With all the talk on defense regarding New England's linebacker corps, it all starts up front with their three down linemen. In certain personnel groupings, the Patriots can boast that their defensive line is comprised entirely of first-round draft picks Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, and Vince Wilfork. With Jarvis Green rotating into the line on a regular basis until Seymour is completely healed, this is a formidable and active group that will pose serious challenges for the Indianapolis offensive line. Wilfork was activated for last week's game against the Redskins off the Physically Unable to Perform list after missing the first seven games of the season.
Seymour is the one that gets all the press clippings, but New England's run defense begins and ends with Wilfork, especially between the tackles. Listed at 6-foot-2, 325 pounds, you'd swear by looking at him that he weighs 350 if he's an ounce. Wilfork is the classic "plugger" nose tackle in the middle of the formation. He lines up over the center and usually takes up two linemen -- the center and either the left guard or the right guard. His size is deceptive and he actually has fantastic feet and range for a man of his dimensions. If the Colts are to run the ball inside, handling Wilfork is their first priority. Since New England's linebackers are very intelligent and take excellent angles to the ball carrier, the responsibility of moving Wilfork off the line falls to center Jeff Saturday.
Joseph Addai has the vision and Saturday has the reflexes necessary to accomplish this feat. At the snap, Saturday must read Wilfork's body language and gauge which gap the big man is trying to shoot. From there, it's a simple matter of forcing Wilfork in the direction that he is trying to head in anyway. When dealing with players of Wilfork's strength and girth, inertia is more important than momentum or penetration. Saturday needs to make sure that whatever avenue Wilfork pursues, he exaggerates that inertia by pushing Wilfork in that direction at a higher rate. At that point, Addai needs to read the block and cut back against pursuit. Wilfork is talented and has good feet, but physics say that he won't be able to stop himself, turn back, and pursue the play from the backside. This frees up the guards to get to the second level and engage the linebackers.
Warren, Seymour, and Green are all skilled two-gap defenders in their own right and it is their responsibility to make sure that guards Jake Scott and Ryan Lilja, as well as tackles Tony Ugoh (or his replacement, Charlie Johnson) and Ryan Diem do not get to the second level. It is Ugoh's (or Johnson's) and Diem's job to block down on the talented ends of the Patriots and make it difficult for them to move laterally. In this situation, penetration behind the line of scrimmage is better than lateral movement at the line of scrimmage. It will again come down to each lineman's ability to read the man that he is blocking. If Warren, Seymour, or Green intend to rush up the field in ardent pursuit of Peyton Manning, they should be given some resistance, but generally allowed to blow past the flow of the ball. If they intend to rush inside or stunt -- although the New England does not do much in the way of stunting -- the tackles and guards need to make sure that they can't get inside.
The key is to encourage Patriot defenders to keep going in whatever direction they intend to go as long as it's away from the play -- and to stop them from moving forward if they are going towards the play. If the Colts try to move any of these linemen in a given direction, they will be fighting a losing battle. These men are simply too strong, too skilled, and too big to be taken in a direction that they don't want to go.
In the passing game, the defensive line is much easier to handle. Each man needs to know his assignment, but that will be based on what Manning sees when he comes to the line of scrimmage. The most important thing to consider here is that each man on the offensive line must know who he is responsible for. None of the four linemen in the rotation are especially talented pass rushers. Seymour deserves consideration, but he is not yet 100 percent. Where the Patriots have had success is in baiting their opponent into blocking the wrong defender or overloading an area so that an offensive lineman doesn't have anyone to block at all, creating a numbers mismatch at a targeted area of the line. However, this is where the linebackers are most effective, not the defensive line.