For as glamorous as the sports-writing life is….
(hang on, I have to wipe this Fire sauce off my keyboard.)
….there’s frequently times where, if you’re being honest, you have to look yourself in the mirror and admit “wow. I was completely wrong. I don’t know ball”
Every once in a while, though, being wrong is g buffalo bills gear canada reat, because it means things are working out better than you had any reason to believe they would. It’s the whole “sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good” thing. The blind squirrel still finds a nut sometimes, a broken clock is right twice a day, sometimes you play blackjack like Austin Powers and still win, yada yada.
The New England Patriots defense this season, against almost all the odds, has been one of those pleasant surprises.
Now, that isn’t exactly what everyone wants to hear when we sit at 1-2 and staring down the barrel of missing our starting quarterback for however long it takes to rehab a notoriously unpredictable ankle injury. And after the final scoreboard says the Ravens hung 37 points on the Patriots D as a Lamar MVP campaign appears to be taking off at a rocket ship’s pace. And… well, you know who the Patriots have coming up on the schedule. You get the idea.
But if we’re being real about it, the defense this season was projected by almost everyone, this here website included, to be somewhere between “meh” and The Shining, is, objectively, fine to pretty good. And with the caveat that I’m really, really burying the lede here, through three games, they’ve been good in the exact ways that we’d hoped they’d be pretty good following the all-we-can-do-is-laugh defeat in the playoffs last January.
They can stop the pass. To the extent that any NFL team in the year 2022 can stop the pass, anyway.
By the numbers, through 3 games, the 2022 Patriots defense ranks league-wide as follows:
11th in Total Yards Allowed Per Game (314.7)8th in Passing Yards Allowed Per Game (200.0)…..and a not-so-great 19th in Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game (114.7)
The problem is, after allowing just one offensive touchdown in both Week 1 and Week 2 to the Dolphins and Steelers, respectively, Lamar Jackson carved the Patriots up like a state fair gyro last weekend, so the points allowed per game measurement isn’t kind either. Matter of fact, as you might guess after allowing 37 points to the Ravens, it’s in the bottom third of the league.
So, there’s that. The interesting part, especially if you’re one of those THE NFL DOESN’T EVEN LET YOU PLAY DEFENSE ANYMORE TYPES, is how the 2022 Patriots are doing it, especially in non-Lamar-Jackson situations.
Going into the 2022 season, most of us (again, including the writers on this here website) fully expected the defense was going to have to change from the man-coverage-heavy defense Bill Belichick craves when he has a cornerback that can put the best pass-catchers in the world in hell. As we all know, Stephon Gilmore was ingloriously traded for a 6th-round draft pick in 2021, and then just a few short months ago, Bill Belichick and the front office let homegrown wunderkind and 2nd-team All-Pro J.C. Jackson waltz into free agency when they could’ve probably convinced him to stay for the low, low price of……..money.
Without a cornerback that can hold enemy star receivers to the kind of stat-lines you normally expect from a Cleveland Browns WR3, the assumption was that a switch to a lot more zone defense was pretty much the only option. Maybe not to prime Legion of Boom Seahawks levels, but it made no logical sense that the Patriots would keep trying to run the same defense with an objectively worse set of Jimmys and Joes.
Here, 700 words in, is the lede I very much buried: the Patriots haven’t been gun-shy this year about playing man coverage. They haven’t just pivoted to “well, just play a ton of NFL iPhone Cases Cover 4 and keep everyone in front of you and hope for the best”. And they seem to have rediscovered their Boogeymen-era guilty pleasure of “send the house, play good man defense, and dare the quarterback to figure it out in 2.7 s Shop by Department econds or less or they will experience pain”.
Pro Football Focus has done the dirty nerd work and figured out how many snaps of man and zone coverage every NFL team has ran this season, and if you expected the Patriots to pivot like most of us did, well, the defensive coordinators are sticking to their guns and arguably doubling down. Here’s the shot/chaser:
The Patriots aren’t just playing a reasonable/league-average amount of man coverage. They’re counting on it.
