FOXBORO, Mass. — After the Patriots recorded zero sacks against the Bills in Week 1, the uproar over the lack of pressure on EJ Manuel got a bit out of control.
New England was able to pressure Manuel — the defense just never sacked him. And the fact that the Patriots rarely blitzed didn’t help matters.
The Patriots didn’t blitz Geno Smith much, either, on Thursday night, but the front four didn’t have any problem getting on the stat sheet.
Michael Buchanan was able to get the party started midway through the second quarter with the team’s first sack of the season and the rookie’s first NFL sack. Chandler Jones led the team with two sacks, while Tommy Kelly added one of his own. Rob Ninkovich, Dont’a Hightower and Vince WIlfork all recorded quarterback hits. I’ll have to review the tape to see how many pressures each player generated.
But overall, every player on defense gave Smith trouble throwing the football, eventually leading to three game-stalling interceptions in the third quarter.
Kelly was just happy the defense got on the board after getting shut out in Week 1.
“I mean, man, we pretty much knew after not even getting a sack against Buffalo, we had to turn it up,” Kelly said. “Can’t go two weeks in a row and get no sacks. As a D-line, we wanted to just turn up the pressure, just get on the board, you know? You don’t like not getting a sack. Even though you get the win, you’re happy with the W, but you want the sacks. You want production.”
Kelly has already matched his sack total from 2012. He went from a career-high 7 1/2 sacks in 2011 to just one in 2012. He was happy to get his first in New England.
“I just wanted to open my account here.” Kelly said. “Get on the board, man. Not gonna relax. Just play my game. Just fit in.”
Buchanan couldn’t help but smile when he was asked about his first NFL sack. He registered 2 1/2 in the Patriots’ fourth preseason game, but now the games really matter.
“It felt good,” Buchanan said. “It felt good. That’s an accomplishment: My first sack in the NFL. Hopefully I can do a good job getting more.”
Buchanan has been playing defensive end on third down, with Jones sliding over to defensive tackle. Jones’ production seems to increase when he slides inside, and Buchanan isn’t having trouble generating his own pressure in Jones’ usual spot. The combination already seems more effective than last year’s, when Jermaine Cunningham was the third-down rusher, playing inside.
“It was a new position,” Jones said about defensive tackle. “Coach [Bill] Belichick came up to me and asked me to play it, and I’m going to do anything to help this team win. He told me to play it, and that’s what I did.”
Buchanan said he felt pressure to perform for the secondary. The team was having trouble getting to Smith in the first quarter, which gave his receivers time to get open.
“I think towards the beginning of the game, we were leaving the DBs out to dry a little bit,” Buchanan said. “We just had to do our job. Our job is to get to that quarterback and make life easier on the defensive backs and the linebackers.”
Smith did a nice job evading pressure on a few plays by showcasing his scrambling ability. But the Patriots never let Smith’s legs do too much damage, as they limited the Jets to just 10 points.
“One of our goals is to put pressure on the quarterbacks, and we knew how important it was for this quarterback to be up in his face, and we knew how important it was for us to keep him in the pocket — his ability to scramble, we know we had to contain him,” Wilfork said. “I think we did a pretty good job, but I remember one play he kind of got out on us on the third down, but for the most part I think we rushed him well.”
The Patriots’ pass rush against the Bills was nothing to worry about, since part of the lack of pressure was due to the game plan. It was encouraging to see a similar game plan with limited blitzes but more pressure against New York. It was an ugly game in general, but four sacks and three interceptions gave fans something to cheer about.
The defense struggled at times to generate much pressure last year, especially on the inside. Having Kelly helps, and being able to kick Jones over on third down will be huge as long as Buchanan keeps producing from the edge.
A weakness in 2012 may have become a strength with just a few tweaks.
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