Contact is significantly restricted at practice, so that takes the
physical part of the pass rush out of play. Linebackers don’t want to
steamroll the offensive linemen and running backs who wear the same
uniform because at the end of the day, that doesn’t really do the team
any good. And when the pass rushers get a free lane to the backfield,
they’ve got to let up because quarterbacks are off-limits.
Then, during preseason games, defenses don’t want to show their best
blitz packages. Yes, the Patriots used a handful of safety blitzes to
no avail last week against the Rams, but it was a relatively small
sample size and they were largely similar blitz packages. On the whole,
the Patriots haven’t blitzed all that often through three preseason
Pats outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, who led the team last
season with 10 sacks, understands why the Patriots have heard so many
questions about their pass rush. New England finished tied for 23rd in
the NFL with 31 sacks in 2009, and their stagnant pass rush allowed quarterbacks to sculpt apart the secondary.
"Obviously, that was an issue for us last year, so it’s only obvious
that people are going to ask about it," Banta-Cain said. "Right now,
it’s really just a matter of us playing better as a team. I think the
pass rush, sacks, all that comes as a result of us playing as a team.
You can’t really point to one guy or two guys. It really is a matter of
everybody being on the same page, and you’ll see good results."
The Patriots are tied for 26th in the preseason with four
quarterback takedowns, which is a whopping 14 behind league-leading
Carolina. At least it’s a better showing than the Browns, who have one
sack this preseason.
It’s not much of a coincidence that the majority of the teams at the
top of the preseason sack list also employ four-man defensive lines.
With blitz schemes at a premium during the summer, it’s obviously more
beneficial for a team to rush four players instead of three.
Has that always been the case this summer for the Patriots? Nope,
not at all. They know they need to show marked improvements on the pass
rush this season if they want to experience more success, and there’s no
getting around that.
However, it won’t be completely possible to reach a full assessment
of the pass rush until the real games begin in a couple of weeks.
"It’s a play-by-play thing," Banta Cain said. "You can’t expect a
sack every play. There are going to be plays when the quarterback might
exploit the coverage, or he might exploit the pass-rush lane. It’s
really something that, obviously in the preseason, guys can come out and
get a ton of sacks, and you might not see them get any during the
regular season. It’s a game-plan thing. There are a lot of different
variables that lead to the pass rush. I think right now, it’s a
game-by-game, play-by-play approach, and hopefully we’ll see improvement
as we go on."
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