This was why these guys are here, games like this.
Whether by trade, free agency or draft, the newest of the New England Patriots defenders were brought in for one thing – and we will know right around midnight tonight how successful Bill Belichick’s off season really was.
Rookies Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower, Alfonzo Dennard and Tavon Wilson, along with 5th year corner Aqib Talib were drafted or brought in to the Patriots’ system because they were viewed to be disciplined and refined – or at least enough to work with – and those qualities will be tested this evening as they and their Patriots’ teammates attempt to slow down the #2 offense in the league in the visiting Houston Texans.
They will need to be disciplined to not fall for the deception caused by the Texans’ blocking scheme.
Houston’s offensive line operates from a zone scheme, meaning that the line moves in tandem which makes it difficult for a defense to differentiate between a run or a designed roll out or a sliding pocket. That one instant of ambiguity is what makes this offense so effective.
In the running game, this scheme is designed to create movement on the defensive line and use backside blockers to occupy space vacated caused by the movement of the line, thus creating cutback lanes…so it requires it’s backs to be one cut, downhill runners with great vision, patience and sudden acceleration.
The passing game uses the same theory of movement, but because of the split second of uncertainty caused by the synchronized offensive line, it gives the quarterback a little more time to go through his progressions, causing the defensive backs to have to cover their targets that much longer…and the longer a corner has to cover, the greater advantage to the receiver.
Schaub is very good in this scheme, but he is a system quarterback. If a defense is able to disrupt the system on any level, mobility, improvisation and a strong arm come into play – and that’s where a defense gains an advantage because Schaub has none of these strengths.
So how does a defense disrupt the system? Stay in your gaps, stay in your passing lanes, be disciplined. and show them something they’ve not seen before. Keep the line guessing where the pressure will be coming from. If the defense stays disciplined and can disguise coverages and rush packages, it will force Houston to counter and suddenly you are dictating where they are blocking, making them react to you instead of the other way around.
New England features the second youngest defense in the NFL, including three rookie starters, so one wouldn’t expect the level of refined technique, nor the discipline, that the Patriots bring to the field – and it is exactly these qualities that should aid the Patriots on the wet field at Gillette Stadium this evening.
Defensive End Chandler Jones returns to his starting spot after being out for nearly a month with what was termed an ankle injury, and will see plenty of action, but also expect to see a rotation with Trevor Scott spelling him.
Strong side Linebacker Dont’a Hightower has been injured this season as well, but has been working his way back into the groove the past few weeks. How the Patriots use Hightower will be an interesting thing to watch, given Houston’s zone blocking scheme. The Alabama product did his best work going after the quarterback in college by alternating between linebacker and defensive end positions, and with Defensive End Jermaine Cunningham out on suspension, the thought of using him on the line is intriguing.
Seventh round draft pick Alfonzo Dennard was projected to be a late 1st round draft pick before landing in trouble by punching a cop – and his integration into the Patriots’ starting lineup as the #2 corner, not to mention his growth into the position, has him pegged as the steal of the draft.
Aqib Talib plays opposite Dennard and has had an up and down first couple of games since being acquired from Tampa Bay, but it obviously a quality cover corner once he gets his feet under him. He always seems to be in the proper position, but his timing is off just a smidge, so look for improvement in that respect.
It’s time to play ball, and what a ball game we should see…