Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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10 Jan 2008

Too Deep Zone: The Blueprint

by Mike Tanier

I've done it. I created The Blueprint. Not just any blueprint. Not the plans for that two-story addition on the back of my house I've meant to get to for the past three years. I'm talking about The Blueprint. The document Jimmy Johnson thought he had. The one Rob Ryan thought he had. The one Steve Spagnuolo thought he had.

I created a game plan that could stop the Patriots.

The Blueprint is a foolproof series of philosophies, strategies and plays designed to stop Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and company from setting up permanent shop in the end zone. It won't work for a team like the Dolphins -- it's a game plan, not a magic scroll -- but it can work for teams like the Jaguars, Colts, Chargers, and Cowboys. It's the product of hours of tape study during that Patriots orgy the NFL Network broadcast on Week 17: eight or nine games back-to-back. For a few days, I saw more of Dan Koppen than I saw of my own children.

My life has changed since the moment I created The Blueprint. Everybody wants it. The Jaguars want to buy it. The Chargers want to steal it. The Patriots ... well, let's just say that Bill Belichick has his methods of persuasion, and he would love to put a match to this game plan. My safety is in jeopardy. My only chance is to post this sucker on the Internet where everyone can read it. That way, no one has a strategic advantage, and the threatening phone calls can stop.

Objectives and Concepts

The Blueprint begins with a series of objectives. It's important to set lofty-but-realistic, concrete goals. Success in football is defined by winning, of course, but saying "our goal is to win" doesn't mean much. We have to set some subgoals that can guide our planning and preparation during practice. To that end, here are the anti-Patriots objectives:

  • Hold the Patriots to 20 or fewer points.
  • Generate "hurries" or flush Brady from the pocket at least ten times.
  • Do not allow any long Moss touchdowns.
  • Shut down the screen game by allowing no more than five yards per pass on wide receiver screens.

Against a normal team, the objectives would be higher: a touchdown-free game or three turnovers, and so on. But when facing the Patriots, you need to focus on attainable objectives. You don't want to set a six-sack objective against the Patriots, only to see linemen breaking containment or blitzers ignoring their screen responsibilities. A team using The Blueprint must devote practice time to a handful of fundamental concepts: pass pressure that forces bad throws, deep coverage, and sure open-field tackling against screen threats like Wes Welker and Donte' Stallworth.

After establishing these goals, The Blueprint outlines some general defensive concepts. Again, these concepts guide how the defensive game plan is assembled, the points of practice emphasis, and what plays are called on the field. These concepts dovetail and support the four goals listed above, making it very clear what to do against the Patriots:

  • Bring pressure up the middle of the field to keep Brady from stepping up.
  • Use nickel and dime personnel groupings (including a 3-2-6 package) to get the fastest players on the field.
  • Use blitz packages that are aggressive but not exotic.
  • Use a mix of Cover-3, Cover-4, and man coverage to take away deep passes.
  • Avoid third-and-short by creating big plays on early downs. Daring blitzes should come on first down in order to create second-and-15 situations. A good team can limit the screen game and the Welker/Kevin Faulk flat game by avoiding third-and-4.
  • Roll coverage to Moss' side of the field when possible (not all of this is rocket science).
  • Coverage alignments on the non-Moss side of the field should be designed with the screen in mind; that is, we will make sure there is a good open-field tackler to that side who is not head-up on a good blocker like Ben Watson.

By stating what's included in The Blueprint, we get a good idea of what isn't. Six- and seven-man blitzes are out of the playbook. The Cover-2 defense is just an excuse to get picked apart or beaten deep by Moss, so it will be called as infrequently as possible. Run defense is barely mentioned in the goals and concepts because defenders must think about pass defense first. If a team can force the Patriots to start running draw plays to Laurence Maroney or to switch to an I-formation, then the game plan has succeeded.

Figure 1: Base Defense vs. Pats

Fronts and Blitzes

The Blueprint calls for a base four-man front against the Patriots, but that doesn't mean four defensive linemen should be on the field. The defense needs as much speed and flexibility as possible, so the base front includes one defensive tackle, two ends, and one outside linebacker (Figure 1). One of the ends plays the 3-technique, creating a faster pass rush inside. The outside linebacker playing with his hand in the dirt (let's call him the "down linebacker") should be a big defender with good pass rush and run stopping ability.

So if the Jaguars use this game plan, their base front would include John Henderson as the nose tackle, Paul Spicer as the 3-technique tackle (moving inside), Reggie Heyward as the end, and Daryl Smith, a big linebacker with some pass rush chops, as the down linebacker. If Marcus Stroud were healthy, we might modify the game plan to get him on the field with Henderson, but most teams don't have two tackles good enough to merit this kind of change. The Colts would use Raheem Brock as the nose tackle, Josh Thomas as the 3-tech, Robert Mathis as the end, and Rob Morris as the down linebacker. Teams with a 3-4 set like the Cowboys and Chargers could easily make the adjustments to fit this alignment. They could even get creative: DeMarcus Ware and Shawne Merriman make natural down linebackers, but so do Greg Ellis (a former end) and Shaun Philips, and Ware and Merriman might be better off at the other linebacker spot.

The base package, then, is a 3-2-6 grouping, with one linebacker on the line to create a 4-1-5 alignment. To create a six-man box, a defensive back must play close to the line of scrimmage. He's labeled as a nickelback in Figure 1, but this is an ideal place to put a "hitter" safety like Sammy Knight, Bob Sanders, or Roy Williams. This defender must be effective in run support, because the Patriots won't see many seven-man boxes, and they will only see eight or more at the goal line.

The 3-2-6 package allows the defense to drop as many as eight defenders into pass coverage. In most cases, it will drop seven and rush four. That doesn't mean that the game plan abandons all hope of pressuring Brady. Instead, it call for focused pressure on the interior line. After watching defenders like Justin Tuck and Jaqua Thomas have some success rushing up the middle, I believe that you can beat the Patriots interior linemen with speed. I also believe that it is possible to force Brady to make some bad throws if he cannot step up in the pocket, and that he isn't as effective when rolling to the outside as he is when moving forward. The reason The Blueprint puts two ends and a linebacker on the line of scrimmage is so they can aggressively attack the interior gaps and use quickness and technique to beat the Patriots' guards.

Figure 2: Five-Man Blitz vs. Pats

Blitzing the Patriots with more than five defenders is futile; you're just begging for a catch-and-run completion. Even rushing five is dangerous, but there are some five-man rushes in the game plan. Figure 2 shows the base blitz concept. Note that there isn't a lot of stunting involved, because the Patriots are good at picking up twists. The middle linebacker slides over the center presnap, then blitzes the weak side (defined in this case by the location of the running back) A-gap. The nose tackle rushes the strongside A-gap, and the 3-techinique defender (the "inside" defensive end) rushes the strongside B-gap. The outside defenders rush wide to stretch the tackles and contain Brady. This is an aggressive rush up the middle which will force the Patriots linemen to block quicker defenders one-on-one. This should force some hurries, if not a sack or two.

Note the locations of the defensive backs in Figure 2. When blitzing, the defense must account for the outlet pass to Faulk or Maroney. Ideally, there should be a defensive back on Faulk whenever possible in man coverage. For this blitz, the two inside defensive backs have man responsibilities on Faulk depending on which way he releases. The defender who isn't covering Faulk will buzz any slant or hitch routes to his side. If Faulk stays in to block, both defensive backs will buzz routes. This extra coverage component is crucial; with five defenders blitzing and two keying on Faulk, the defense is forced to play single coverage on Moss and company. Hopefully, the buzz defenders can take away any short passes and allow the corners to play a little deeper. The double coverage on Faulk has one more advantage: It minimizes his effectiveness on draws, delays, and screens.

This five-man blitz and its cousins are primarily a first-and-10 or second-and-long strategy. The goal is to force as many long-yardage situations as possible. On third-and-long, it's better to rush four or even three defenders to make Brady's throwing windows as small as possible and to force him to throw in front of the sticks.

Man Coverage

No one is going to fool Brady or coordinator Josh McDaniels with a lot of intricate coverage schemes. It is also impossible to take away everything the Patriots want to do: No matter how may drawings I create, there are going to be situations when Moss is single-covered or someone like Jabar Gaffney is isolated against a (hopefully very fast) linebacker. For this defense to be successful, it must use simple man and zone assignments to take away Brady's favorite throws: the bomb and slant to Moss; the flat routes to Faulk, Maroney, and Welker; the screens to Welker and Stallworth; and the 14-yard out-route to Watson. The next few coverage schemes won't fool anyone, but they should make life as hard as possible for Brady.

Figure 3: Man vs. Pats

Figure 3 shows the Patriots in a typical 1x3 spread formation. That means that there are three receivers coming off the ball on the right side of the formation but only one (Moss) on the left side. The Patriots love to use variations on this formation because it forces defenses to pick their poison: Do you isolate a cornerback on Moss, or double-cover him and leave your defense short-handed on the offensive right side?

The coverage scheme in Figure 3 is taken from the Giants game tape. Giants linebacker Gerris Wilkinson frequently served as the underneath defender in double coverage against Moss; in fact, the Giants often single-covered Moss with Wilkinson in the red zone and a safety deep! Wilkinson was overmatched, but a linebacker like Nick Barnett (Packers) or Gary Brackett (Colts) should be able to stay with Moss, assuming that a cornerback is also on hand to take care of the deep routes. The presence of a linebacker underneath should limit Moss' effectiveness on slants. He'll also allow the deep safety on Moss' side to roll into the middle third of the field for deep coverage. As a wrinkle, the deep safety could also slide to his left (offensive right) presnap and defend the deep third of the field on the Welker-Watson-Stallworth side. With Moss double-covered and a safety deep, it is easy to single up the other receivers. The defense even has the luxury of a defensive back covering Maroney or Faulk. With a safety and our "down linebacker" to the offensive right, there's plenty of speed and tackling ability on hand in the event of a screen to Welker or Stallworth.

The Patriots might react to this coverage by motioning a receiver to Moss' side. Figure 4 shows Welker going in motion to the left and creating a real nightmare: two of the league's best receivers on the same side of the field. Defending Welker with the free safety may not be the ideal solution, particularly if that safety is inexperienced (like Reggie Nelson of the Jaguars).

Figure 4: Man vs. Pats Motion

One solution to this problem is to shift defenders when Welker moves. The cornerback covering Welker could just follow him, but in Figure 4 the dime defender across the formation and the free safety slides back to the deep middle. After the shift, the linebacker's coverage assignment changes from doubling Moss to working from the curl zone to the flat zone underneath Moss and Welker. If the Patriots think they can move Welker, isolate him on a rookie safety or a slow linebacker, then get him the ball on a 10-yard in or out route, this wrinkle should thwart their plans. This scheme also covers Watson with a cornerback, which should prevent deep outs or seam routes by the fast tight end.

As an alternate plan to Figure 4, the defenders can remain in place when Walker motions. Instead of shifting positions, they'll shift responsibilities. Figure 5 takes advantage of the "down linebacker" by giving him man coverage responsibilities on Maroney. That allows the other linebacker to blitz (note that he attacks the A-gap to create interior rush) while keeping seven defenders in coverage. Welker is isolated on a safety, which isn't ideal, but the defense switched to a man-under scheme with two deep defenders, which should prevent catastrophes. Instead of asking the safeties to cover deep halves, they roll to the Moss-Welker side and cover thirds. Stallworth might be able to get open on a fly pattern, but he's pretty one-dimensional, so as a coaching point the corner covering him must squeeze him toward the sideline and not bite on any fake in or out routes.

