I watched the Cleveland/New England game from last week to try and get some insight into the machine that is the Patriots football team. I was especially interested because of Romeo Crennel’s inside knowledge of the Patriots and possible ways to contain their offense. Sorry to say, I came away disappointed with their approach, but I’ll do the scouting report anyway.
Patriots offense vs. Cowboys defense
The Patriots were very effective running the ball between the tackles. They like to pull a tackle and let him lead the play up the middle and the Browns interior defense couldn’t handle it. Sammy Morris is not a special back, but he is an efficient back and will pick up the yards that are available and he has good vision to find the hole. The Cowboys should play their defense from the inside-out. They need to force the Patriots to get wide in their running game where the Cowboys team speed on defense can come into play. Jay Ratliff will have to be an immovable object in the middle of the line and linebackers Bradie James and Akin Ayodele have to get off blocks and create traffic. The Patriots line is extremely talented and had no problems enforcing their will on the Cleveland front line. The Patriots ran to the edge more in the second half, but Dallas needs to force them to abandon the run between the tackles or New England will simply dominate first down and open up the rest of their offense.
The Patriots passing game is as good as they come and Tom Brady utilizes all his weapons and utilizes all areas of the field. Cleveland decided to drop players into coverage and consistently rushed Brady with four guys and very rarely blitzed. Big mistake. You simply cannot allow Tom Brady to set up in the pocket or it is going to be a very long afternoon. Dallas has to do whatever it can to move Brady from his spot in the pocket, including blitzes and stunts. Trying to bring pressure from the outside wasn’t very effective because Brady will simply step up in the pocket and hit his receivers. Brady is not like Romo in that he can move around outside the pocket and consistently make big plays. Again, Dallas needs to play defense from the inside-out and try to bring pressure up the middle and force Brady to move. Dallas stunted DeMarcus Ware to the middle against the Rams and it was very effective. I would recommend a similar approach with Ware and Anthony Spencer.
In the passing game, the Patriots are like the Cowboys in that they both have a superior wide receiver (Owens, Moss) and an excellent tight end in the passing game (Witten, Watson). With Moss, you want to get physical with him as he gets off the line and you will need to roll a safety over the top. I would put my eggs into the basket of doubling Moss or Watson whenever possible and take my chances with Donte’ Stallworth and Wes Welker. Make the Patriots beat you with someone besides their stars.
Patriots defense vs. Cowboys offense
The Patriots were very aggressive playing the Browns and blitzed often. They will bring pressure from different places and will also use delayed blitzes to great effect. Besides the obvious conclusion that the offensive line needs to win their match-ups, the running backs and the tight ends will also need to do their job in pass protection. Especially the running backs who will need to be very good in reading the blitzes and picking up the proper player. Against Dallas, New England might dial it down a notch because of Romo’s mobility and the weapons in the passing game. Running draws, screens, and quick slants could be very effective against a defense that likes to apply pressure.
The Browns had opportunities against the Patriots defense but QB Derek Anderson wasn’t savvy enough to take advantage. In the middle of the field the New England linebackers struggled to provide coverage and there was open field ready to be exploited. Jason Witten could be the Cowboys most valuable weapon in the game over the middle. Terrell Owens running crossing patterns might also be the way to go. When Dallas wants to stretch the field they should look to CB Ellis Hobbs’ side, he had some problems with Braylon Edwards. This could be an opportunity to get Owens in motion and force them to cover him from the slot or get him isolated on Hobbs. I would also get Romo on the move with controlled roll-outs so the Patritos can’t load up and blitz to a spot. They could also take advantage of Romo’s legs because there was room to run once Derek Anderson broke the pocket but he didn’t have the mobility to make it work.
As has been mentioned by various sources, if you want to run the ball against the Patriots your best bet is attacking the right side of the Patriots defense. Running behind Flozell Adams and Kyle Kosier with a TE to that side is the Cowboys best bet. Pulling Leonard Davis to that side would create a favorable match-up for Dallas. But the biggest thing that Dallas can do in the running game is get NT Vince Wilfork blocked. That’s easier said than done. The guy is an absolute load who is also mobile. Dallas should also use their backs in the short passing game if they are not needed to pick up a blitz.
Play inside-out on defense to stop New England from running between the tackles and force them to face the Cowboys team speed on the edges. This will also require CB’s Terence Newman and Jacques Reeves to play excellent run support. Stunt DeMarcus Ware to the middle occasionally and load up blitzes through the center of the line to force Brady to get out of the pocket where he’s not as effective. Also, make someone besides Moss or Watson beat you.
On offense, run behind the left side of the line at the New England right side of the defense. Challenge the New England linebackers in pass coverage with Witten, with Owens on crossing patterns and with the running backs in the passing game when the Patriots don’t blitz. If you want to attack deep, seek out Ellis Hobbs. Don’t let Romo be a statue in the pocket; get him out of the pocket occasionally to slow the blitzes and use draws and screens to slow them down.