AbsolutAnalysis: Super Bowl Defenses, Part 2

In Part Two of his review of the defenses of the Super Bowl teams, Seahawks.NET's Matt Lathrop drills down into the mystery of the multifaceted, super-disciplined defense of the New England Patriots, and how they dominated the Steelers in the AFC Championship game to advance to their third Big Dance in four years.

If you watch replays of the AFC Championship as I have, what you'll notice about the New England defense (as opposed to Philly's) is the fronts they will show throughout the game. Not only do they run an odd front, which often resembles a 5-2, but Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel seems to enjoy using his players in a handful of different ways. Safety Rodney Harrison often assumed the role of the shape shifter...playing deep some of the time, coming up into the box quite often, showing an invert with the cornerback, or following a man in motion and blitzing off the edge.

Early in the game, they gave a lot of looks. I don't know how many times I found myself rewinding the play over and over, trying to figure out what coverage it was. Later in the game, when they got up by a few scores, it got easier, but they really seem to like to give different looks. One thing I liked about the way the Pats covered was the aggressiveness the underneath coverage played with. They played a lot of deep coverage with the secondary, using an extra defensive back or linebacker to play what could be described man coverage underneath a big zone shell. When they played the normal Cover 2, they played a very disciplined and trusting zone.

In a way, the Safety/Cornerback relationship is like a QB/WR - they have to be on the same page and confident in the other's understanding of the coverage and assignments. The deep handoffs the CBs performed were fluid and crisp, not hesitating or checking over their shoulder for the safety, just to make sure. However, New England's underneath coverage was what I enjoyed watching the most.

For example, when the Steelers would go into four wide group with a bunch formation, either a twins/trey or trips look, the Patriots lined up in a cool little coverage. They would sit a man on the point of the bunch, and bracket the inside and outside with two defenders. The inside defender would turn his shoulders out, facing up to the bunch, and take whichever man came his way, while the outside man played a more traditional coverage technique. Suffice it to say, I like they way they use their DB's underneath, where you’d normally see LB's the majority of the time. This helped the Pats never get beat deep between the hashes; it was almost like there were no seams inside the corners. But don’t think that this is still some Cinderella team - the players the have on the field, especially in the box, are outstanding football players. I can guarantee you that Crennel thanks his stars every night for that group of linebackers.

To expand on the linebackers a bit more, the thing that stands out to me is not only that they take on a block, but how they do it. Like the Eagles' crew, the Pats take on blocks with the purpose of defeating them, not just getting by them. It's not a "dropped shoulder to stick it and hope someone else makes the tackle" theory - they attack with shoulders, eyes and arms up, ready to turn the blocker over. On a couple of outside zone runs, I was impressed with the play of Willie McGinest, who refused to get hook-blocked or driven back. He managed to slow down the lateral play of the offensive line and cave down the outside of the zone, making it harder on the interior line to come off a combo to the second level, which cuts down cutback lanes, basically defeating the purpose of an outside zone.

Key:

Shell - The best I can tell due to camera angle. This applies to Secondary in the simplest form to give an idea of what they're doing. I could be more specific, but it isn't practical for the purpose of this column. If you are interested or looking for some further explanation, please feel free to email me with any questions.

CB Alignment: Press - CB within 3 yards, Off - CB 3-8 yards, Soft - CB more than 8 yards

Bold Down & Distance indicates a new drive.

The blitz numbers may be a little deceiving, as an outside linebacker usually indicates a fourth rusher. Nonetheless, Crennel is bringing an extra man that could be an effective defender in coverage, so I consider it a blitz.

New England  

1st Quarter

Down and Distance

Blitz?

Who?