Figure 5: Alternate Man Scheme vs. Motion

In the Front Zone

Moss and Brady are most dangerous from about the 40-yard line in. We've all seen Moss out-jump two defenders in the end zone to haul in a long touchdown. There's nothing in The Blueprint that can stop acts of uncanny athleticism, but the game plan is designed to put defenders in a position where they can succeed. That means they must be deep, with their eyes on Brady, when he releases the football. When it reaches the "front zone" (from the opposing 40 to the opposing 21), the defense must use more deep zone coverages than it uses elsewhere on the field. At the same time, it cannot afford to give up the farm on underneath routes.

The Blueprint calls for quarters coverage when the defense anticipates a pass into the end zone. Quarters coverage is simple enough: Four defensive backs cover a deep fourth of the field each, while three defenders handle the underneath zones. It's an easy coverage to pick apart with short passes, so I've added some wrinkles. In Figure 6, I take advantage of our down linebacker by once again dropping him into coverage while the other linebacker blitzes. The goal is to disrupt blocking assignments and get some inside pressure, but the shift also places the "hitter" safety in the middle zone, the place where Moss or Welker might sit down to collect a short pass. Hopefully, the hitter can deliver a blow that forces a fumble or at least causes the receivers to hear footsteps.

Figure 6: Quarters Coverage

The game plan also includes some Cover-3 in the front zone, but the three-deep zone in Figure 7 is somewhat unorthodox. It's Man-3: three defenders back, three rushing the passer, and the rest in man coverage. At the snap, this coverage should look like one of the man coverage schemes in Figures 4 or 5. I want Brady to think that there is one deep safety and one short zone defender during his presnap read. But the dime back (aligned on Jabar Gaffney in this example) is actually responsible for a deep zone, as are both safeties. For added Moss prevention, the deep safeties play quarter-quarter-half, with two defenders covering Moss' side of the field. If Brady throws deep to Moss, he throws into triple coverage. If he assumes he can hit Stallworth or Welker on a fly route, he may be surprised by the deep safety to that side. There are major trade-offs -- Faulk and Gaffney are covered by linebackers -- but this isn't an every-down strategy. For best results, it should be called once or twice when the Patriots are closing in on the red zone. If it doesn't generate a turnover, it should at least save a touchdown.

Stops at around the 30-yard line are crucial for a team that hopes to hold the Patriots to 20 points. A field goal is a defensive victory against them.

Figure 7: Preventing the End Zone Bomb

Back to the Drawing Board

The Blueprint should work. The goals and concepts are sound. There's nothing too esoteric in the game plan. The Jaguars, Chargers, Colts, and the NFC teams could adjust their systems without too many changes. They have good enough personnel to at least slow the Patriots' offensive onslaught.

Of course, any joker can draw up a bunch of plays in his office. Many an experienced coordinator has crafted a brilliant series of plays, only to see everything go to pot when the opponent makes radical changes of its own ("Hey, the Patriots are in the wishbone!") or when the guy you were counting on to cover Donte' Stallworth proves that he can't. In football, execution is always far more important than design. The Blueprint will work, if the nickelback can match up with Welker or Gaffney, if the front four can consistently win battles, if everyone tackles well, if the safeties maintain discipline, if your own quarterback doesn't throw a pick-six to Asante Samuel, and a hundred other "ifs."

It may not be the best blueprint, but it's the best I can do. Better minds are working on their own blueprints as we speak. We'll see how well they succeed.

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 10 Jan 2008

137 comments, Last at 15 Jan 2008, 1:46pm by allsmiley


by Richard Arpin (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 2:46pm


by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 2:55pm

Nice effort, but I believe the Pats are far more likely to lose a game 37-34 than they are to lose one 20-17. My blueprint for beating the Pats would start with my offense.

by nat (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 3:03pm

Nicely written, and thought provoking.

The Patriots run something like 43% of the time (more than that if you take away the PHI and PIT pass-wacky games). So writing off run defense is a problem.

You said
If a team can force the Patriots to start running draw plays to Laurence Maroney or to switch to an I-formation, then the game plan has succeeded

I don't think that's how Maroney gets used. Other than short yardage situations, he runs out of their usual formations to punish teams that rely too much on nickel or dime defenses.

I still think the best defense against the Patriots is to keep the ball - fourth down conversions and onsides kicks. Yes, you give up field position at times, but Brady can't throw a TD pass from the bench.

by Kevin King (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 3:05pm

That plan seems similar to me to Jim Johnson's plan. Chris Gocong played the role of the "down linebacker", although I do recall that the Birds did blitz 6-7 guys a couple times (that WAS Jim Johnson, after all), and Hanson couldn't keep up with Welker.

by Eddo (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 3:19pm

3: I think the statement "If a team can force the Patriots to start running draw plays to Laurence Maroney or to switch to an I-formation, then the game plan has succeeded" is not implying that Maroney and the Patriots are ineffective running the ball, but rather that they are less effective running than passing. So if you've forced them to run more, you have a better chance of winning. Still not a great chance, but a better one.
Additionally, forcing them to run shortens the game, in theory allowing a weaker team to get some lucky breaks and win.

by Pete (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 3:20pm

I remember it used to be said that you could throw Moss off his game if you can hit hard at the line of scrimage. Hit him hard, early, and often and he does not run the same. Is this no longer true or is it so risky that (almost) no one can try it?

by Jacob Stevens (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 3:29pm

Wow, this was the most amazing article. Truly amazing work, Mike.

I have two questions. One, about the stunting, and the Patriots' ability to block it well. Does everyone agree with this? I've asked many Patriot fans that question, and hadn't ever really gotten much of an answer, until this. I still have a feeling that widely split ends and showing blitz on either side of the line would make them fan out enough that stunting could be as valuable a wrinkle as most of the others here. Not all, of course. It could be effective with or without the blitz. But I'd like Pats fans' opinion on that. Not that they'll meet until next season, likely, but I've thought this year that the Seahawks would have a good chance of disrupting Brady and getting good pressure. To say nothing else of the rest of the matchup overall...

Next, in Figure 5, would anyone else be worried about the distance the Dime Back would need to cover to get into position in the deep zone on Moss and Welker's side? Seems like any completed pass to those guys there could gain and extra 7 to 10 yards because of that...it is still providing containment, and that's more valuable, and part of the objectives, I suppose. I don't have any solutions, based on that alignment. I'm sure others will, but I wouldn't fiddle, I doubt someone can address my concern here for that alignment and not seriously weaken the coverage for the rest of the field and right-side matchups. I mean you can, but then why not just make it another cover 3. Mike's design here is clearly superior to that.

Anyway, I understand Figure 5 isn't intended to be called 20 times in the game, either. And maybe the time it takes for Moss and Welker to exploit where the safety is up top is about the same as it would take for the DB to get over there, so maybe it's not a great concern, I dunno. If not, someone please let me know, but if anyone else is concerned about that, I'd like to hear that too.

Otherwise, just spectacular, Mike, I love it.

by Richard Arpin (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 3:30pm

Just wondering, How much do coordinators mix coverages of man and zone? In figure 2 you have two guys buzzing/spying how the play develops, and in figure 4 you have a safety and linebacker in zones on the Welker-Moss side when they are in man coverage. Do coordinators really do this? I enjoy watching football but with the camera angle that the television gives I find it hard to see how the defense played the field. I guess the extent of my play calling knowledge comes from Madden where I personally try to run hybrid's of zone and man but only see the included plays as either strictly zone or strictly man.

Some other thoughts:
1. Wouldn't Brady audible to runs all day against 6 in the box? Mankins would maul the strong safety in the box. Only Sanders would really have a chance with his mix of explosiveness and agility. With seven (more conventional) boxes, couldn't the Pats just get back to their regular pass happiness?
2. I don't think you can play a true zone against the Pats. How does figure 6 guard against option routes where receivers (Welker and Stallworth) sit in gaps in the zone while others (Moss, Gaffney, Watson) stretch the zone? On Moss' long TD against the giants the call was zone and db's dropped to cover Welker leaving Moss open. On many plays the coverage rolls to Moss and that leaves Welker open. It's hard to tell from the TV angle but I'd say every play the patriots run has outlets for both man and zone, some working better against zone, and others working better against man.
3. I think any passing attack will be more formidable than the run (NE>Jax). I think it is because the space to be defended is so much larger. In a passing game, you have to defend about 40 yards of field (or more), whereas with the run you defend the immediate LOS. Belichick said when he thinks of creating his defensive schemes, he's trying to defend the whole field. That's why the Pat's give up yardage but not so many TD's (RZ this year was and is still terrible though) Against a strong running attack, 8 in the box doesn't cripple you against the throwing game. Whereas, what this article proposes definitely will give up yardage on the ground.

I think Will Allen had an interesting comment. It isn't so much about being able to stop the Pat's offense as it is about keeping up with them. Can a team successful exploit Hobb's height (5'9") while mixing in runs and Play action that moves the safety around? While I think Jax will be able to have some success moving the ball, once around the 10-15 the defense will be able to key on the run more and force FG.

by Dom (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 3:31pm

Interesting, although I can't help but think that most teams' #5/6 defensive back isn't good enough to be left in man coverage against any of the Pat's recievers (even Watson or Faulk) with little or no safety help

by Jacob Stevens (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 3:34pm

2 & 3 -- #5 addressed it pretty well. Start with the offense if you want, don't ignore the running game if you want, but you gotta start somewhere. The Patriots have been beating teams by passing. They wouldn't be 16-0 without it. Emphasize time of possession, fine. But what are you going to do in pass defense? That's the point of this article, and it was better said, better thought out, more likely to be successful than anything I've ever read by far, and better than what I came up with by far as well (cloud cover Moss, press cover Welker with a LB covering his routes up top, with lots of stunting...SHOCKINGLY amateur compared to what I just read).

by dryheat (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 3:39pm

Mike, just phenomenal work. Great effort.

But I think the Patriots would counter with Maroney and Faulk getting 150+ yards rushing and winning the time of possession battle 2-1 if the Jags stick to their guns and don't make counter-adjustments. The Jags could win that kind of game, but it would likely require decisively winning the turnover and field position battles, and getting some huge plays out of a WR corps that doesn't seem to have it in them. I think Belichick would be very satisfied to win 21-10 or so while limiting his defenses exposure to fatigue.

by Tom (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 3:42pm

16 Weeks
16 Blue Prints
16 Head coaches
16 Defensive Coordinators
16 Offensive Coordinators
Patriots Undefeated

by Richard Arpin (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 3:46pm


While the Pat's might be less effective running in terms of getting large explosive plays that gain huge chunks of yardage, does that make them less effective at running in a general sense? FO is all about yards towards first downs and run efficiency (boom vs bust) and I think the Pat's were first in both those categories by converting the most first downs with their run game and having a good, but not spectacular, YPC. I could be wrong though as I don't have premium access.

Even without Morris, they have the RB's to run into different formations. Maroney, while he does dance a bit, does hit the hole when he sees it and can effectively drag a couple guys for a decent gain. Maroney is quite effective against the Nickel as is Evans and Faulk. All three can run and catch. While none have the head of steam, and diving ability that Morris had, That allows them to convert short yardage situations standing up (Think Maroney's run versus Miami).

Of course, the line plays a huge part of it as well, and I think the blocking of the line is superb. It should be interesting to see how Spicer and Jackson match up against Mankins, Koppen, and Neal. Jackson is massive.

