The Patriots’ third down defense is off to a strong start in 2017. After losing three key pass rushers this last offseason, the youngsters consisting of Trey Flowers, Adam Butler, Dietrich Wise and Cassius Marsh have shown consistent disruption getting after the quarterback early on.
After two games, the Patriots defense is tied for 10th on third down at a rate of 34.8 percent. Historically this is even better than the 2015 (37.3, ) and 2016 (36.9), defenses that finished ranked 10th and 7th respectively. Yes, it’s just two games, but it’s a good start and nice to see an injection of youth and promise at a critical area. One of need especially this year.
Let’s take a look at a two-down sequence to see how the third, and fourth-down defense allowed the Patriots to pull away toward victory.
As you can see below, the situation is that it’s the end of the first half and the Saints are just outside the redzone, down by two scores. Whether or not the game stays close depends on the Saints getting points here before getting the ball to start the second half. It’s a third and three, favorable distance for an offense, who can run or pass.
The Patriots appear to be in man defense, and with Elandon Roberts still in the game, they still have a pretty good run-defending linebacker behind a light front. Still, they’re clearing expecting pass.
After the snap the Patriots go into a Cover Two Zone defense, with five defenders at the first down sticks and three over the top of them. With eight in coverage that leaves just three Patriots pass rushers against five blockers.
Pre-snap the Patriots do stand up Trey Flowers, who switched to the Ninkovich defensive end role in this game, and couple him with Elandon Roberts to show the potential for A-gap blitzes. Remember when it was Hightower and Collins doing this? Sigh… Both instead drop into coverage at the snap, leaving just Cassius Marsh, Adam Butler and Dietrich Wise to rush Drew Brees.
Marsh and Butler both draw double teams, leaving Wise one-on-one with the left tackle. He is the player who has to win and he did. Wise pushes Andrus Peat back with power, the ducks under the space created to get to Brees. He doesn’t get all of the quarterback but he gets enough to prevent Brees from getting the ball off.
Now it’s fourth down and the Saints are being aggressive. A field goal cuts the lead to 11 but they’re going for it instead. This time around the Patriots are again showing man, but with over the top help to the offense’s left. Meanwhile on the right side it’s clear that there’s no help.
This time it is man and everyone is pretty well covered off the snap and it’s a good thing because the Patriots send five rushers this time. Throwing it deep to where there’s no safety is Brees’ best option and he just might’ve hit it for six if not for Cassius Marsh.
With five rushers there are no double teams so someone has to get there. If Brees gets enough time he will find on open receiver downfield. Luckily Marsh makes a stutter move outside then crosses back in just in time. His pressure prevents Brees from stepping into the throw and it ends up incomplete.
The Patriots take over and add another field goal before the half and basically put the game away. It was an important sequence and young pass rushers came through.
Their success on third and fourth down, at critical points in the game, had a huge impact in the win. They disguised and mixed their coverages, and they won the one-on-one matchups they had to win.
Still a long way to go and I’m excited to see where these new young defenders take us!