Shown, Hidden, Delay

Coverage Shell*

CB Alignment

Offensive Result

1,10
Yes
Safety
Shown
3 deep
Off
Run +4
2,6
No
Cover 1
Press
Scrmbl +3
3,3
Yes
OLB
Shown
3 deep
Soft
INT
1,10
No
2 deep
Off
Run +6
2,4
Yes
2 OLB

1 Shown, 1 Hidden

Quarters
Off & Soft
Run +0
3,4
Yes
OLB
Shown
Quarters
Press
Pass +16
1,10
Yes
Safety
Shown
Cant tell
Run +2
2,8
Yes
OLB
Shown
Quarters
Soft
Run +3
3,5
No
Quarters
Press and Off
Run +4
4,1
9 in the
box ready
for the run.
Man
Off
Run +0
1,10
No
2 deep , 1/2 invert
Off
Run +0
2,10
Yes
2 OLB
Both Shown
Man Free
Off
Run +1
3,9
No
2 deep
Off
Pass + 7
1,10
Yes
OLB
Shown
Quarters
Soft
Pass +19
1,10
Yes
3 LB, 2 S
Shown
Man
Soft
Run +3
2,7
Yes
CB, OLB
Hidden
Rotated 2 deep
Off
Run +0
3,7
No
Cover 1
Off
Pass Inc

2nd Quarter

Down and Distance

Blitz?

Who?

Shown, Hidden, Delay

Coverage Shell

CB Alignment

Offensive Result

1,10
No
2 deep
Press
Run +5
2,5
Yes
OLB
Shown
2 deep
Soft
Run +6
1,10
Yes
OLB
Hidden
3 deep
Soft
Run -1
2,11
No
2 deep
Press
Run -2
3,13
No
Quarters
Press
Pass Inc
1,10
Yes
CB, OLB
Hidden
Rotated 2 deep
Soft
Run +3
2,7
No
2 deep
Press
Pass +9
1,10
No
Something that didnt work, cant tell
Press
Pass +27
1,10
Yes
CB
Hidden
Rotated 2 deep
Press and soft
Run +2
2,8
No
3 deep
Soft
Run +2
3,6
Yes
OLB
Shown
Quarters
Off
Run +10
1,10
No
2 deep
Soft
Run +3
2,7
Yes
2 OLB
Both Shown
2 deep
Off
INT TD
1,10
No
2 deep
Off
Scrmbl +13
1,10
No
2 deep
Off
Pass Inc
2,10
No
2 deep
Press and Off
Run +5
3,5
No
Quarters
Off
Scrmbl +4

3rd Quarter

Down and Distance

Blitz?

Who?

Shown, Hidden, Delay

Coverage Shell

CB Alignment

Offensive Result

1,10
Yes
CB, 2 OLB
Hidden
Rotated 2 deep
Soft
Run +6
2,4
No
2 deep
Off
Pass +16
1,10
Yes
OLB
Shown
2 deep
Off
Run -1
2,11
Yes
2 OLB
Shown
2 deep
Off
Pass +34
1,G
No
2 deep
Press
Run +5TD
1,10
No
2 deep
Soft
Pass Inc
2,10
No
2 deep
Off
Pass +6
3,4
Yes
OLB
Shown
2 deep
Off and Soft
Run +10
1,10
No
2 deep
Off
Run +6
2,4
Yes
OLB
Shown
2 deep
Off
Pass Inc
3,4
No
2 deep
Off
Run +5
1,10
Yes
Safety
Shown
3 deep
Soft
Run +1
2,9
No
3 deep
Off
Run +4
3,5
No
Quarters
Off
Pass Inc
4,5
Yes
OLB
Shown
2 deep invert
Off
Pass TD
1,10
Yes
S
Hidden
3 deep
Soft
Run +25
1,10
Yes
2 OLB
Shown
2 deep
Off and Soft
Pass +26

4th Quarter

Down and Distance

Blitz?

Who?

Shown, Hidden, Delay

Coverage Shell

CB Alignment

Offensive Result

1,G
10 in box
Man
Off
Run +2
2,G
Yes
2 OLB
Shown
Man Free
Off
Pass Inc
3,G
11 in box
Man
NA
Run +1
1,10
No
Quarters
Off
Pass +5
2,5
No
2 deep
Off

Pass INT

Game
Effectively
Over

Total Distributions

Down

# Of Blitzes

% of time Blitzed

Shown vs Hidden

% Press (at least 1 CB)

Press w/ blitz

1st

12/24
50%

2nd

9/18
50%

3rd

4/12
25%

4th

1/2
50%

Total

27/56
48%

28 Shown
11 Hidden

11
2

I hope you enjoyed the column. If you have any questions or comments, I'd love to hear from you.

Matt Lathrop is the "Xs and Os Guru" of Seahawks.NET, not to mention the very talented line coach for Bellingham High in Bellingham, Washington.


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