This all leads to me thinking, that while forcing the pats to I or offset, is somewhat successful, the Pat's will do this if they feel like it is the best option strategically. This year they called 8 runs in a row with Maroney. If the defense is allowing runs that Pats will take it. And even when running, the Pat's won't get stuck in long yardage 3rd down situations.

by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 3:57pm

For a blueprint on holding high-powered passing attacks in check see the schemes devised by the '01 Pats and '90 NY Giants in Superbowls against high-flying passing attacks. Some guy called Bellichick was the mastermind.

by Richard Arpin (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 4:00pm

7, Jacob Stevens.

In regards to stunting, I think the pats can handle it if there is no interior d-lineman that always requires a double team. I'm thinking to the Titans game in the preseason where the starters were playing and Brady was just getting hammered with the stunts and inside blitz's. I think you need to have a stunt paired with a blitz from the second level though. When that happens, the guard helping the center is forced to choose between a lineman looping around or the blitzer coming in with speed. I think both of Brady's picks that game happened when the guard picked up the lineman rather then the 2nd level blitzer, who got a hit on Brady while he was throwing. Yeah, those hit's were highlighted by Deion 'Primetime' Sanders at NFL.com. Vicious!

I think that's something that can be exploited somewhat. I know the Eagles forced help to the tackles and so if they wanted to they could've had a LB blitz. That being said, you really damage your coverage abilities and it becomes a game of pitch and catch between Brady and his receivers if he can get the ball out, which most of the time he has been doing.

by andrew (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 4:02pm

great plan.

bet Hobbes runs the opening kickoff back to the house.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 4:05pm

Jacob, I said it was a nice effort, which probably was too faint in praise. I mean it; Mike has produced good work here. I guess my biggest contention is with the goal of holding the Patriots to 20 or fewer points. Absent terrible passing weather, which usually means high winds, I think this goal is so unrealistic as to perhaps be harmful in accomplishing the main goal, which is to win the game.

A team should approach the Patriots first and foremost with the goal of scoring 30 or more points, examine the ways in which this can be done, and then structure one's defensive game plan with the idea that yielding 30 points or so will be acceptable. Now, this doesn't exclude much of what Mike advises, so perhaps I'm arguing for merely a little different mindset going into the game, especially on offense. Converting a much larger portion of the field into four down territory, than is normally the case, is something I've suggested before.

by Pat Patriot (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 4:13pm

What happens to your plan if "if" dosent happen...nice try though

by Sean McCormick :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 4:13pm

Mike, you forgot to pinch your line and set them to inside rush! Seriously, this is a Madden defense, or at least the way the vast majority of competitive gamers play Madden. (Alright, with less blitzing.) That's not inherently a critique, it's just an observation.

by Eddo (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 4:14pm

13: (Richard Arpin)
Very good points, all very true. My main point (in post #5), however, was that forcing the Patriots to run gives you a chance to win, at least moreso than allowing them to dictate the game with their passing attack. Even if a team successfully executes every objective of Mike's blueprint, the Patriots are still likely to win; however, they would be less likely if you force them to run more.
It comes down to this: the Patriots running game is "very good" as opposed to their passing game, which is "amazingly excellent."

by B (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 4:17pm

The main problem, from what I can tell, is it assumes the hyper competence of the defenders. They all have multiple coverage responsibilities on each play, and any mistake made will be exploited. I think that's the real challenge of beating the Patriots, is you have to be perfect. The scheme is good, but the execution is what matters.

by Kulko (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 4:18pm

I am by far not knowledgeable enough to say, if this is a good plan, but I think the general thinking comes just out of BBs office, so it should be valid.

If you look back at most succesful NE wins over Indy you wil find similar gameplans:

We take out Manning to Harrison/Wayne and while we do is we mix different coverages. We do not care at all if James/Rhodes/Addai runs from here to alaska and back because it will be slow scoring and we are good enough to get some stops with small boxes anyway. But our exotic coverages will give us a few Interceptions and Brady is no loser himself so we will be in this game.

When you read this plans you would make all the same kinds of arguments, the TE or the RBs will just kill them, but I think the results proved the thinking is right.
It takes about a half for Indy to really adjust and by then NE was up by enough points to win anyway.
Taking away the strengths is what gmeplanning should accomplish, and of course it will not gurantee wins (I mean the Pats will be gameplanning too for instance) but it gives you a mch better chance then letting the opposing offense to chose how to attack.

by passerby (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 4:21pm

Very thought provoking article, Mike. Good job.

With every single one of your set/formation, you have identified at least one matchup that is “not ideal” for the Patriots’ opponent. I hope Brady and his receivers can also identify those “not so ideal” matchups and be able to take advantage of it.

by Richard Arpin (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 4:22pm

In regard to 15, Haynesworth was the DT requiring the double team allowing the Titans to blitz effectively, I should have included that.

14, Ryan. Don't forget about the grand daddy, the 04 colts in the championship game, although that one can be put on the weather as well. Counterpoint: Brady did throw for +300 against the Raiders though in the Tuck Rule snow globe game.

11, Dry heat. Do coaches really go entire games without adjustments? When I've been watching the Pat's this year I can tell they adjust from drive to drive, or even mid-drive sometimes depending on what the other team is doing? A lot of times they stay with the same philosophies, but they change how they attack and try to bring that about. If they want to attack a certain player (cruel but smart) they do it in a variety of ways once they have that player felt out that day. It's like they try to read what the other team does with one player/weak link, and then attack that one point. At least that's how I felt a couple times this year. I remember Manning picking on Darrent Williams (when he was a rookie) in the Wildcard round a few years back, wow did Wayne do a job on him.

I think smart teams don't change philosophies, they just change how they set about achieving them depending on what the other team is doing.

Personally, I think the most important thing to Belichick is 1. Protecting the ball/winning the turnover battle. 2. Maintaining possession/having successful drives. 3. Not allowing big plays. That MJD run last year where MJD fell down and then got up and ran for 65 or so yards was highlighted several times this week. That being said, I'm pretty sure we won't see that much 8 in the box, I think Belichick will keep it fairly straight up.

by dryheat (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 4:23pm

And we haven't discussed personnel yet. The Eagles have nice depth in their secondary of people who can cover. The Jags have one. From the Slate conversation between Aaron and KC:

I think the Jags-Patriots game will come down to one matchup: any Patriots wide receiver against Jaguars cornerback Brian Williams. As I pointed out in an ESPN.com column (subscriber only), Williams had the following stat line against the three highest-potency offenses Jacksonville faced in 2007 (two games against Indianapolis and one against New Orleans): 17 passes thrown at him, 16 completions allowed for 262 yards, and a touchdown. That is a 15.4 YPA—5 yards worse than what will normally get a cornerback demoted out of the league. To be fair, 14 of the passes and completions were to Reggie Wayne, and few people are able to stop him. But even if New England can't get Randy Moss lined up against Williams regularly, Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker should both be good enough to test Williams. If he fails the test, Jacksonville's season ends this weekend.

I don't think the Jags have the personnel to run this very well thought-out defensive plan.

by nonathletic Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 4:27pm

I tend to agree, Eddo. I'd much rather have the Patriots try to beat me with Maroney carrying the ball 30 times for 160 yards. Of course, this means that my offense will have fewer possessions as well, which is where converting a larger portion of the field into four down territory comes in. I need to make every one of my offensive possessions count, because I am going to purposely yield time of possession to prevent the Patriots from getting big pass plays.

What does this all mean? To me, it means that only the Colts have a better than poor chance of beating the Patriots.

by mmm... sacrilicious (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 4:28pm

Best TDZ of the year!

I think some combination of these strategies with those mentioned by #14 (keep 3-4 LBs in, protect deep, and pound the WRs on the short patterns with big guys) would be ideal. I don't think you can play one scheme, as good as it may be, against the Pats for 60 minutes, so you'd need to mix it up a little.

I agree that the primary focus should be on taking away the deep ball. Once you do that, you have to hope that Brady forces a couple or that Belichick pulls a Martz and doesn't take what the defense gives up (i.e. the inside run game).

by Richard Arpin (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 4:29pm

20, Eddo

I get what you're saying.

Yeah, I think we're talking about the greatest offense ever and wondering how we stop it. It's an interesting fantasy to talk about how it could be done. I think Will Allen makes a good point, slow em down and then try to amp up your own attack. What an interesting team to plan for. Seriously, If Jax isn't going for it on 4th and short (3 or less) around midfield, I think Easterbrook can write 'game over' in his notebook. I wondering what quarter the onside kick comes out on; my guess is to start the game if NE wins the toss. Rio seems like kind of a gambler to me.

by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 4:34pm

Great article. I would add one more point, jam the recievers at the line. Both the Ravens and the Eagles did this and it worked. You disrupt the timing of the patterns and make it much harder for Brady to find his recievers. Though you do have to put up with the chance of a big play, the alternative is letting the Pats score on almost every possession.

The spread offense has been in vogue around the league for 3 or 4 years now and I'm sick of watching teams play cover-2 zones while giving the recievers big cushions. What are those defensive coordinators expecting to happen as you let five fast receivers run unhindered through your zone?

by dryheat (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 4:40pm


11, Dry heat. Do coaches really go entire games without adjustments? When I’ve been watching the Pat’s this year I can tell they adjust from drive to drive, or even mid-drive sometimes depending on what the other team is doing? A lot of times they stay with the same philosophies, but they change how they attack and try to bring that about. If they want to attack a certain player (cruel but smart) they do it in a variety of ways once they have that player felt out that day. It’s like they try to read what the other team does with one player/weak link, and then attack that one point. At least that’s how I felt a couple times this year. I remember Manning picking on Darrent Williams (when he was a rookie) in the Wildcard round a few years back, wow did Wayne do a job on him.

I don't disagree with any of this. My point was that if the Patriots attack this defense with a heavy dose of Maroney, and are successful doing so, Del Rio has two (basic) options...make an adjustment to stop Maroney, or stick to the plan hell or high water and hope for a better outcome. While the first option is usually logical, it defeats the purpose of this scheme to stop the Patriots passing game, and renders an entire week of practice near useless. The second option would probably be better in this situation...you're achieving you're stated goal (limiting the Patriots passing attack), and although you're getting hurt elsewhere, realize that this is still your best chance to win and maybe you get lucky with turnovers or special teams.

Of course, at some point, Del Rio will shift to a run-heavy defense, but that will be if/when then Pats go kill-clock mode.

by nonathletic Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 4:40pm

A scary counterfactual to think about, which I mentioned already in another thread, is Adrian Peterson being a year younger, and thus being available to the Pats with their pick from the 49ers. Somehow, letting Peterson run against 6 man fronts 3O times for 300 yards, so as to prevent the big play to Moss, doesn't seem as sound a strategy.

by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 4:40pm

19: Well the Pats seem like a madden offense for much of the time, always going for it on 4th down, screen pass crazy and forcing the ball in the direction of the best reciever ;-)

General point: If the Jags are going to score enough points they'll need Reggie Williams to beat Hobbs deep a couple of times and work the ball underneath to Wilford against the slowish interior pass defense (old linebacker and HGHarrison). Jones Drew should be effective too, bouncing runs outside and beating the Pats to the perimeter in the same way that Addai and Westbrook managed to do. It probably still won't be enough, Garrard will have to do a lot better than 9/21 to win this one.

by Jacob Stevens (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 4:47pm

Just a couple random responses to things said:

- I don't know what you're talking about, Kulko, with Indy needing a half to adjust. They held the Pats to 7 points at the half! And Addai was killing them, it was the key to it, and that wasn't the result of a gameplanning decision. Like Will Allen is saying, the best thing to do is to partly account for their offense, with your offense. The Colts were doing the right thing, there. I understand your general point, and it's right, but not well supported there.