Courtesy of Pro Football Reference, the Patriots are also sending extra heat at one of the highest clips in football.
Check it out:
Evolving Man and Zone Rates
Some teams’ man and zone rates will vary by opponent, while some will stay steady throughout the season. This week, the league as a whole ran man coverage 32.3% of the time, which brings the cumulative average to 28.9%, therefore running zone on 71.1% of plays. We can see how each team’s percentage of running man and zone coverage evolves each week. Here are the teams that ran the most man and zone so far this season:
Top 3 teams playing the most Man Coverage in 2022
· Lions (53.8%)
· New England Patriots (46.8%)
· Dolphins (43.7%)
TL;DR – most of the league is playing zone coverage on roughly two thirds of all their defensive snaps, compared to playing man coverage on the other third. The Patriots? They’re basically a 50/50 split between man and zone, which is such a yuuuuuuuuge outlier that only the Detroit Lions are playing more man than the Patriots this year.
Think about how crazy that is for a second. The post-Stephon Gilmore, post-J.C. Jackson Patriots, who signed Malcolm Butler as their ostensible CB1 this offseason, only to release Malcolm a week before Labor Day, and were left with some rookies, Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, and Myles Bryant to make lemonade out of lemons, and instead of rolling over, the Patriots defensive staff decided, “They can man up. Let’s let them do it”.
So there’s that. An excellent expression of trust in your secondary’s abilities, however, is letting them do their thing on the back end while you send extra men directly at the quarterback and dare him to make a play.
How often do the 2022 Patriots do that? Glad you asked.
Only four NFL teams blitz more buffalo bills mafia shirt .
Jerod Mayo and Steve Belichick are bringing the heat whether you think we have the bodies to play coverage behind it or not.
Blitzing on one out of every three plays? That’s a spicy meatball!
And by the numbers, the dice rolls are mostly paying off.
The defense has logged 11 sacks, which is tied for the 5th-highest in football so far. They’ve buffalo bills shirt xxl pressured enemy quarterbacks 28 times, which is kind of mid-pack, but that does shake out to a 26 percent pressure rate. Heating up the quarterback roughly every 4 passing downs is pretty legit compared to some teams like the Chargers and Falcons that can barely do it 15 percent of the time. They’re also hurrying the QB at quite a nice clip — the Patriots defense forces QBs to make a m Tom Brady ove early at an 11.2 percent rate, which, while it may not sound spectacular, is actually the 11th-highest rate of QB hurries in the entire league.
The cherry on top? Jonathan Jones is balling at an exceptionally high level. Everyone worth their Gronk jersey knows that JJ was already one of the best slot defenders in the biz, and now, he’s tearing it up at outside corner too. What can’t this man do!
#Patriots long-time slot cornerback Jonathan Jones is PFF’s highest-graded CB while manning a new position.
My latest for @PFF on why Jones was moved outside and how he became the NFL’s most unlikely “lockdown” cornerback.https://t.co/9MN4x8dnvy
— Doug Kyed (@DougKyed) September 29, 2022
Oh, the irony. Jones had all of our minds racing with his cryptic-yet-tan Richard Sherman Jerseys talizing prediction of “positionless football” this spring, and it turns out, he’s just hopped into the spotlight of playing outside and making receivers’ lives miserable. Hard to argue with the results, though.
Next up, a very interesting test for whether the Patriots keep this up: Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, who, while he is still Aaron Rodgers and could probably hit a skee ball hole from 50 yards, isn’t exactly working with the Packers pass-catchers of yore. With Davante Adams shocking the world this spring and heading to Vegas with his college bro, the Packers WR depth chart appears as follows:
Alan LazardChristian Watson (the rookie one you all saw on TV for all the wrong reasons)Romeo DoubsRandall CobbAmari Rodgers
That’s some serious 2013 Patriots receiving corps energy right there, folks.
And certainly a lineup that one would assume the Patriots feel perfectly fine m NFL Sunglasses anning up against and daring to beat tight coverage and separate.
That may be just enough to let the Brian-Hoyer-led offense stay afloat and keep the Pats in the mix until The Return of the Mac.