Breaking Down the New England Patriots Problems with Big Plays on Defense

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Breaking Down the New England Patriots Problems with Big Plays on Defense
Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Big plays through the air have been a disturbing trend on defense all year.

The defense wasn't the only unit that failed to deliver in crunch time, but on Sunday against the Seahawks, a glut of big plays directly resulted in a loss.

It's safe to say there's now a sizable target on the chests (and the back of the head) of safeties Patrick Chung, Tavon Wilson and Steve Gregory, as well as cornerbacks Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington.

If not, just look at the stats:

  • 33 pass plays of 20 or more yards is 32nd in the NFL in 2012; the Patriots finished with 79 last year, also ranking 32nd.
  • Nine of those 33 plays have gone for touchdowns.
  • Their 15 passing touchdowns is tied with the Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins for 32nd in the NFL; all three teams are on pace to set an NFL record.
  • The Patriots allow 8.1 YPA, which ranks 28th in the NFL.
  • Their defensive passer rating of 100.9 ranks 27th in the NFL.

Last week, the safeties were exposed on big plays where the pass-rush didn't have time to get home; Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning often had the ball out within three seconds.

On Sunday against the Seahawks, that wasn't the case. In chronological order, this is the amount of time Wilson held onto the ball before releasing in seconds (by my unofficial iPhone stopwatch count): 3.1, 2.3, 3.7, 4.2, 3.5 and 2.8.

Here is a snap shot of the pocket at the time of Wilson's release.

In frames three and four, Wilson rolled away from pressure to buy more time, and on both instances, whoever had outside contain was nowhere to be found.

That being said, the safeties had no reason to be as out of position as they were, especially since they are running almost exclusively Cover 2 on the back end.

Beyond that, though, there were consistent clean pockets for Wilson to step into on the big plays.

Here's another snap shot of the coverage on the back end on those plays.

On nearly every play, there was no safety in position behind the play. The only exceptions were the first two in frames one and two.

It should be noted that in frame two, linebacker Brandon Spikes is right in position for the play, but it was almost indefensible with tight end Zach Miller making the leaping catch.

Beyond that, the safeties were way out of position. Tavon Wilson admitted that he blew coverage on the touchdown in frame six, which gave the Seahawks the tie before the PAT gave them the lead.

Per The Boston Globe:

"It's Cover 2, simple Cover 2. ...I just have to go make the play. They made the play when they needed to make it and I didn't. He just ran the route and I didn't do what I was supposed to do and he converted on the play and I didn't."

It's a team effort, but it's a coaching effort, too.

Greg Bedard of The Boston Globe explains:

The formula for being moderately successful defensively is fairly simple: don’t give up big plays. It’s the mantra of coach Bill Belichick. The play calls by defensive coordinator Matt Patricia are almost always conservative, specifically to minimize risk for big plays that can swing a game.

Yet the Patriots keep allowing them. And opponents know they are going to give them up if the Patriots don’t develop a consistent pass rush that can’t do more than spark up here or there.

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Bill Belichick admitted that a lot of the problem falls backs on the coaching staff, though.

Per CSNNE.com:

"I don't think there was anything wrong with the call [on the final touchdown]. I think we could have played it better, which includes coaching it to be played better. So I think there's a responsibility on the coaching end ... The execution, that's part of the coaching's fault as well."

They played solid football for six straight scoreless drives from the second to fourth quarter, and as Bedard points out, they didn't allow any points on seven of the eight drives on which they didn't allow a pass play of over 20 yards.

The blame game will reign supreme on sports talk radio this week—and it's clear, at least on defense, there's enough to go around for the unit as a whole.

 

Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.

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