- 7, Richard Arpin -- doubling of a tackle isn't a regular component of stunting. Your pressure is generally 5 on 4, and if the double team is going to one guy on your line with consistency, you look for ways for your other guys to win some one on one matchups. If they don't, they ought not be on your line. 2 on 1 in the middle takes away space in the gaps, it doesn't add. Stunting is about confusing the blocking assignments, and getting a guy to go after someone he shouldn't. Generally you try to get them in wider splits so you have some room to work with, and if they fan out, the stunt will succeed.

That's the thing with the Pats; I hadn't seen them doing much fanning, but I wasn't sure why. Seemed like somewhat tighter splits than typical, between their linemen. Not real tight, but a little. So that speaks to defending the stunt pretty good, but I never saw anyone stunting much against them. Could be because it was clear the Pats were taking that away, but I also wondered if it was just because of the things people were trying on them (lot of movement, like the Dolphins, which is what scouts say to do against Brady. The Giants moved a lot, and made it work, but they had the pass rush from the edges to make it happen). Anyway, I didn't know if people weren't stunting because they were trying other things, or because it clearly wasn't going to work.

by Richard Arpin (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 4:50pm

So yes, we need to have a focus to start at and that is definitely taking away the deep ball/Moss, because that is completely unacceptable. The Browns, and other teams, did decent at this by doubling Moss (Did the Ravens completely mug him or what, I couldn't tell from TV angles). Why not just have this as the one defensive rule that is never broken on every play and then work from there. Even death by a 1000 flats to Welker is better than the bomb to Moss (Although Easterbrook made an interesting point about how Pitt should have let Garrard score on that last drive). From there, what else can you do on defense? You need to mix coverages and expose yourself somewhere. The rest is about your offense.

Has anyone set these plays into Madden 08 and let the computer play it out versus itself in practice mode? I only have 07 on the regular xbox and so I don't have updated rosters. It would be interesting to see how different teams match up, although there is definitely inaccuracies regarding stats. You just can't make up for Moss' spectacular catch ability.

In terms of always being exposed somewhere, just a comment. The Pats (and Colts) have a ridiculous front office/player evaluation process. I mean, the only way we talk about a team like this is through actually having one out there. Why can't other places where they spend millions on G.M.'s and such (I thinking Atlanta and Miami) be a little more competent?

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 4:52pm

How often do the Pats line up with 3/4 wide vs. 2 WR/2TE?

by Jacob Stevens (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 4:52pm

Will Allen -- I see what you're saying. I like your line of thinking, but I still don't think 20 points is too lofty a goal here. I am definitely with you on using your offense to keep the ball out of their hands.

Karl -- really, the spread has been getting popular for the past 3 or 4 years? My eyes are just opening to it, and it looks like it's all over the place this year. Before this year, though, I didn't see it in vogue. Not disagreeing, just wondering how much was going on that I didn't notice.

by Richard Arpin (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 4:57pm

thanks guys for your comments back. I live in Canada (Winnipeg), and grew up playing basketball, volleyball, and soccer (no hockey other than pickup), and I think CFL is, well, too large of a field. I never played football, and so I want to thank you guys for being fairly moderate in your responses to me and helping me learn about football. This certainly ain't fox.

by nat (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 5:12pm

What Mike wrote was a pass defense game plan. I really liked it, with the exception that he implied that forcing the Patriots to run was a good thing. That's wrong in three ways: (1) The Patriots have been "forced" to run all season to no avail. (2) The Eagles came close to winning by "forcing" the Patriots to pass. (3) The Patriots don't much use Maroney via draws and I formation running anyway.

I think teams have to reckon with both the Patriots' pass and run offense. Nickel/Dime defenses won't work without a lot of blitzing to disrupt the run. Mike's plan might work, but he really should have explained how it would deal (or not) with the 43% of the plays that will be runs.

by Kulko (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 5:12pm

re 33. When writing about the game I had more the games in 2003/2004 and the 2006 playoff game in mind (or the Superbowl against Marshall Faulk.
But I looked back at the drive charts and you are right, the 2007 game is not a good example for this. I thought Indy pulled away in the third, and then got caught when they tired in the forth, but thats not supported by the drive charts. They had no meaningful drive in the second half apart from the one where they started on the short field.

by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 5:13pm

36: Jacob, think back to the Pats offense in their second superbowl run (or maybe I'm thinking of the following year), Brady led the league in passes. The Pats would basically 'run-and-shoot' their way down the field, just like the old run-and-shoot offenses used to move teh ball between the 20 yard lines. However, BB was bright enough to have several ight ends that he would bring on in the red zone and so was still effective there (I think Fauria caught 12 TDs one year) whereas the old R&S teams used to struggle to throw the ball in due to the shorter field. Very simple, very clever.

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 5:14pm

Re: #35

Thanks to the Invaluable Mike Reiss:

The following is a look at the offensive positional groupings utilized by the Patriots over the course of the 16-game regular season:

3 WR/1 TE/1 RB – 511 of 1057
4 WR/1 RB – 176 of 1057
2 WR/2 TE/1 RB – 159 of 1057
1 WR/2 TE/1 FB/1 RB – 92 of 1057
3 TE/1 FB/1 RB – 40 of 1057
1 WR/3 TE/1 RB -- 34 of 1057
2 WR/1 TE/1 FB/1 RB – 21 of 1057
3 WR/1 FB/1 RB – 18 of 1057
3 WR/2 RB – 5 of 1057
3 WR/2 TE -- 1 of 1057

Kneel-downs not included, plays in which penalties were called are included.

FINAL ANALYSIS: The Patriots ran 67 percent of their offensive formations with three or four receivers on the field. So if the team was considered more of a two tight end offense in 2006 with former first-round draft choices Daniel Graham and Benjamin Watson teaming up, this year's focus was skewed more toward the receivers.

by Podge (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 5:19pm

Hmmm. I think your gameplan for the Pats should be pretty simple. The only wrinkle being that there are 2 of them. The Colts, Eagles, Giants and Ravens all held the Pats in check for a half, but then the Pats adjusted and ripped them apart. So don't give them a chance to adjust to what they've seen, change it before you can. Yes, it'll be tough to pull of, but they're unbeaten, obviously it won't be a cakewalk. But if a team suddenly switched from a Colts Tampa-2 scheme to the Eagles extra-LB, mega-blitz scheme it might well render any half time adjustments the Pats might make moot.

Just my thoughts.

by Podge (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 5:22pm

"this year’s focus was skewed more toward the receivers."

No sh*t Sherlock! I think that might be one of the most obvious pieces of insight ever!

I do see your point, and what you're saying, but its not like people don't know the Pats have receivers this year is it?

by Carlos (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 5:23pm

Very interesting article.

On D, I think you play nickel or dime the whole time w/ a super deep safety and refuse to give up the long bomb. Let them run all day, fine, b/c that takes more time and increases the chances of a fumble or punt.

That said, I strongly agree with posters who say the key is OFFENSE. NE's D was "only" 8th overall, and if you believe in weighted stats, only 18th on a weighted basis.

The key for opposing offenses?

1. Commit yourself to a zero punt, zero FG game -- regardless of field position. If you know ex ante as an OC that you are going 4 downs everytime, that gives you a real advantage.

2. For #1 to work regardless of field position, you must have a QB that understands he cannot take a sack under any circumstances -- you can literally never face 3&15 or 4&10 etc. He must get rid of the ball quickly, and he must be able to do so w/o taking a grounding penalty (equivalent of a sack).

3. Somewhat counterintuitive if you're a believer in limiting possessions, but go no-huddle almost the entire game. Going 4 downs every time and going no-huddle should wear down the not-young Pats D. (and of course as Indy shows, you can go no huddle and still work the play clock down to zero).

Of course this will never happen b/c if implemented and a loss ensued, the Coach wouldn't be able to defend himself by hiding behind conventional wisdom.

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 5:25pm

16 Weeks
16 Blue Prints
16 Head coaches
16 Defensive Coordinators
16 Offensive Coordinators
Patriots Undefeated

A Patriots fan forgetting that they played 3 teams twice... priceless.

by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 5:27pm

Mawbrew (#35 )--

Mike Reiss of the Boston Globe charted all the Patriots' offensive snaps this year (linked).

To answer your question: the Patriots ran 3+ wideouts a little more than two-thirds of the time (711 of 1057 snaps). They ran 2+TE just over 30% of the time (326 of 1057).

Whatever fraction is left, they ran the old pro-set (2WR, TE, FB, RB) and I counted the one play they ran with 3WR and 2TE at the same time, as both.

by Greg (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 5:29pm

12: Cute poem. Totally inaccurate. I assure you they didnt face 16 head coaches, O/D Coordinators. Perfect Pats', imperfect fans:(

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 5:29pm

Re: #46

Ahem, ahem (41), ahem...


by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 5:33pm

Nice effort, but I believe the Pats are far more likely to lose a game 37-34 than they are to lose one 20-17. My blueprint for beating the Pats would start with my offense.

If it weren't for the non-offensive pick-6 in the Eagles game, that Patriots would've only scored 24 points in that game, primarily because the game was massively shortened and the Eagles took away a possession on an onside kick.

An offensive plan is critical - no matter what, you're going to have to score on offense with high efficiency. Thankfully, we're not talking about the Dolphins anymore - all the teams left in the playoffs have great offenses. But taking away the deep pass to prevent catastrophes makes it much more reasonable that you can keep up with the Patriots.

Heck, with a bit of good clock management, you can gain an extra possession even without the onside kick.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 5:36pm

"Going 4 downs every time and going no-huddle should wear down the not-young Pats D."

Just a nit-pick here:

The only spot where the Patriots defense isn't young is the linebackers (and Harrison, who IS a linebacker at this point). Everyone else is extremely young.

by James, London (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 5:43pm

I haven't read for a second time yet, but I'm gonna add to the chorus of praise anyway. This is majestic. The best TDZ ever, and possibly the best article FO has produced.

by nonathletic Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 5:44pm

Pat, I can't remember; wasn't that also a game where Moss dropped an easy one in the end zone? I agree completely with shortening the game, but I still think beating the Pats is easier done by scoring 30 than by holding the Pats to less than 20.

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 5:46pm

Re: 41/46

Thanks for the info. I knew it was out there from previous posts but my search was inadequate to find it. I hadn't realized the 3/4 wide formations were used that heavily.

Looking back at a few Pats games, it seemed the Ravens (5 punts forced), the Browns, and Jets (both 6 punts) did the best job of disrupting the Pats offense. I think the Ravens game was heavily influenced by the wind (doesn't seem likely for Saturday). The Browns played something similar to what's outlined here without the deep safety help (extra linebacker). The Pats weren't able to run at will but every mistake in the secondary (1 missed tackle, 2 blown assignments) cost Cleveland dearly. I still think this is a reasonable approach though a lot of folks here said Brady was just uncommonly off in that game.

I didn't get to see the Jets game. Any thoughts on what led to their success?

by TCV (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 5:55pm

Great article and full of insight. However, the one point that may be missed in the analysis of this year's playoff games is whether or not the Pats will be able to cover Harrison, Gonzalez, Clark and Wayne. I don't know if Jax has the offensive weapons, but the Colts have not had the cupboard full all year,--until now.

by Crushinator (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 5:59pm

"If it weren’t for the non-offensive pick-6 in the Eagles game, that Patriots would’ve only scored 24 points in that game, primarily because the game was massively shortened and the Eagles took away a possession on an onside kick."

