he steps away from pressure so well that he buys extra time (making it look easy). Finally, defenses know that the Patriots passing game is predicated on quick routes and thus focus on dropping as much into coverage as possible to clog passing lanes early in the play, lessening further the chance that they will blitz. The offensive line has proven itself not that great when faced with an extra pass rusher. Brady gets hit quite a bit when the other team blitzes.

11
by theslothook :: Fri, 10/05/2012 - 6:53pm

I can't say specifically about clady- but the only times the broncos o line at large has played poorly has been against atlanta- when they could not generate any run blocking despite playing against guys who were not in three point stances- and against the texans who manhandled their interior. Charting the oakland game- counted one play clady was absolutely got beat but otherwise, he was fine.

12
by theslothook :: Fri, 10/05/2012 - 6:56pm

Theres something else about NE thats hard to explain- why is their running game always good? It can't just be because of their passing offense- the colts with manning post 2007, the chargers post 2007, the packers with rodgers, and even the giants last year have all fielded some pretty awesome passing offenses with some pretty below average running games. Somehow, NE and NO are like the only offenses that field both consistently- makes you think it does sometimes come down to the difference in o lines/running backs.

15
by Alex K (not verified) :: Sat, 10/06/2012 - 2:33am

Look at the Moss era Vikings. The Patriots have an especially good passing game, and nearly always mediocre runners. Teams are happy to give up 4 yards to a Patriot run if it means not giving up 15 to a pass.

13
by JonFrum :: Fri, 10/05/2012 - 8:52pm

It's 2012, and people don't know what Brady is good at? Really?

19
by The Hypno-Toad :: Sat, 10/06/2012 - 12:54pm

yeah, this line struck me as being strange. While it's probably true that the list of strengths in this discussion tends to be more specific on Manning's side of the ledger, it's not like this is 2003 anymore where the book on Brady was the insulting and reductive "all he does is win" nonsense. Plenty of analysis of Brady gets into discussions of his great footwork, his adeptness at reading defenses, his release, his ability to spread the ball to many different targets and so on.
I think it's a shame that for many years of Brady's career his obvious greatness and skillfulness were... not written off, but just kind of taken for granted under the heading of being a winner, or having swagger, or having "it" or whatever the vogue meaningless descriptor of the moment was at the time.
The problem (in my opinion) is that the narrative of this rivalry was set in a period when Manning was just blowing all observers away with his technical skill and video game stats while Brady was winning just as much with (comparatively) weaker stats and a better defense and running game. For some reason it has taken years for a lot of talking heads to realize/admit that that characterization isn't at all applicable anymore.

24
by nat :: Sun, 10/07/2012 - 1:14am

You're wrong about the running game. From 2001-2006, the Colts had the better rushing DVOA four times; the Patriots, two. This in spite of the Colts emphasizing pass protection much more when building their line.

The real issue was the receiver corps. Brady's best #1 WR of that era (Troy Brown, 2001) would have been at most a role player on any of those Colt teams. The media sucks at disentangling QB skill from the rest of the team. Hence rocket-laser-genius Manning vs. gritty-winner Brady.

It's a better story than Marvin Harrison vs Patriots journeyman-of-that-season. Just not a truer one.

28
by The Hypno-Toad :: Sun, 10/07/2012 - 12:45pm

Wow, I sure was wrong about the running game. I had fallen for that aspect of the lie. Insidious. Even as someone who is aware of and frustrated by the lazy and reductive framing of this rivalry over the years I just never bothered to look into the numbers behind that aspect of it.
Thanks for pointing that out.

30
by theslothook :: Mon, 10/08/2012 - 12:23am

I was referring merely to the fact that good passing dvoa doesn't necessarily mean great run dvoa. As i was trying to point out, there have been many teams that have posted very strong passing DVOAs and have incredibly lousy corresponding Run DVOA's, which is why I never buy into the argument that the pats run game is good because of brady or their passing game solely.

16
by Paddy Pat :: Sat, 10/06/2012 - 2:37am

Watching some Pats-Colts footage from 2009-10, I got to wondering, has New England become unusually bad at 4 minute offense in the past 5 years or so? Off the top of my head, I can think of many examples, 2006 AFC Championship game, 2009 vs. the Colts, 2010 vs. the Colts, 2011 Super Bowl, 2012 vs. the Ravens, when the Pats just needed a few first downs to close out the game, and the offense always failed, and frequently failed to take much time off the clock at all. When the Pats used to win those games, it was because the defense would then hold, which it doesn't do any more. I guess my question is, are other teams much better at holding onto the ball and closing out the game? Are the Patriots unusually bad at this? It seems like a pretty glaring Achilles heel, and yet, I never hear anybody talk about it.

