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2018 Opponent Scouting Report: Patriots defense, why do they have to be good?

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NFL: Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Overview

On October 4, 2018 the Indianapolis Colts will travel to take on the New England Patriots. In this week five match-up I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our new look Colts.

The Colts have struggled against the Patriots ever since Peyton Manning took his talents to Mile High. The last meeting between these two teams came in October of 2015 which culminated in a 34 to 27 Colts loss. Currently the Colts are on a seven (7!) game losing streak to the Patriots and the evil empire has put up an average of 40 points per game over that span. Hopefully this Thursday these 2018 Colts will be able to change course on what has been a rough era of Colts vs. Pats football.

This one means a lot to the Colts front office Thursday night should be interesting

Let’s figure out what we can expect in Week 5.


Defense

The Patriots run a base 4-3 system according to their official depth chart, but Bill Belichick doesn’t want to hear that nonsense.

To quote Belichick from the lined article:

“Honestly, most people thought we played a 4-3 at the Giants. Lawrence Taylor did a lot more rushing than he did pass-dropping; probably 80-90 percent of the time he was the rusher in the defense,” Belichick said.

”It wasn’t always a pass, but certainly in passing situations and a lot of pass plays, he was the designated fourth rusher, which really put us in what amounts to a 4-3.

”Honestly, I think that’s something that is a media fabrication. There are a lot of different alignments out there. You see 4-3 teams use odd spacing. You see 3-4 teams use even spacing. You have 11 players, you can put them in various positions. Whether you want to put it on the pre-game depth chart as one thing or another, I think is a little bit overrated.

”You play different fronts, you play different spacing, and you teach the techniques of your defense. That is what consistent, techniques that are taught in different defensive systems, whether those teams go from three-man line to a four-man line, or a four-man line to an odd spacing line, or overs to unders, or unders to overs, or over-wides, whatever you want to call it. They will continue to play the same fundamental techniques as they’ve been teaching for the entire year, for the most part. I think that’s what teaching defensive fundamental football is about. It’s about fundamentals. Wherever you put them, you’ve got to people other people in complementary places, however you decide to do that.

”It’s pretty straight-forward really ... It’s more the teaching, techniques and fundamentals you teach your defensive players, more than it is the 4-3, 3-4 lineup that is so important to put on the flip card.”

With that said, when you look at his base defense... it’s actually tough to pick out what their base defense is. He uses a nose tackle often and a stand up Edge defender but he’ll also use a more traditional 4-3 defensive front. They will alternate between 1 gap and 2 gap responsibilities depending on situation. I noticed a few interesting trends while watching the 2018 Patriots tape.

The Patriots like to send extra rushers and when they do they’re often in a man cover 1, meaning man coverage underneath with a single high safety over the top. There was a lot of single high safety action from this Patriots team.

Exhibit “B”

Again, single high safety, blitz, man coverage.

The Patriots don’t always call zone coverage when they don’t blitz, but they do enjoy a single high safety cover 3 defense. I also noticed several times when the Pats would try to disguise coverage by rolling a safety down and dropping the other deep. The play above is a cover 3 but I noticed a few cover 2 looks as well.

Again, these Pats really like man coverage and the Jaguars, of all teams, had a lot of success so I went back and looked for an explanation. It was a mix of man beating routes, crossing routes and backs coming over the middle and plays schemed like the one above.

The Jags call a max protect look off of the play action, initially there are only two deep routes before the back gets out of the backfield on a delayed route. The linebacker gets caught up and then just can’t get in position to make a play which results in a nice gain.

There aren’t going to be any magic answers of how to beat this defense, they’re probably not going to make too many mistakes either. This is going to come down to which team has superior execution.


Defensive Line

The good news about the Patriots defensive line is that it doesn’t employ J.J. Watt, the bad news; they do have Trey Flowers who is elite in his own right. Flowers could mean the Colts are in for a long night.

Former Colts defensive lineman Lawrence Guy and (a guy who should have been a Colts defensive lineman) Malcom Brown hold down the middle when Danny Shelton isn’t eating up blocks.

On the other edge is Adrian Clayborn who is also very good and I haven’t even mentioned back up pass rusher Deatrich Wise Jr. who had five sacks as a rookie and 2.5 this season through the first quarter of the season.

The craziest thing about the 2018 Colts season is the number of very good defensive lines they’ve faced in the first five weeks of the season given an almost entirely new starting offensive line. It would be like learning to drive a car at the Indy 500. The Patriots are no different, this is a very, very solid unit that should give us fits all night on Thursday.


Linebackers

Dont’a Hightower is one of the best interior linebackers in the league and is joined by Elandon Roberts who is also good and they’re both joined by Kyle Van Noy who is pretty average by all accounts.

And really thank goodness the Pats have Kyle Van Noy, I was starting to think this was just a team of insanely good defenders. Van Noy and his average play proves this isn’t an all star team, they do in fact, have at least one player who probably won’t make a pro bowl.


Defensive Backs

Stephon Gilmore, Jonathan Jones and Jason McCourty will likely get the bulk of the defensive snaps for the Patriots on Thursday. Starter Eric Rowe has missed the last two weeks and on a short week I doubt he plays this week.

Jones has a history with the Colts.

After coming over from the Buffalo Bills, Stephon Gilmore has played well enough in 2018. Jones is also playing very well. Oh and McCourty is also playing really well. So is there any hope for our Colts against their secondary?

Devin McCourty has played 98% of the Pats defensive snaps and he’s doing a good job. Duron Harmon is spending a lot of time on the field and he’s also playing well.

So at least there’s Kyle Van Noy, right?


What to Expect from the Colts Offense:

The Colts, once again will need to use a lot of quick concepts and ideally get the no huddle working in an attempt to slow down the Pats pass rush. I expect to see a lot of crossing routes and backs crossing the middle of the field to try to beat man coverage.

This defense has talent all over the field, from top to bottom they might be the best defense the Colts have seen all year. The Patriots are 2-2 but the season is young, I think they’re far better than what their record indicates.