Well, the pick-6 itself also gave the Eagles back to back drives. The Pats presumably would have gotten the ball back and another possession after the Eagles scored and kicked off, or punted.

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 6:00pm

Some thoughts from Jaws (hat tip to Reiss's blog):

# Randy Moss revisited. Jaworski had been critical of Moss after watching his performance against the Eagles Nov. 25. He was asked if his thoughts have changed. “I had watched all the Patriots games offensively, and after the first 10 games, I saw a Randy Moss I had never seen before, he was busting his tail on every play. Then the Philly game I saw a handful of plays in which I thought he did not give the maximum effort. It caused a stir, and my thought was that the eye in the sky doesn’t lie. I know the standard in New England is high -- it has to be 100 percent every play. I was going to do a follow up if it came up the next week, but it did not. Clearly, he got the message. Since then, he's picked it up.”

# Run defense – focus outside, not inside. When asked about vulnerabilities in the Patriots’ run defense, Jaworski believes the soft spots are on the edges, not inside. “I think back to that Ravens game, Monday night, when they ran at Adalius Thomas and had success. I’m sure Jacksonville has broken down every game the Patriots played this year and seen the vulnerability on the edges and that teams have had success there. If they can get [left tackle Khalif] Barnes and [right tackle Tony] Pashos singled up blocking linebackers … I don’t see it inside. People look at the age of Junior [Seau] and Tedy [Bruschi] but I don’t bring up age in the run game. Maybe some of the giddy-up isn’t there in pass coverage.”

by nonathletic Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 6:06pm

Also, playing red zone defense against an offense with Randy Moss is a lot easier with big, physical, corners than it is with little guys, who tend to just get overmatched on a high throw where Moss can just use his body to shield them off from the ball.

by doktarr (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 6:10pm

RE: 11 et al,

It's true that running the ball a lot is an obvious option against this sort of set. And, in fact, the Pats have run plenty of draw plays against teams like the Colts that were willing to drop into coverage for most of the game.

That said, the idea is bend-but-don't-break. If they run, then it only takes two good plays to put the Pats in a very bad down and distance and possibly get a punt. Yes, you will get scored on, and the 20 point goal is probably unrealistic barring high winds, but it is a good strategy.

Although I think Belichick is fantastic at coming up with game plans, I think he shows a lack of flexibility in adjusting during the game, at least before half time. In some ways this is reasonable, as you want to avoid panic when the first drive stalls out. But I would argue that Belichick can be too slow to change the game plan even in the face of strong evidence that it's not working.

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 6:14pm

Pat, I can’t remember; wasn’t that also a game where Moss dropped an easy one in the end zone?

He dropped an easy one deep, yeah, but how much of that was just dumb luck and how much of that was due to the Eagles, we'd never know. I can easily see someone losing concentration on catching while trying to meet up with the ball if the ball's coming down at a different time than you expect. Hell, that's what happens in your backyard all the time.

I agree completely with shortening the game, but I still think beating the Pats is easier done by scoring 30 than by holding the Pats to less than 20.

My point is that holding them to less than 20 is a natural consequence of shortening the game. You don't need to score 30. You need to score more than the Patriots do. (Candidate for obvious statement of the year).

Well, the pick-6 itself also gave the Eagles back to back drives. The Pats presumably would have gotten the ball back and another possession after the Eagles scored and kicked off, or punted.

The pick-6 was functionally equivalent to a punt plus touchdown by the Patriots offense in an infinitesimally short time, so I don't really see your point.

Heck, if the Eagles had run a few more plays, then punted, and the Patriots had scored, the Patriots might not've had enough time at the end of the first half to score (they scored with 12 seconds remaining), which would've put the Eagles up 21-17 at the half.

by Andy (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 6:15pm

Brilliantly thought out...while I've been advocating a type Cover-3 zone pressure scheme all year to stop them, this is very thorough. I'd be curious to see a similar breakdown of playcalls (ie, down/field location of screens, etc.) similar to what Reiss made for the formation charts...because, while I see/agree with your point made to go along with the quarters coverage, any quick screen left to Moss/Welker/Faulk is a guaranteed 20 yards (or more). But, like you said in the start, hoping for a shutout is simply unrealistic. Great article, man.

by ChiJeff (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 6:20pm

RE: 42

That sounds like a good idea but my question would be if the first half game plan is working well when do you switch to the second half game plan? If you hold the Pats to say, 10 points in the first half, then switch to the second half game plan and proceed to get ran over, the coach would forever hear questions about why he did not stick with what was working.

by Hank (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 6:32pm

It seems that Brady will force throws to Moss if he sees single coverage.
I would wonder what a breakdown of Moss receptions would look like in terms of coverage. Has he beaten the man running the route, or has he had a vertical advantadge on the cover man and simply played a better game of 1000?
In which case it would be foolish to single cover moss with a defender who is more than a couple inches shorter. But a defender who is as good at jump balls as Moss could have some much higher percentage chances for picks.
Do the jags or colts have just such a man on their rosters?

by Richard Arpin (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 6:33pm

53, TCV

I'll believe Harrison is ready when I see him on the field.

by Richard Arpin (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 6:38pm

61, Hank

Brady will force throws to Moss in double coverage in 3rd and short situations when the second guy can't get there, and he will force it to Moss in 3rd and long because he believes Moss will make the catch (See first Miami Game) Brady will throw to Moss in any situation in any coverage (Max protect against Jets - triple teamed, late vs Redskins - again three men there, first TD versus Pitt and Indy - both double covered)

by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 6:43pm

PatsFan (#48 )--

Hey, I type slow. Your post wasn't there when I started, I swear.

Mawbrew (#52 )--

I've linked the specific game splits from the Chargers game back in September. That game, they went 2+ tights 40 of 64 snaps, and 3+ wides only 24 of 64. So while the overall trend is lots and lots of wide receivers, they will play whatever personnel and formations they feel match up best (against San Diego, more tight ends to chip and otherwise help block their edge-rushing linebackers).

When examining the splits, it's worth noting that goal-line packages (3TE/RB/FB) often include two extra O-linemen and a linebacker (guess who!) reporting as TEs, plus Junior Seau at fullback. Apparently there's a pass option to Seau in addition to Vrabel from that formation, as well.

by JJcruiser (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 6:43pm

This was awesome -- the best TDZ I've read! Of course people can nitpick it, but you can nitpick all gameplans. And of course there are weaknesses, but that's true of any defensive alignment or focus on a principle.

Really neat stuff.

by ChiJeff (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 6:43pm

Also in defending the Pats I agree that in most cases simpler is better. In the 1999 NFCCG, the Rams came in with a juggernaught
of an offense and were playing at home ( in a dome ) when Tony Dungy led the Buccs into St. Louis where they were given little chance to slow Kurt Warner and Co. down. Yet by just rushing 4 players and playing 7 back they were able to throttle the Rams.

Something similar happened in Indy this past Nov. By rushing four lineman ( and getting good pressure ) they were able to keep plays in front of them and get a couple of turnovers. What killed them in Nov. was a) they could not quite score enough points to put the Pats away. ( same thing occured in the Buccs - Rams NFCCG ) b) the Colts dlinemen started to get gassed. Plus the Pats decided to keep more people in the backfield to protect Brady.

Overall from the defensive side of the ball it is critical to pressure Brady with as few men as possible. Getting sacks would be great but if a defense can
force Brady to get rid of the ball real early and then tackle well or even force him to throw a couple of int's, they will give themselves a puncher's chance. I do not think " exotic " coverages or blitzes
will work all that well ( although an ocassional corner blitz or funky zone might give him something to file away )
Brady has seen them all one way or another.

Ordinarily, I would think the Colts could pull this sort of thing off but now that
Dwight Freeney is shelved for the season I think that would seriously hamper the "four man pressure" that is so needed to suceed against the Pats. But any team who could pull it off could at least frustrate the Pats a bit.

by Podge (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 6:46pm


I know, thats the question. The problem is that I'm not sure there's any kind of defence that can stay effective against the Pats for 60 minutes, but there seems to be more than one that can hold them for 30 or so. Maybe you wait until the first TD or decent length drive of the second half as your clue that they are adjusting? That way you might have a shot at stopping their momentum before it really gets going.

There's obviosuly a couple of problems with this, other than just what you point out:

1. How many teams left in have the personel to be able to run 2 completely different schemes? I'm not just talking a minor adjustment, more going from a Tampa-2 to the Ravens "Lets all just wander round like we're not quite sure what we're doing on the pitch".

2. The amount of preparation in terms of learning the defence would be immense. As well as needing to do all the game tape preparation the players would essentially need to learn a new defensive playbook in 1 week. Which would be pretty flipping tough. I guess you could scale the "new" defence down, say enough plays to run it from 7.50 in the 3rd to 7.50 in the 4th, before going back to the "old" D with a few plays from the "new" dotted in.

Frankly, I just can't see a team that doesn't make substantial adjustments at the same time the Pats make theirs, not after containing them sufficiently for 60 minutes.

One things for sure: If they run five pass plays in a row for 5 completions to the same guy its safe to say they've adjusted.

by MJK (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 6:48pm

Haven't had a chance to read all the comments yet, but some thoughts...

-I worry about abandoning run defense. First, by putting lighter, faster defenders on the field, you're risking being run over by an I-formation attack, which the Patriots certainly are capable of using. Granted, this is less of a problem against Faulk and Maroney than it would have been against Sammy Morris, but it could torpedo the plan of avoiding third and short pretty quickly. Second, by attacking the middle you're going to tend to force Maroney outside, which is where he tends to be more effective. Finally, by attacking the gaps with speedy linemen and linebackers, and dropping the DB's behind them, you're asking for trap blocks to spring the running back for moderate 6-8 yard gains. Still, I agree that if you force the Patriots into this kind of offense, you're going to do well.

-I like the idea of pressuring up the middle. While Brady certainly CAN step outside to buy time and complete a long pass (see the game winning OT TD throw against Miami to Troy Brown a couple of years ago), it's not his perferred way of throwing, and he's certainly not a scrambler or even a rollout QB by any stretch of the imagination.

-However, the plans to get pressure, and the degree to which you are vulnerable to the running game, is HEAVILY dependent on the health of Stephen Neal. Neal is a significantly better run blocker, and a somewhat better pass blocker, than Russ Hochstein. If he's in the game along with Mankins and Koppen, Brady will probably have space to step up unless you have three OUTSTANDING inside rushers attacking them.

-Regarding stunts--from what I have seen, they work really really well against the Patriots for about a drive to two. Then Belichick figures out how to stop them, and in the extra time they consume, Brady starts feasting on the secondary.

by JJcruiser (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 6:50pm

Am I the only person that can't read the text beneath Figure 6? It seems to be covering up an entire two paragraphs but no one else is mentioning it.

by MJK (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 6:51pm

Oh, one final thought. Mike alludes to this, but ANY plan for stopping the Patriots will only work if the safeties and LB's and CB's can make sound open field tackles. If the deep game is there, or if the blitz forces an early throw, Brady is good enough to check down, and the difference between a 3-yard gain on a check down and a 7-yard gain on a checkdown (i.e. the difference between a successful defensive play and a successful offensive play) is entirely a function of whether or not the guy closest to the checkdown reciever makes a good tackle. The most wonderful defensive scheme in the world is useless if the guy with the ball gets 2-4 yards after a defender makes contact with him, and the Patriots are good enough that sloppy tackling will doom you against them, regardless of your scheme.

by nonathletic Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 7:13pm

Pat, when it's Randy Moss dropping an easy one in the end zone, my money is on dumb luck.

