The Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots square off this Sunday night in Foxborough for one of the most exciting match ups on the Packers schedule this season. Much of the talk has been surrounding both Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, but I watched tape this week over the Patriots offense and tried to think of ways that Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine could slow it down.
The Packers had a great defensive showing against the Rams. The secondary held the prolific passing attack of Jared Goff to 281 yards. It sounds like a lot but Goff can put up ridiculous numbers in a game. The defense as a whole got great pressure on Goff and forced some quick throws. It seemed like the timing was off for their offense for most of the game. There was a few lapses but overall it seemed to me that it was the best showing the defense had all season. I’m hoping to see them replicate some of that success against the Patriots.
Lets start by taking a look at some of the formations the Patriots favor. Here is a simple 2X2 set. The thing that is appealing with it is that it is balanced and the defense may have a tough time setting their strong side defenders to one side or another. The offset back can be a giveaway on some running plays though. Here you will notice that the back is offset to Brady’s right side. Because they are at the same depth, a run play will almost always go to the left. The lone exception would be the counter play or read option. Since Brady isn’t much of a run threat, I doubt we see any read option. In fact, I’m almost sure we never will see that. If Cam Newton, Alex Smith or Baker Mayfield was back there I could see the threat, but not here. Nonetheless, the defense could set its strength according to the position of the tailback.
- Split Backs
I noticed with several tapes that I watch that the Patriots liked this 2 back look out of the shotgun. I think New England gets their backs involved in the pass game more than any team the Packers have faced all season. You will see them run a few swing passes, option routes and even a wheel route or two. In the run game, it has a lot of leads and sweeps. A blocking back helps here. The Packers edge players have to be alert for a sweep anytime this look is shown, especially on first and second down.
- I left/right
Its one of the oldest, but best, formations in football. The old I formation offers a ton of things out of it. The Patriots use it more for the downhill running attack, such as lead plays, dives, or traps. I’ve seen them run an occasional stretch play and an off tackle look. There is always the threat of the play action pass as well. The defense has to be disciplined and read their keys. Down and distance will always be a good indicator of what they will do out of this look.
The empty look is a favorite for a lot of teams in today’s NFL. The Patriots especially like the empty formation on 2nd and 3rd down. They want to get the ball in Brady’s hands and let him read the secondary. Tom Brady has always impressed people with his ability to read a defense and deliver a quick strike. He’s a field general and knows how to get his offense moving. I haven’t seen too many run plays out of this look, but they will call an occasional speed sweep.
One of the reasons for the Patriots successful passing game is the big guys up front. Just look at the blocking in this clip against a 4 man rush. Everyone is in sync. They mirror rushers well, keep a wide base and have quick feet. Check out the left tackle, Trent Brown (77) and how he rides the rusher out. Brown is able to get on the inside shoulder of the rush and use his power to block him out. The center, David Andrews, is patient and anticipating the rush. He picks up Jerry Hughes on a twist stunt and stalemate’s him. He anchors down and holds his ground. Notice how when Brady throws that their isn’t a Buffalo Bill near him.
As I mentioned earlier, New England likes to get their backs involved in the pass game. This was something I noticed with each tape that I watched. Most of the time, it was an option route like the one shown above. It is one of the hardest routes for a linebacker to defend. The back approaches the defender, buzzes the feet and plays the route based off of what the defender does. He can either cut in, out, or sit. They have burned a few defenses with that route. Martinez is a decent coverage linebacker and I don’t see him having many problems with it.
Here’s a play I saw a decent amount of, and it always caught the defense off guard. They start with jet motion, fake the fly sweep, fake the dive and then hit the screen. It gets the defense confused and catches guys out of position. This seemed to always be a big gainer for them. Again, it comes back to playing disciplined defense. If keys are read correctly then this play should be sniffed out from the snap.
The Patriots have a decent run game week to week. They currently have the 11th best rushing offense in the league and are 7th in rushing touchdowns. They aren’t afraid to pull guards and let their backs run to daylight. In the above clip though, you will see how Buffalo blows this play up. The reason it was successful is because of backside pursuit. A good defense should never overrun a play, but patiently pursue it. The linebackers bump with the motion and the backside linebacker comes in to wreck the play. Even if a run goes away, a defender should never give up on it and this is a prime example why.
In single back sets such as this one, we could see a few tosses from it. They have a quick motion pre-snap to ensure that they can get a crack block on the edge player. They pull their right tackle, LaAdrian Waddle, and let him lead block on the toss. He usually will block the first defender that poses a threat, keeping the eyes inside looking for anyone coming across. The Packers have to make sure that their edge players fight through the crack block and if one does occur, make sure that their secondary force player comes up to force the toss play back inside.
I feel like we will also see a few speed sweeps to Julian Edelman. It’s a lot like we saw last week vs the Rams. They want to hit the edge with one of their better runners and let him find green grass. When jet motion occurs, I would make sure to tell the edge plays to bump out to anticipate the speed sweep.
Here is a better view of that same play from the all 22 angle.
If I’m Mike Pettine I’d tell me defense 3 simple things: Play fast, play smart, and communicate. The best defense is a talking one. Players have to communicate on the field and make sure that everyone is one the same page. I felt pretty good after last weeks game with the defenses performance. I feel like if they can replicate some of the success they had last week then they will be in good shape. Each play should be taken one at a time. I feel like the Packers have all the tools to shut down this offense. The biggest thing is being consistent. Do the little things well each snap.
I hope this gave you a good look at the Patriots offense and some things that you might expect to see come Sunday night. This is always a big match up and rightfully so. Pettine’s defense against the Patriots offense will be a fun battle to watch. I think I speak for a lot of fans when I say that I’m ready for Sunday to be here already!
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