The bye week is behind us. New England is ahead. The Dallas Cowboys have had an extra week to prepare for the trip to Foxborough. One of the main things they will study is the video of the New York Jets game. And I've gone through it and taken some notes myself. Here are some of the more useful things I saw.
When the Patriots have the ball.
Whenever you face the Patriots, the main question is how do you shut down the high powered New England offense? Kegbearer has already written an excellent piece on how the Cowboys defense can beat the Patriots. If you haven't read it already, you should, because he came up with the same points about the offense I did. There are some specifics I want to add.
1. Stop the run.
This really surprised me, but Keg is dead on here. The Patriots were pounding the ball with machine-like efficiency, which is hardly the image I have of them. There were two drives, one early and one late, that really showed the way the Pats utilized their ground game.
Details and more after the jump
One small success for the Jets was that they kept the Patriots from scoring on their opening possession for the first time this season. Unfortunately for them, they just put it off until the Pats second chance with the ball.
Tom Brady predictably hit Wes Welker for a 32-yard gain that put the ball at the Jets 27. Then they kept it on the ground and in the hands of BenJarvus Green-Ellis (sometimes referred to as the Law Firm). He went eight yards, eight yards, eight yards, and three yards for the touchdown. The last two plays came out of the shotgun, and it did appear that the Jets might have been thinking pass on these plays, which is another point Keg already brought up about making the shotgun a dual-purpose formation.
The first touchdown drive used the run to push the Jets around, and also served to inhibit the pass rush throughout the game by showing a willingness to stay on the ground when the defense was not expecting it. The last New England possession was a good case of situational play calling. It came after New York had closed the score to 27-21. With a six point lead, Belichick started dialing up the runs again, and the Jets just failed to stop them. New England ran 11 plays on the drive, and 10 of them were runs. But they kept an element of surprise in the game, with one run a three yard QB sneak to pick up a first down. It was called by Brady when he saw that the Jets had no one in front of his RG and he just followed the guard across the yellow line. (I know, the players can't see the first down line. It just seems like it sometimes.) There was also a direct snap to Green-Ellis in a shotgun formation that went for 14 yards. Both those two plays show up regularly with the Patriots, usually to good effect. This drive used up 6:12, and resulted in a field goal, leaving the Jets a nine point deficit and only 1:02 on the clock. Brady made one short throw to Rob Gronkowski on a third and 2, and the team was down at the Jets 24. Did I mention how smart this use of the running game at this particular point was? How even one of the best passing quarterbacks in the history of the league was not expected to keep throwing deep balls late in the game with a lead to protect?
Stop. Deep, cleansing breath. Let the past go.
The Cowboys have to be able to bottle up the run. Take that dimension away from the Patriots, and then they have a better chance of controlling the other facets of their attack.
2. Confuse and harass Tom Brady.
Yes, it can be done. It takes some good coverage, some disruption of the routes, and good pressure, but Brady can be controlled, at least enough to let the Dallas offense outscore the Pats.
The Jets had some success rushing five. Four rushers generally allowed Brady to get too comfortable in the pocket. To see what I mean, check out the :30 point and the 1:17 point on this video:
Week 5 Jets vs. Patriots Highlights 10 9 11 (via TheJetshighlights)
You can see how Brady likes to settle in and survey the field, and how effective he is when he does so. The pass in between those two shows Brady moving out of the pocket, and you might note that his pass is very low and almost leads to a turnover.
The Jets did get four sacks, and it was interesting to see how Brady handled those. He has a tendency to just cover up the ball and wait for the hit, not try to escape. This probably helps with avoiding turnovers, since it cuts down on getting hit as he throws or getting the ball stripped while he is trying to evade. But if this is not just a one game thing, it also means that the defense's chance of getting a sack is pretty good if they can get past the O line quickly, or if the secondary can stay with the receivers. Some things in a video are open to interpretation, but it did look to me on a couple of the sacks that Brady did not see anything open and decided he did not have time to get the ball out, so he just waited to go down. It seems odd, but the Patriots actually looked more comfortable running the ball. Brady still had a good game throwing, but there were times he looked a little antsy and his throws were a bit off when the pressure was coming. A key for Dallas is going to be whether Rob Ryan can get good pressure with four rushers and keep the extra man in coverage, or if they will have to resort to blitzing. New England is very good at blitz pickup.