17
by dmstorm22 :: Sat, 10/06/2012 - 10:48am

In the Brady/Manning rivalry that's been a running theme.

They also couldn't close out the game in the 2003 and 2004 regular season games and the 2003 Title Game. In all three cases, they were able to win the game.

I don't know off hand if they had problems in other games back in the day, but it definitely seems like something they've had trouble with.

The one time they were able to do it against the Colts was in Super Bowl 41.5 in 2007.

18
by dryheat :: Sat, 10/06/2012 - 11:17am

You can go simply back to the Ravens loss from two weeks ago. Brady running the two-minute drill doesn't give me the same confidence it did 5 years ago.

20
by Paddy Pat :: Sat, 10/06/2012 - 2:22pm

My larger question was, are the Patriots worse at this than other teams? I know it's been a problem for as long as I've been watching the Pats--they used to be great at running the two minute drill to win from a tie or a deficit, but they've never been great at eating clock to protect a lead. Are other teams significantly better?

21
by Paddy Pat :: Sat, 10/06/2012 - 2:50pm

I'm going to elaborate on this a little, because I think it's an interesting question. Brady used to be a noteworthy 2-minute offense quarterback. This skill is not quite as clear these days, although New England still does seem capable of going on drives to take the lead at the end of games. I'm not sure that the Pats were ever any good at the 4-minute offense though. Let's just even take a tour of recent history.

2012 BUF -- the Pats went on several long drives to take and extend their 4th quarter lead.

2012 BAL -- With a 9-point 4th quarter lead, the Pats got 2 1st downs and punted. The team gave up a touchdown, then the offense got a 1st down, threw a pick (called back on penalty) gave up a sack, and punted. They lost.

2012 NYG Super Bowl -- Nursing a 2 point lead, the Pats got the ball and got 3 1st downs and punted.

2011 BAL Championship game -- After taking a 4th quarter lead, the Pats went Interception, 3 and out. They won because of a missed kick.

2011 MIA -- The Patriots scored a touchdown to protect a slim 4th quarter lead, and then put together a proper 4 minute offense, getting 2 1st downs and killing the clock.

2011 WAS -- WIth a 7 point lead, the Pats failed to convert 3rd and 1 and punted. Then they went on a long drive before throwing a pick in the endzone. Rex Grossman threw a pick to end the game.

2011 IND -- With a big lead, the Pats went 3 & out, 3 & out, letting the Colts somehow back into the game.

I would say that more than half of the time, the Patriots have failed to put together 4 minute offenses to close out games.

22
by greybeard :: Sat, 10/06/2012 - 7:34pm

" It took Fitzpatrick nearly an entire half to recognize that New England’s disguises were often just tiny bells and whistles."

I watched the game on game rewind in a condensed form. So maybe I am missing something that people who watched the replays or listened to the announcers caught. But this sentence strikes me as asinine.

Let us look at his performance for the first half.
1st drive: 2/2 for 16 yards and a scramble for 7. The drive ended with 3 back to back runs that gained 5 yards (was a 3rd and 2 though).
2nd drive: 3/5 for 27 yards (including the sack as the one sack a passing play). The drive ended with an interception which was not because of anything the safeties did but because his pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage.
3rd drive: 1/2. One pass play that gained 24 yards and the other one ended in sack on third down. I don't recall if the sack was due to coverage or something else.
4rd drive: 0/1. Intercepted on a pass thrown form his end zone. Had nothing to do with safeties or confusion. His receiver had a few yards on the defender. He underthrew it. Had the thrown it a yard further it would have been a very long gain.
5th drive: 1/3 for 12 yards. He looked to me inaccurate on his throws, but not confused.
6th drive: 1/1 for 24 yards and TD.
7th drive: 4/4 for 61 yards and TD.
8th drive 1/3 for 14 yards. RB fumbled.

So overall 2 TDs, 2 interceptions that has nothing to do with being confused, 2 sacks, 13/20 (including sacks) for 178 yards (8.4 yards per pass play. I wonder what would have happened if he was not confused.

