Super Bowl 51 is a matchup of juggernaut offenses and underrated defenses. Here’s what to expect from both teams from an X’s and O’s perspective:
When the Patriots have the ball
Expect the Patriots to spend their first couple drives combining fast paced tempo with information gathering. The Patriots use motion and non-traditional sets early to analyze the defense. For example, the Patriots line up fullback James Develin or a running back out wide to see who goes out to cover him. If a linebacker goes with the back, it’s man coverage. If a corner stays with the back, it’s zone coverage. From there, Brady picks the best matchup.
This will help diagnose the Falcons relatively simple defensive scheme. The Falcons primarily play Cover 1 or Cover 3, and don’t blitz often. Although the Falcons have blitzed more frequently during the playoffs, I don’t expect them to blitz Brady a ton in Super Bowl 51. Nor do I expect the Falcons to sit back in Cover 3 and let Brady pick apart zone coverage. Instead, the only consistent strategy for beating the Patriots in the playoffs has been pressure with 4, preferably up the middle.
One of the keys to New England’s 28-21 Week 1 win over the Steelers was their red zone success, where they were 4/4 with 4 TD’s. Three of the touchdowns came from a unique formation: Four Tight Ends and One Back– or “Aces.” Using a four Tight End set in this manner is difficult because it requires all four Tight Ends to be capable run blockers, and at least two of the tight ends to be above average receiving threats. The Patriots personnel fits; #47 Michael Hoomanawanui is a solid run blocker and #85 Michael Williams played Tackle for the Lions but Tight End at Alabama. Meanwhile, #88 Scott Chandler is an average run blocker and a massive target at 6’7 260. And of course, there’s all-world Tight End Rob Gronkowski. Let’s further analyze how the four Tight End set was used in Week 1 and how it will be used by New England going forward.
Like the NFC Championship, the AFC Championship features a regular season rematch, with the Colts visiting the Patriots. The Patriots won the regular season game 42-20, but the Colts now have a different set of key players. New England will have to deal with a whole host of new players and schemes:
WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL
The Colts are almost a new team on the offensive side of the ball; since the 42-20 loss to New England, Boom Herron (#36) has replaced Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw at Running Back, Donte Moncrief (#10) has emerged as a go to Wide Receiver, Tight End Dwayne Allen (#83) is healthy, and future Hall of Fame WR Reggie Wayne (#87) has become severely hampered with a torn triceps and hobbled groin. Additionally, the Colts have swapped and replaced two new offensive lineman into the mix.
The Colts did an excellent job last week of protecting Andrew Luck against Von Miller and Demarcus Ware, while the Patriots pass rush was abysmal against the Ravens, recording 0 sacks on 45 pass attempts. The Colts do not have a strong running game, so look for them to spread it out in Empty formations and use QB Andrew Luck as a run threat. Continue reading →
Week 13 features a cross-conference matchup between the two hottest teams in the NFL, the Packers v. Patriots. Let’s take a further look at what to expect in this potential Superbowl 49 showdown:
WHEN GREEN BAY HAS THE BALL
In their last two games against some of the NFL’s most prolific passing offenses (Colts & Broncos), the Patriots shut down the opponent’s run game early and forced obvious passing situations with New England in the lead during the 2nd half. (Broncos under 40 yards rushing, Colts under 20 yards rushing). This plays right into Belichick’s hands, as he wants to primarily stay in either Nickel, Dime, Big Nickel (3 S), or Penny (4 CB 1 S) personnel. Expect New England to be in some kind of sub-package (More than 4 DB’s) for most of the game. With that, Green Bay should try to establish some kind of run game in the 1st half to make the Patriots Safeties downhill players. However, Vince Wilfork and recent acquisition Alan Branch have done a good job against the run, and the Packers have had struggles of their own in the run game. While Eddie Lacy was able to seal the game late last week, Minnesota was able to effectively stop the run in the 1st half multiple times with Nickel Personnel (2 LB 5 DB), even when Green Bay played with a Tight End or Fullback (seen below). Overall, the success or failure of the Packers run game will likely be essential for how the Patriots use their defensive personnel.
As Rob Gronkowski works back from his ACL & MCL tear, his snap count has steadily risen in every game for the Patriots. The area of the field he is most valuable for the Patriots is unquestionably the Red Zone. This was highlighted in last week’s match-up with the Raiders. The Patriots used a “Mesh” concept from inside the 10-yard line for a Touchdown. A Mesh concept refers to two Receivers crossing in close proximity to create a “rub”, or as defenses call, a pick. Mesh concepts work better against Man-to-Man coverage compared to Zone because zone defenders can see what is going on around them as opposed to chasing Receivers in Man-to-Man. Given this, how can the Patriots ensure they are running a Mesh concept against the defense they’d like? The Patriots have a built in mechanism: Motioning Shane Vereen.
In the picture below, Shane Vereen (#34) starts as the outside most Wide Receiver and motions in to the backfield. A Raiders Linebacker (#50) chases him all the way across the formation; this is a tell-tale sign of Man-to-Man coverage. This is highlighted by the squares in the freeze frame.