3. Contain Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez.
Think Jason Witten, Miles Austin, and Dez Bryant. This is the equivalent for the Pats. Given the personnel, most of the damage is done with receivers coming out of the slot. And you still have to worry about Deion Branch, who led all receivers in number of catches and caught the only NE passing touchdown. Hernandez was back from injury, and actually was a bit rusty. The only interception by the Jets came on a pass he should have caught for a touchdown, but that he tipped into Antonio Cromartie's arms (you can see it in the highlights above).
One big issue that the Cowboys need to avoid is penalties in the secondary. The Jets got flagged eight times, and pass interference and illegal contact calls kept them from getting their D off the field more than once.
These guys are just flat scary. It is going to take good coverage combined with early pressure. You cannot give Brady time and expect to keep these guys covered.
When the Jets had the ball
The Patriots came into the game dead last in yards per game given up to their opponents. They held the Jets offense to only 255 total yards, pretty much shutting down both the air and ground assaults for the Jets. And they are still ranked dead last in yards per game given up to their opponents. That should give you a pretty good idea of how bad they were the first four games of the season.
This is where you have to be careful looking at one game. The Jets were coming off a terrible performance against the Baltimore Ravens where they only gained 150 total yards and turned the ball over four times. Phil Simms wondered during the game if the Jets were still affected by that game, and it certainly looked as if they may have been. The team took a while to get on track, and then the running game was only effective on the scoring drive in the second quarter. However, that is not just on the Jets, as the Patriots run defense seemed to stiffen in the second half, forcing New York to go more and more to the air.
The middle of their defensive line is huge. Vince Wilfork is 6'2" and 325, and Albert Haynesworth is 6'6" and 350. And despite our attitude towards Albert, the New England fans are very happy to have him. Neither of these guys is putting up a lot of statistics, but they pretty much tie up the offensive line between the two of them. Opponents are having to use a lot of double teams for both, and against the Jets they were pretty effective in plugging up the middle of the line.
Belichick went to a 4-3 base set to accommodate Albert and other new faces on defense. In essence, they are using the nickel alignment from last year as the base set, as he explains here (Dave ferreted this out first). They also bring a fifth man up on the line a lot, usually linebacker Rob Ninkovick, who will read the play and then drop into coverage or attack the line as more of a standup end. They do not bliltz much, but the use of Ninkovick does allow them to somewhat disguise where the pressure is coming from.
The secondary did an excellent job of keeping things in front of themselves. Mark Sanchez only averaged 6.4 yards per attempt, or 10.4 per completion, versus Brady's 9.7/13.4 respectively. That reflects good coverage, good closing on the receiver, and good tackling. It also has something to do with a 73-yard completion to Welker. The Pats did not give up anything longer than 22 yards the entire game. That jumps right out at me. With Miles and Dez both being healthy for the first time this season, and new-found 3rd WR Laurent Robinson showing some talent at the deep ball as well, this may be an area for Dallas to attack. The Pats have given up deeper balls in all of their other games this season.
Of course, they have also given up more on the ground in the other games this year as opposed to this one. With so much of their defense being somewhat tied to a couple of large tackles, it would seem that Dallas could use Felix Jones and DeMarco Murray to get wide and do some damage. But New England did have some success in stringing plays out. Their biggest vulnerability would seem to be through the air, which then might loosen things up for the run later.
The Patriots did a very poor job on kickoff coverage. They gave up an 88-yard return to set up one touchdown, and 198 yards overall, which would have been higher except for penalties by the return team. Their own returns were nothing remarkable.
In all phases of the game, the Jets helped them out a lot with penalties. They played sloppy way too often.
Overall, the Patriots just did a better job. The game was close, though, with the Jets capitalizing on a long kick return and a tipped pass in the red zone. If the Cowboys avoid mistakes, they have the talent to come away with a win.
Just my opinion, of course.