Sure it'd be great to shorten the game enough to allow yourself to hold the Patriots to less than 20. If the plan includes Randy Moss dropping easy ones in the end zone, I don't think it is likely to happen, but of course beating the Patriots, period, isn't likely to happen. I'd still plan on having to score 30.

by shake n bake (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 7:13pm

Rob Morris went out for the season with a knee injury pretty early. I don't think the Colts have anyone well suited for that down LB spot including Morris. The Colts D isn't built for weird formations. If they run the same Defense they did in the regular season game with Kelvin Hayden instead of their 5'8" nickelback Tim Jennings on Moss I'd fell ok.

by shake n bake (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 7:16pm

I'd also rather have Ed Johnson at the nose with Brock taking Thomas' spot at end.

by ChiJeff (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 7:21pm

RE: 67

Your proposal of two different game plans is certainly radical but i think the component that we are missing is the opponents offense. For instance, lets say at halftime the Pats are down 16 - 6 and they are kicking off to start the second half. Let's say the Colts, Chargers, or Jags get the ball and after a 6 min drive kick a Fg for a 19 - 6 lead. Important points to get although not an insumountable lead for an offense as good as New England's. The question is do you open with the defensive game plan that got you the 16 - 6 lead or do you switch to the "New" defensive game plan? And if you keep the "old" game plan and the Pats
score to make it 19 - 13 do you switch then? Plus you cannot seperate the offensive side of the ball from the equation either. Regardless of which defensive strategy was used and when, there is no way a team could use the football version of " four corners " against the Pats. They MUST keep scoring to have any chance to win. Personally, as long the Coltsjagschargers kept scoring, I would keep the original defensive game plan in place. Because if you can keep scoring on the Pats defense then you could play a defense that would make them
use a lot of clock marching down the field to score. I do not mean to play the
" what if " game but I do so just to point out all of the myriad decisions a coach would have to make if he were to employ the " two different " defensive schemes ploy. Lets just say I would NOT WANT to be THAT COACH making up that game plan and all of the decisions based from it.

by SuperBears (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 7:22pm

I've had some of the exact thoughts using the 3-3-5 defense. The set-up would be 3 down lineman and then outside the tackle boxes two defensive backs on the line. The only rushers would be the 2 DB's and the nose tackle. The DE's would drop back into the zone right behind them. With the blitzing DB's you are forcing Brady to throw the ball quicker. Plus by forcing quick throws you remove the deep threat to Moss. The obvious flaw is the run defense but go ahead and see if Maroney can run the ball 25+ times to win the game.

by shake n bake (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 7:25pm

re 61

Colts backup safety Melvin Bullit beat Moss on a jump ball in the endzone in the regular season game, but I wouldn't count on that ever happening again. Moss doesn't get outjumped often. Belichick even puts Moss as a deep safety in their prevent package, because Moss getting outjumped is so rare.

by patsfandan (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 7:31pm

re #52 - the Jet's success - high winds and Mossvision.

by Richard Arpin (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 7:35pm

75, Superbear

I think that is incredibly ridiculous. As soon as the DE's take a step back, the T's will square up onto the blitzing corners. The corners will be pancaked, meaning you got DE's in zones, not covering a whole lot of space (LtD scored on a wheel route in last years game against Denver when this coverage was called, he ran right by the DE). You will also only have the NT rushing, which will give Brady all day to hit a receiver. I assume that the LB's are covering the receivers that the CB's. I'm pretty sure no LB's can keep up with any Pat receiver. It would make more sense to just keep it straight man from 3-3-5. Blitz one LB and have one safety read the play/spy the TE, with the other safety over moss' side.

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 7:53pm

I’d still plan on having to score 30.

I'd plan on scoring a touchdown on every drive. Those 3-and-out punt plans just serve no purpose in the gameplan.

by Ricardo (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 8:13pm

Are you retarded or something?
What a douche you think you know better than an NFL defensive coordinator

by olineman (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 8:15pm

A lot of thought went in to this plans. Two things that won't work.

1. Getting consistent pressure using only a four man rush. The Pats o-line is good. It may work for three quarters but most teams don't have the depth in the d-line to sustain this for 4 quarters. This is a reason why the pats can make fourth quarter comebacks. The pressure dies down when the pass rushers run out of gas.

2. If you cover deep for moss and short for welker. Gaffney, Watson, and Stallworth will get space in the middle.

by Todd S. (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 9:19pm

I hate to come off as a homer here, but for anyone left wondering, Marvin Harrison is going to play this week for the Colts (barring an injury in practice between now and then). There's no way Indy would have allowed him to take up a roster spot all year unless they were sure he would be ready to play at playoff time. Now, how effective he will be is another matter entirely.

But there's no need to wait to see it before you believe it. Harrison is playing Sunday.

by Bob Coluccio (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 9:20pm

Bill Belichick could devise a scheme to beat this team, and I think he did in Super Bowl XXV (and when he beat the Colts). And it's almost as much about attitude as it is the scheme. You've got to have nasty LBs and safeties punishing the receivers on every down. Then on offense you try to hold the ball as long as possible, as others have mentioned.

by Jacob Stevens (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 9:41pm

Re: run defense and abandoning it:

- Fair enough, to some of the responses. Fair enough, I mean I can see you're all thinking, no stone left unturned, it's great. I think on the macro scale, though, the 10,000 foot view, Mike started from an understanding that striving for run-pass balance in the defensive plan has led to downfall for some teams. Not that I can particularly name a Patriot opponent this year specifically in that regard, but I still think it's true. It probably never developed because Brady to Moss was tearing it up from week 1, and Crennell showed early on in week 3 with his the take-Moss-out-of-game strategy what we were dealing with here.

Again, let's go back to that Pats-Colts game this year. Like it has already been said, the Colts were doing fairly well by rushing 4, and leaving more people in coverage -- and making it work. Getting pressure from the 4. That's a vast oversimplification, but it showed a somewhat radical approach -- particularly for a Dungy Tampa 2 team, even though Sanders plays less deep zone that any Tampa 2 safety I've ever seen -- that was constituted by the Patriots' machine. What's more, Baltimore and Philly aside, and also New York, who showed effectiveness in other methods (under-par execution by the Pats notwithstanding), the Colts game perhaps showed the most effective performance in slowing down/stopping the Patriots. Early on. It's not the sum of the "blueprint" for the Pats, by any means, but again, like here, it shows that it's not as unsound or flawed as a lot of you seem to think.

To further support that, consider that the Pats appeared to be playing the Colts in a very similar way. And were pretty much just as effective, Colts' injuries, etc., notwithstanding. I won't oversimplify it by comparing it to the surprisingly simple gameplan that the Steelers used to shut out the Seahawks with amazing effecticeness, but the principle is roughly the same for all three cases, and that's what Mike's piece here is sort of built on.

One thing I forgot to say before -- and good reason, because after further thought, it's wrong -- was that who's to say the Pats really will be so willing to adjust and go with the run in these cases? Well, if this were weeks 14 through 17, I would still feel that way -- records were to be broken! But now that it's the playoffs, I am sure they'll revert back to their old selves, and not be hesitant to run when circumstances are so favorable, rather than arrogantly neglecting it, and shorter, wide open routes, for more Moss bombs. Which gives more credence to the arguments I'm refuting, but let's assume for the sake of argument that Will's Time of Possession-focused offense is working, and so is Mike's gameplan. Any decision by Belichick to keep running as long as Mike's gameplan makes it so favorable has it's own inherent drawbacks, given those circumstances, considering that to a large extent the main strategic value that would hold would be to keep the game equal and anyone's game at the end -- remember, we're assuming Will's running game is itself clicking. In short, there's plenty of reason for Belichick to adjust and run more, but the true weight of either option in that scenario is a lot more complicated, and the conclusions that were reached above me oversimplified the matter.

by for realz? (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 9:54pm

Is this a joke?

Pats would rush for 150 yards in the first half. If they decide to pass, you're getting a minimal pass rush and the middle of the field is wide open.

Having a dime back in man coverage with no help on, say, Welker doesn't seem like a great plan either.

by Jake (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 10:00pm

I appreciate the effort but there are at least three primary problems that are immediately evidence. First, you don't address how to both "aggressively blitz" and play the coverage you want. If they let the Jags or whoever put 15 guys on the field....
Second, there isn't a team in the NFL whose #4/5/6 DB can cover the Patriots top 4/5/6 receivers man to man. Scheme all you want, but you can't ask second and third stringers to cover Welker/Stallworth/Watson.
Third, the coverage above won't work. Look at figure 3/4. In figure three no on is covering the entire middle of the field except the deep safety. Moss doesn't allow this safety to come short. Plus the LB is completely wasted. You might as well put a DL on Moss. Only a comical bounce off the LBers helmet prevented two touchdowns against that coverage last week. If Moss goes deep, the LB is irrelevant. If he goes across the field, he still can't keep up with Moss.
There is no blueprint.

by Tom D (formerly just Tom) (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 10:07pm

3 thoughts. 1) The hitting safety that Mike wants in the box, sounds very similar to the position Urlacher played in college. I think they called him a "couger back."

2) Re Madden Defense: The Patriots run a madden offense. Throwing whenever and however they feel like it. Only running with ideal situations. Lots of long bombs to an incredible receiver.

3) The Patriots only pulled away from the Colts once they lost the following players: Bob Sanders, Marvin Harrison, Anthony Gonzales, and Dallas Clark. I think I'm forgetting a few more too. I think a healthy Colts matches up well against the Patriots.

by Eddo (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 10:10pm

85: I'm with you, Jacob Stevens. And to all of you out there immediately criticizing this plan (little pash rush, no teams 4-5-6 cover guys can keep up, etc), what else would work? No matter what, you're going to need to have each player on your defense play at an A+ level to beat the Patriots; this scheme, at least, forces them to run, which no one disputes is less effective than them passing.

by AndyE (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 10:47pm

83 Todd

You know, that's exactly what we Pats homers said last year. Different Harrison, though.

by DenverMatt (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 11:04pm

When the Broncos beat an arguably superior Patriots team in 2005, the formula was simple - get pressure on Brady, and hit him. Larry Coyer blitzed like crazy and the Patriots weren't themselves. I was at that game, and Brady spent the time between every single offensive play whining to the ref. I think it threw him off his game.
Of course every Pats opponent this year has tried to do this, with varying success.

This article is a great analysis, but I don't think the Jags can beat them with deep zones, etc.

How about blitzing corners, safeties, etc? Take some gambles? Jam Welker and Moss at the line, and blitz Brady? You might get burned, but what's the alternative?

Brady and crew will pick apart any basic coverage. You definitely need to mix things up and cause confusion.

Great article Mike!

by Herm? (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 11:06pm

I love it. And Mike admits in that Blitz package that he is picking Gaffney/Stallworth as his poison, which is still scary.
And a lot of insightful follow up, this is one of my favorite things about this website. (I'd like to hear more 3-deep ideas in a 3-2-6 defense)

So here's my thing:
Sure it was a long time ago, but what did the last team to beat them do?

- Offense: long sustained drives, converted on third down, kept the Pats defense on the field for most of the 2nd and 3rd quarters.
- Defense stopped third down conversions and prevented the Reche Caldwell offense from scoring.
- limited turnovers and penalties

What did the "almost" teams do to keep it close this year?

