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Did the Jets Reveal Some Weaknesses in the Patriots' Armor?

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IDecember 23, 2014

New York Jets cornerback Antonio Allen (39) and Demario Davis (56) sack New England Patriots' Tom Brady, second from right, during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
Associated Press

The New England Patriots may be the No. 1 team in the AFC, but they are far from perfect. Perfection is not the name of the game, as we learned in 2007 when the 18-0 Patriots lost to the 13-6 New York Giants in the Super Bowl.

Forget perfection. The Patriots have just been chasing a trophy since then. They needed a win over the New York Jets—even if it was by only one point—in order to stay on track for that goal. That's exactly what they got in a 17-16 squeaker at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.

The question is whether the Jets revealed the chinks in the armor that it will take for a team to unseat them and prevent them from achieving the ultimate glory. 

The answers is: The Jets didn't so much reveal those weaknesses as remind us that they existed. We had seen these problems manifest themselves in the past, and they came roaring back with a vengeance.

Namely, the Patriots gave up a lot of pressure up the middle. That's to be expected against talented defensive linemen like Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Damon Harrison. 

It's also par for the course when the Patriots are missing one of their better offensive linemen in Dan Connolly. Their early-season problems in pass protection were due in part to the absence of center Ryan Wendell, but things stabilized once he returned (and Connolly was moved back to guard, and Bryan Stork was inserted as center).

After watching the tape and logging who allowed pressure on each play, here's what we came up with.

Patriots pressure allowed by pass-blockers
PlayerPass-block snapsHurriesHitsSacksTotal
Ryan Wendell411001
Bryan Stork41110.52.5
Sebastian Vollmer41100.51.5
Nate Solder241001
Cameron Fleming223104
Josh Kline19100.51.5
Marcus Cannon12100.51.5
Rob Gronkowski6000.50.5
Shane Vereen5010.51.5
Source: Bleacher Report research

According to my calculations, Tom Brady was pressured a total of 17 times on 41 dropbacks (nine hurries, four hits, four sacks). Most of that pressure came from the middle, with Richardson and Wilkerson accounting for 10 of those pressures and nose tackle Damon Harrison getting one of his own. In Connolly's absence. Cameron Fleming subbed in for Josh Kline at guard, with Wendell shifting over from right to left guard. Those were the matchups that the Jets looked to exploit.

There's a recipe to slowing down the Patriots offense, and it's equal parts tight downfield coverage, interior pressure and mixing up the looks to keep Tom Brady and the offensive line guessing.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

The Jets weren't necessarily trying to confuse Brady, though they succeeded a few times. The blame for this sack should fall on both of the blockers, tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Shane Vereen.

The play may look like a blitz, but it was really just a well-designed four-man rush. The play was designed to help create a free rusher on Brady. Two linemen dropped into coverage on the offense's right side, and linebacker Demario Davis and safety Antonio Allen rushed off the offense's left side.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Gronkowski and Vereen clearly got their wires crossed as to who was blocking whom, and by the end of the play, the two had successfully blocked no one.

There were other examples of this on Sunday, including a sack allowed by left tackle Nate Solder, when he had the thankless task of blocking three individuals

But there were also examples of the Patriots' blockers simply being outmuscled at the line of scrimmage.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

That's what happened on Sheldon Richardson and Calvin Pace's sack of Brady at the end of the first half. Backup guard Josh Kline was put on the proverbial roller skates, bull-rushed into Brady's lap, and the Patriots quarterback could do nothing to get away from the pressure as Pace came around from the other side. 

There are some interesting schematic ways to get to Brady, but nothing beats big guys bringing some good old fashioned interior pressure.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

There was no exotic pressure package to be found here, either. Once again, Richardson mauled Patriots backup lineman Cameron Fleming all the way back into Brady's lap on this play.

Brady had to move to his left, and attempted to throw to his right to a covered Gronkowski. An All-Pro pedigree wasn't enough to help Gronkowski stop dead in his tracks, reach behind him and make the grab. 

The same thing happened on 3rd-and-2 from inside the Jets 10-yard line. Once again, it was Richardson getting familiar with Brady at the expense of Wendell. The Jets defensive lineman even managed to rip Brady's towel off of his belt in the process of pursuing the Patriots quarterback.

The Jets turned the dial between exotic pressure schemes and a straight four-man rush that confused the Patriots' pass-blockers time and time again. Their success all began with solid pressure up front.

Tom Brady vs. pressure
RushDropbacksCmpAttCmp%YdsYPATDINTRate
Pressure1686814746.3%7625.24654.3
No pressure42629842071.0%32667.8293113.7
Source: ProFootballFocus.com

Brady has often struggled with teams that can do this. That's how Rex Ryan's Jets were able to knock off the Patriots at home in the divisional round of the playoffs in 2010. That's how the Baltimore Ravens were able to end New England's Super Bowl dreams in 2012. 

The Patriots have encountered this problem in years past, and they will probably see it again between now and the end of their season, whenever that may be. They'll need to find a way to counter it when it does happen.

One option is the quick passing game, which we saw Brady employ quite often on Sunday. He attempted six passes that traveled 10 yards or more downfield, against 29 that traveled less than that distance.

Missing Connolly for this game was a huge blow, especially considering the strength of the Jets defensive line is in their All-Pro-caliber talent on the defensive line. Getting Connolly back healthy from a knee injury could make a difference, as it would restabilize the interior protection.

That being said, Sunday served as a reminder of just how poorly the Patriots offense functions when the line is not buying time for Brady. They must make sure this isn't a problem come playoff time, or they may once again fail to achieve what has become a lofty standard of success at Gillette Stadium—a Super Bowl victory.

Unless otherwise noted, all stats obtained via video analysis.

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