Also the comment about the relative strengths of Manning and Brady seemed asinine to me too. So Manning’s strengths are "football IQ, pocket poise, accuracy, and ... football IQ again". And then Mr Benoit does not go to say Brady has all these strengths as well, instead of that he tells us what makes Brady special is being able to throw the ball well in congested pockets. His football IQ, accuracy etc is not worth mentioning.

I also read Mr Benoit's other articles and the one about 49ers made me think that he did not really have any good insights.

It looks like the void we felt since Mr. Barnwell left is now filled.

23
by glickmania :: Sun, 10/07/2012 - 12:53am

" It took Fitzpatrick nearly an entire half to recognize that New England’s disguises were often just tiny bells and whistles."

I watched the game on game rewind in a condensed form. So maybe I am missing something that people who watched the replays or listened to the announcers caught. But this sentence strikes me as asinine.
I guess if you wanted to pick apart the phrase "entire half" you could but Fitz didn't take advantage of the middle of the field until the TD to Chandler with a few minutes left until halftime. As for the "underthrow," it really wasn't since he doesn't have the arm to get it that far with consistency anyway. He isn't the type of the QB who can take advantage of just having his bigger guy beat their smaller guy deep down the field. And the smaller guy had safety help who just got there late.

Something tells me you missed a few somethings.

25
by greybeard :: Sun, 10/07/2012 - 1:59am

Whether Fitzpatrick have the arm to throw it or not has nothing to do with safeties movements confusing Fitzpatrick.

And surely he said entire half. He could have and choose not to write "almost" the entire half or until the TD.
What is more strange to me is that Fitz was making all kinds of wrong decisions in the second half, by then, if we were to believe the writer, he figured out what the safeties were doing.

"Something tells me you missed a few something"

Care to explain what they were? Innuendos are fine if you want to look smart, but does not really help you make your point.

26
by glickmania :: Sun, 10/07/2012 - 2:55am

Picking on one sentence while completely whiffing on the focus of the article/section is missing many somethings.

Your entire point about the one sentence being asinine was missing the point of the article. The breakdowns you made were based off Fitz looking "confused" which was not the focus nor brought up by anyone but you. The article's point was that it took the QB and whoever was calling the plays (since the QB reads the field and reports back about what is the best way to attack it) too long to figure out what was really going on in the secondary. This is exemplified by formations that take advantage of the "bells and whistles." A better QB figures out what is going on much faster. The article isn't about Fitzpatrick, it's about how those same tactics will not work for very long at all against Peyton Manning by comparison. Hence the title: Broncos-Patriots.

Also, "It took Fitzpatrick nearly an entire half to recognize that New England’s disguises were often just tiny bells and whistles" means exactly that Fitz took until that TD to the TE near the end of the half to figure out what was going on in the Pats secondary. It's pointless to talk about the second half because it wasn't the focus of the article. If you want to get into the breakdown of the adjustments made by both teams at halftime that's fine but goes completely away from the points made in the article.

29
by Bnonymous (not verified) :: Sun, 10/07/2012 - 12:56pm

"It looks like the void we felt since Mr. Barnwell left is now filled."

I thought Rivers had already taken care of that?

27
by Karl Cuba :: Sun, 10/07/2012 - 10:57am

I'm pretty sure that Manning doesn't gyrate at the line of scrimmage, I think you probably meant to write 'gesticulate'.

In the third picture it looks like the Pats are in Cover 2 man coverage, not Cover 2 zone. Look at the alignment presnap, everyone is heads up on their guy. After the snap the cornerbacks have bailed down field with their receivers, this certainly isn't a cover two zone. It doesn't work because the tight end's route is the ideal spot to target, splitting the safeties and Spikes does a crappy job in coverage, initially failing to reroute the tight end off the line and then failing to stick with him down the field.

"On the strong side in 3x1 or 3x2 sets, the Broncos also make great use of picks and rubs to open up receivers underneath. This is something all offenses do against man-to-man, but Denver can do it against zone. They use interior seam routes to lift the safeties and put the underneath linebackers in disadvantageous positions for picking up crossing routes that come off the picks." - That isn't a pick or a rub then is it?

What these articles need is a damn good edit, the format is good but there are too many mistakes.

31
by LionInAZ :: Mon, 10/08/2012 - 5:10pm

I always liked the name 'chicken scratch dance' for Manning's pre-snap routine.