- Physical corners, disrupt passing routes, make Brady hold onto the ball

- an effective 4 man rush(sometimes 3, sometimes 5) complemented the physical corners by forcing sacks, knockdowns, and bad throws

- concede the short stuff, but make them pay (remember what Philly did after Moss's 5 or 6th slant?)

- possession passing - Chad, Eli, and Feeley had big games by "underneathing" them to death. The Pats coverage seems to always play soft on the short to intermediate stuff.

-On the weak side, RCB Ellis Hobbs seems to always concede the 15 yard deep out rather than give up the long ball.
- The only big pass play that has always worked against them is 3WR 1 RB...motion RB out of the backfield over RT, run fade-go to right sideline, in a 1 on 1 matchup against a linebacker (dates back to the Roman Phifer days and is good for 1 big play a game)

by dryheat (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 11:21pm

And from a play-calling perspective, I'm willing to bet that the Patriots offense will be a lot harder to stop now than the last four weeks, when open receivers were being ignored in order for Brady to heave a low-percentage throw in Moss' direction for sake of the touchdown record. That made for a lot of unnecessary punting.

At least, I would hope so.

by Norman Einstein (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 11:35pm

At what point in "the gameplan" do you pull BS penalities out of your ass to save the Pats' winning drive?

Before or after you quickly discredit video evidence that showed a bobbled TD catch?

And to the guy who wrote that this isn't FOX.com

No it's not. FOX.com doesn't slurp the Pats near as much as this site does.

FYI...the next TDZ. "The blueprint for how you can also cut your hoodie to look just like BB".

by Mike Tanier :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 12:00am

Just one addendum here:

At no point do I suggest that a team should stay in the 3-2-6 defense if the Patriots go to an I-formation or another run-oriented alignment. Nor do I mean to state that the Patriots run offense would be easy to stop.

The Patriots run offense can be stopped by ordinary means. The pass offense cannot. Hence a focus on the pass offense.

Many readers have pointed out weaknesses in the gameplan. Of course, six plays isn't a full gameplan. Every gameplan has weaknesses. Keep in mind that I mention specific jobs for some of the plays. For example, the deep zones at the end are for the 30-40 yard line range. They aren't meant for regular use, because as one reader pointed out they are very vulnerable to short passes underneath.

A few people mentioned last year's Colts gameplan and the Broncos' gameplan 2 years ago against the Patriots. Those were very different Patriots teams. Take Moss and Welker out of the offense and you have a very good team, but not nearly as many serious matchup problems to deal with.

Anyway, thanks for reading!

by Steve (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 12:56am

For those that are saying Maroney is hitting the holes or inferring that he is running well I give you the following to chew on:

Since the NE bye Maroney has carried the ball 96 times and 50 of those carries have gone for 3 yards or LESS. That is 52% of his carries that are going for 3 yards or less. The only game he has averaged more then 4.0 ypc since the bye has been vs MIA where he averaged 11.1 ypc but still half his runs were for 3 yards or less. Since the bye Maroney has averaged 4.35 ypc(including the MIA game). If you look at it minus the MIA game he has a less then stellar 3.20 ypc.
The playoffs are a much different beast then the regular season and if the Patriots can't run the ball effectively I think they will wind up seeing loss #1 on the season before they realize a SB win.

by MJK (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 1:29am

When the Broncos beat an arguably superior Patriots team in 2005, the formula was simple - get pressure on Brady, and hit him. Larry Coyer blitzed like crazy and the Patriots weren’t themselves. I was at that game, and Brady spent the time between every single offensive play whining to the ref. I think it threw him off his game.

A couple of issues with this. First of all, Denver was better than New England in 2005. The Pats defense was an injury-ridden shambles that year, and the offense was one dimensional--Corey Dillon had hit the age wall and the Pats receivers were decent but had none of the "stretch the field" capability they have this year. Meanwhile, I think tthat was the year that Jake Plummer got...how shall I put this...actually good.

Secondly, Brady was whining to the refs because what Denver was doing was borderline dirty, and another crew might not have let them get away with it. Guys were hitting Brady late, laying on him while he was on the ground, getting up off him "roughly", and "bumping into him" in between plays. It certainly worked--Brady was off his game--but it's not a reliable gameplan, because a lot of crews won't let you get away with that, playoffs or no playoffs.

"Pressure the QB and don't give up the long play" is a pretty standard goal. But that's the point--it's a goal, not a gameplan. How you pressure him is not easy, not with the Patriots line this year, especially if Neal is healthy.

by Moe (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 2:51am

I've been thinking about ways the Patriots could lose and which would be the most satisfying, but I can't make up my mind.

1. Just get beat. A team successfully uses Mike's fine strategy for example.
2. Pats have an awful day across the board and get blown out. (Almost unthinkable I know).
3. Egregious bad call or series of bad calls by the refs.
4. Seemingly egregious bad call by the refs that is apparently correct (Tuck rule style)
5. Tom Brady goes out (nothing serious mind you) and the Pats finally have to pay for gambling on not having a real back up QB.
6. Manning beats them on their home field.
7. Their kicker misses an important kick and or Vinateri makes another clutch one.
8. They lose to JAC. The deflation of having the perfect season end in the first playoff game would be fun to watch.
9. Bad coaching decision from Belichek or a bad play from Harrison. Cheaters should not prosper.

That's only nine, but I am sure there are more...

by Podge (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 8:40am


I agree to an extent, and it'd be a hell of a brave coach making the decision to switch defences. But I don't think that the opponents offence is a factor. Teams have jumped out to leads on the Pats and held the O in check for a half or so (Giants especially), but eventually the offence has petered out a little, and the Pats have gone on to their "score every possession" offence, which takes advantage of everything the D is giving. The Giants went from having the game well in hand to down and pretty much out in what? About 10 minutes?

Its my belief that to keep the Pats offence in check for the entire 60 minutes you've got to stop them adjusting, and the only way to do that is to adjust yourself. But obviously it takes a very very brave coach to move away from a gameplan which is currently working.

I think it'd only be feasible in the Superbowl, where you've got the Pats going against an inferior team (shush, NFC, you are inferior) but you've got 2 weeks to prepare.

I don't think it'll happen, and I'm not even sure I'd do it if I was in the position, but IMO its probably the best way to hold them in check.

by Jets Fan (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 10:01am

seems to me the Jets played a heck of a defensive game last time they played them, and they beat them last year, right? so if there is a blueprint, or even a general strategy ,, it might not be too bad of an idea to see what the Jets were doing. It seemed to be creative, and effective.

by PCasassa (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 10:26am

Mike's plan is an interesting and thought provoking read. Nice job! In the end though, it will come down to which team has the most collective talent and executes most effectively as a team.

Considering the Patriots scored an average of 39 points a game against the 6 playoff teams they faced during the regular season this year, is it realistic to think that most of the remaining playoff teams will hold them to 20 points?

We all know that barring some physical tragedy to the Patriots players, only one team has enough talent to go toe to toe with the Patriots this year: Indy. All the games this weekend will be interesting. But Pats v. Colts in the AFCC rematch is what we all want to see.

by Herm? (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 10:56am

"A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein"...but does your game plan include picking up an official's penalty flag and heaving it 20 yards without repurcussiuon? Does it include completely losing composure but somehow winning? How about a WR possessing a ball, pressed against his body but moving is now "bobbling." And how about some kind of rule change that makes YOUR strategy somehow win a game instead of these obsolete caveman rules of "scoring more points than the opposing team?"

Really, your blueprint should copy teams that are actually in the playoffs, each of which have won games in spite of poor officiating.

And what of a website that posts an entire article about how to beat the Patriots, and the message board that piles on? Besides, what football website would spend time discussing the first team in history to go 16-0 during a regular season, and the excitement of the possibility for Jax, SD, or Indy to knock them off? Must be "slurping", right?

by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 11:51am

Re: 98

I'd have to go with either #3, #4, or #7, and all of them are the same basic reasoning. The idea of the Pats finally being on the wrong end of some good ol' karmic retribution makes me all warm and fuzzy. #7 would be the most sportingly fair of those three, so that's probably the one I'd most like to see. But the pats-hater inside me would quiver in anticipation of the Pats and their fans screaming and yelling (rightfully so) that they were robbed by poor/esoteric officiating.

by Black Squirrel (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 12:00pm

"Bill Belichick could devise a scheme to beat this team, and I think he did in Super Bowl XXV"

I think the Giants' victory in Super Bowl XXV was more the result of holding the ball for 40:33. Belichick's gameplan slowed the Bills down, but they were still able to average 6.6 yards per play and score 17 points with less than 20 minutes of possession. (They scored two points on a safety.)

by Herm? (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 12:06pm

98 , 103
Wanker, if you go back to the Colts game,week 9, the Pats won with officiating favoring the Colts, and the internet response from Pats fans was crazy.
I fear the internet would crash from overwhelmingly angry Pats fans about losing a game due to bad officiating, myself included. Al Gore would roll over in his grave. (He's not dead? Prove me wrong!)

If I had to pick my poison, I'd say the likely scenario is #1, with stupid turnovers and stupid legitimate penalties sprinkled in.

You don't want #7. We would get some old-school satisfaction from Vinatieri kicking a game winner against us.
At the core, some older fans are deeply sadistic, reliving Zeke Moat, Irving Fryar's stab wounds, Bill Buckner, and Bucky Dent...Vinatieri winning would be right up that alley, and you'd be giving Bob Ryan and Dan Shaughnessey 10 more years of material to recycle.

by David (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 12:27pm

Moe: Brady throws a pick-six while driving for a come-from-behind score in the last three minutes. Nothing else comes close.

by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 12:28pm

Re: 105

For the chance to see the Pats' perfect season ended by poor/esoteric officiating I'd be willing have the internet implode. I'd miss the friendly banter with all of you, but the reward would far outweigh the cost.

And I don't have any issue with the sadistic demographic of Boston fandom. I'm a Philadelphia sports fan. Those people are like family to me.

by SuperBears (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 12:41pm

re Richard Arpin

Zone blitzing is nothing new to this league and the OT's would have to respect the defensive ends because they would take one step towards the quarterbacks and then drop into a zone. Their goal would be more to swat passes away then actually covering the receiver's.

Why would the corners be "panicked" because they might get blocked, this in the NFL. Take a look at the Philly defense they would send slot receiver CB's rushing.

by Cosmos (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 1:13pm

You forgot the offense's game plan, POWER RUN the ball. Let the clock tick as much time down before hiking the ball. Run right at the defense. When the D comes down into the box, PA over the top. Keep that offense off the field. That's the only to beat those guys. They can't score if they dont have the ball, wear that defense out.

by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 1:20pm

David (#106 )--

Brady throws a pick-six while passing on third-and-short holding a one-point lead just before the two-minute warning. The other team misses the two, giving the Patriots hope. Then Troy Brown fumbles the kickoff.

by Herm? (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 1:46pm

Celebrating a touchdown by having a breakdance competition, Moss and Brady both get injured while simultaneously windmilling into each other.
What are the odds?

by MJK (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 1:51pm

Moe and others:

Ummm...most of those things have already happened to the Patriots. How soon we forget.

January, 2005, AFC Divisional Game between Patriots and Broncos:

3. Egregious bad call or series of bad calls by the refs:
Check. 50 PI call because of face guarding???!!! On top of other highly suspect calls...

4. Seemingly egregious bad call by the refs that is apparently correct (Tuck rule style)
Check. An int returned 99 yards to the 1 yard line and then fumbled through the endzone should result in a touchback, but because there were no goal line cameras that Belichick had lobbied for at the beginning of the year but that had been rejected by the competition committee, there isn't overwhelming evidence to overturn the call of the field of ball out of bounds at the 1.

6. Manning beats them on their home field.
Almost check. Manning beat them in Indy last year in the playoffs, and in Foxboro during the regular season.

9. Bad coaching decision from Belichek or a bad play from Harrison. Cheaters should not prosper.
Back to the Denver game--calling a quick out to Champ Bailey's side of the field, late in the game, down by 4, facing 3rd and like 3...
Or calling a quick slant to Troy Brown, in front of Bob Sanders, on 3rd and short against the Colts when up by 3 with two minutes to go in the 2006 AFC CG.

The Pats have had plenty of bad karma, and things on your list happen to them, in the last two years, and it has cost them in the playoffs both times. I for one say that they're due for some good playoff karma! :-)

by Eddo (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 1:51pm

106,111: Troy Brown catches the third-and-short pass for a first down, then fumbles instead of immediately falling to the ground (what Marlon McCree should have been smart enough to do last year, according to Pats fans (and everyone else)). This allows the opposing team to drive the length of the field for the game-winning field goal with 30 seconds left.
Brady then drives the Patriots to the 35 yard-line, but throws an interception as the Pats try to get a little closer for a more comfortable field goal.
This scenario includes the following:
1. Brady making a crucial mistake (the INT).
2. Troy Brown making a crucial mistake (the fumble/not following the "Patriot Way").
3. Belichick (spell it right, people) making a questionable call (getting into more comfortable FG range rather than kicking right away).

by Baltimark (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 2:03pm

Everybody's got a plan until they get hit.

You line up line figure 1, and Brady audibles to something over LT and Faulk is 5 yards past the line of scrimmage before he makes contact with the nickel back.

You line up like Fig. 5 in the maroon zone, and what happens when the safeties follow Moss and Brady hits Watson on a skinny post, then pump-fakes to Watson on the next drive. If the safety makes the slightest stutter-step, Moss is so fast, he's by him.

Great concepts, but so tough to pull off when you have a guy as accurate as Brady, and a full crew of recievers with great hands.

I'm with the poster who thinks we're more likely to see the Pats lose 37-34 than 20-17.

by nat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 3:35pm

98 Moe:

The entire Jaguar team experiences flu-like symptoms after eating a pre-game snack of clam chowder. Mike Tanier's blueprint quickly falls to pieces as Laurence Maroney breaks all playoff rushing records. CBS cuts away to reruns of the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary debates three minutes into the third quarter.

Up by 93 with 5 seconds left, Patriots RB Kyle Eckel scores his fifth TD on a fake-spike flea-flicker from Matt Cassel. The scoreboard "rolls over". Randy Moss drops the 2-point conversion attempt.

Final Score:


by Moe (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 4:29pm

Great imagination on some of the other alternatives. I love the Brady tossing a pick six for the win.

The Pats are virtual locks to win, interesting debate whether their opponent has more of a chance in an OVER game than an UNDER.

by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 4:52pm

Re: 115

Would that mean that Jacksonville would win on a technicality?

by nat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 5:37pm

In the spirit of the thread, it was the only way I could have the Patriots lose by running up the score.

Another possibility:

Mangini and Dungy relay an offer from Commissioner Roger Goodell to reinstate a Patriots draft pick if Belichick throws the game to Jacksonville. Belichick agrees. Patriots lose on a Tom Brady pick-six. Mangini leaks a secret audiotape to the press. Under intense media pressure, Goodell fines Belichick $600,000 and takes away two more draft picks for violating "best effort" rule. Dungy publicly expresses shock that anyone would intentionally lose a game.

by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 5:54pm

it was the only way I could have the Patriots lose by running up the score.

Excellent. *drums fingertips together*

by Jerry (not verified) :: Sat, 01/12/2008 - 12:12am

Thanks to:

Mike Tanier for putting together an excellent column, and

Almost all the posters here for carrying on the sort of intelligent conversation that's been missing from way too many Patriot-related threads.

by nat (not verified) :: Sat, 01/12/2008 - 12:36am

I hope you weren't counting my "scoreboard rollover" story in the intelligent conversation category.

An excellent article leads to good conversation. For my part, I don't think Mike's plan would work: his defense will be exhausted by the third quarter. Better to scheme against sustained drives rather than long passes. That way you keep the Patriots' defense on the field more, and keep your defense fresh for the second half.

Similar logic says your offense should play four downs more than normally, and/or kick onsides. Succeed or fail, your defense plays fewer plays, and the Patriots' defense plays more. Once the Pats defense burns out, you hope there's enough time left for you gain the lead (or hold it, if the breaks went your way).

by David Yokelson (not verified) :: Sat, 01/12/2008 - 2:20am

#93 Fair enough point, dryheat.

That reminded me of this Moss TD:

I think Pats were about 5 yards out. Moss was very wide left, getting press man. He got around the corner, and when Brady saw the corner turning his back to catch up, he heaved a high rope. Moss adjusted, went over the corner's back and hauled it in for 6.

Great catch, but even more amazing, as CBS showed on the high-angle replay, was that both Welker and Watson had been incredibly wide open that play. I mean WIDE OPEN! I could have hit them!

If the Patriots can do that in a compressed field, can they really be stopped when they have 40+ yards to work with?

by johb (not verified) :: Sat, 01/12/2008 - 10:57am


by Raymond Babbitt (not verified) :: Sat, 01/12/2008 - 2:21pm

It's a 1949 Buick Roadmaster. Straight 8. Fireball 8. Only 8,985 production models. Dad lets me drive slow on the driveway. But not on Monday, definitely not on Monday.

by JMag (not verified) :: Sat, 01/12/2008 - 9:25pm

I love that everyone is concentrating on how to beat the Pats. Keep dreaming! I remember some history too...like how Manning only beat New England once at Foxboro. I also remember all the times we spanked him up. Brady did not have great receivers until this year and now he is finally getting the recognition that he is the best QB in football right now....keep drawing blueprints. Belichick is God!

by scott (not verified) :: Sat, 01/12/2008 - 10:08pm

RE: 123.

WHAT?? that is the most rambling, incoherent, disjointed post I have ever attempted to read. Does anyone concur?

by passerby (not verified) :: Sun, 01/13/2008 - 2:22am

The Jags did not keep New England to under 20 points. But did they follow the blueprint? They did attempt to put their fastest players on the field, but didn't blitz much.

by Charlie (not verified) :: Sun, 01/13/2008 - 2:55am

What we saw today was the downfall of this "blueprint" was Laurence Maroney. The #6 DPAR rusher, running behind the #1 DPAR pass blocking OL, with the #1 overall rushing DVOA team, was able to carve up the DB-heavy defenses. With 3 linemen going to the Pro Bowl and excellent run-blocking players like Kyle Brady, Wes Welker, and Jabar Gaffney on the field this team can and will run hard at teams that gear up conservatively to stop the pass. There's a reason teams don't play base quarters and dime, it's because the threat of the run is a complete non-starter.

Personally, I think teams need to focus on pressure off the edges (the notorious weak-spot of the Patriots' OTs) as well as solid push up the middle to collapse the pocket. There's no overall scheme that is going to consistently stop the Pats offense from moving the ball. The goal should be to force a series of mistakes and in order to do that you need to keep the pressure on by taking constant, calculated risks. The consequences might wind up being overpursuit or getting burned deep but in many cases those are points that are going to be scored eventually anyway against a more conservative system. The defense needs to concentrate on stops and the best way to do that is by taking risks.

by Adam (not verified) :: Sun, 01/13/2008 - 12:45pm

It's a beautiful plan, but it would be a nightmare for any team to adopt and practice with only a week to prepare. All-too-likely the execution would fail miserably. Plus, as some have alluded to, the Patriots would probably just run you out of the scheme. The team that beats them (if anyone does) will be the team that plays simple, fundamental defense and outscores them on offense. No magic, just football.

by Herm? (not verified) :: Sun, 01/13/2008 - 2:20pm

I hit "pagedown" 22 TIMES!
22 TIMES! Is that's your 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers Obituary? I gave you the benefit of the doubt and actually read it. I agree more with 127 than 126. But I've seen the admins here delete a 3 page post. And yours was 22 pages. Someone here with power must have actually liked it.

by sippican (not verified) :: Sun, 01/13/2008 - 11:38pm

Now my Raymond Babbitt joke is ruined.

by Pats80fan (not verified) :: Mon, 01/14/2008 - 12:14am

How'd that blueprint workout for y'all? Still need a real Q-back. You don't have one.

by STW (not verified) :: Mon, 01/14/2008 - 1:16am

you've got some interesting ideas here. I'm not sure it's really perfect, but you've got some good points. However, you couldn't afford the personnel needed to execute it all effectively. You'd need to assemble an all-star team. You couldn't do it and stay under the salary cap.

by smc (not verified) :: Mon, 01/14/2008 - 2:51am

Jack Del Rio commented about game plans in his postgame interviews.
Basically, he said that they had what he felt was the right game plan and they executed it well enough to a point, but ultimately the pats were just too good.

All the schemes, to this point, seemed to end with Welker, Gaffney, or Stallworth vs an isolated linebacker, and you're asking the LB do something they are fundamentally not going to be able to do - 1-1 coverage vs someone that is far faster than them for 4+ seconds.

I think a team is really going to be best served by giving up on the fact that the WR corps will sometimes beat you deep. Let them; playing to deny the bomb keeps ending with teams just losing less. I say let the deep stuff happen to some extent. You might get blown out, but to win you're going to have get picks out of that single coverage and put up at least 35+ offensively. Most of the teams have tried the 'stop the deep ball' scenario. 0 have won. When you get beat deep at least you aren't on the field forever, and your defense won't be as tired as it would be if you had ground it out for 5 minutes and still given up 7, which is what usually happens.

I think a team will need to get lucky here and playing conservative, anti-deep-pass just sounds likely to be a plan that favors the pats too much to work. Whack at the ball instead of making a perfect form tackle or two. Jump a route where you might get burned. You're not trying to beat the Pats 6 games out of 10. You're trying to beat them in 1.

by Bright Blue Shorts (not verified) :: Mon, 01/14/2008 - 8:38pm

Anyone remember about three years ago when the Titans played the Colts and opened the game with 2 or 3 onside kicks. Jeff Fisher felt the Colts were going to score regardless of whether they played the long field or not; so might as well take the risk. Worst case your defense isn't on the field for very long against the Colts offense.

I'd be tempted to try that tactic ...

by Harold Rothenberg (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 7:26am

When a team has too many weapons and variables like the Pats, I believe defensively it's imperative to play physical at the LOS. One thing that has always worked well against Brady are corner blitzes-that is his one achilles heel, if you can call it that. I was at the "snowjob" game with the Raiders and the infamous "tuck" rule and over the years, I've seen corner blitzes bother him more than anything else. Manhandle Moss with a CB and LB and make their pro-bowl left tackle take on double teams. They may have to run Maroney more this way and that's a better option than letting them pass all day long for 8-10 yards at a time with a passive zone. Offensively, make their older LBs have to run as much as possible with passes into their areas. esp on first down.

by allsmiley (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 1:46pm

the only chance SD will defeat the pats is to run run run LT through the heart of that D....and hope the bad weather affect the pats passing game. The pats will start the game with 4 WR formation and if they had success that will be their game plan for the entire Sunday.