Patriots Film Review: Illustrating Marriage Between Pass Rush, Coverage Vs. 49ers


November 22, 2016

Dared for weeks and weeks, the New England Patriots finally took the bait and ramped up their aggressiveness Sunday. It paid off in their 30-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers.

The Patriots sacked Colin Kaepernick five times in the first half and continued to consistently pressure the 49ers quarterback throughout the game. Kaepernick completed 7 of 12 passes for 95 yards and had a 14-yard scramble, along with the five sacks, when pressured.

Let’s go through those five sacks to see how the Patriots did it.

The first can be categorized as a coverage sack. The Patriots were in Cover-1 man and had tight coverage on all 49ers receivers. Kaepernick, circled in gold, started to scramble when cornerback Malcolm Butler, circled in blue, tackled him at the line of scrimmage, resulting in a credited sack. Defensive tackle Alan Branch also brought pressure.


Here’s where the play wound up with Butler sacking Kaepernick. This a good example of the necessary marriage between pass rush and coverage for sacks to occur.1b

The Patriots’ second sack was a six-man blitz with safety Patrick Chung, circled in blue, coming off the corner.2

The Patriots once again had tight coverage, which didn’t allow Kaepernick to get the ball out before being brought down. Defensive end Trey Flowers was right behind Chung on the sack.2b

The third sack also came on a six-man blitz, when linebacker Dont’a Hightower trucked running back DuJuan Harris on his way to Kaepernick. Notice the tight coverage once again.3

The Patriots showed they were rushing five on their fourth sack, but linebacker Kyle Van Noy ended up coming off one edge, with Shea McClellin dropping back into coverage off the other.

The Patriots didn’t have any defensive tackles on the third-and-8 play in the second quarter. Chris Long, at 270 pounds, was the heaviest defender on the field.4

Van Noy split the right guard and tackle to get to Kaepernick.4b

The Patriots began in Cover-3 before their fifth sack.5

Once Kaepernick began moving around in the pocket, however, the Patriots started “plastering,” a coverage strategy highlighted last week by Essentially, the Patriots’ defenders found the nearest man to cover when the play extended. This best can be described as another coverage sack. Rob Ninkovich tackled a scrambling Kaepernick at the line of scrimmage.5b

Van Noy had an auspicious debut, recording a sack and five more pressures on just 12 pass-rushing snaps. He primarily was a coverage linebacker during his time with the Detroit Lions, but he split his time between dropping and rushing in his Patriots debut.

Van Noy looked comfortable in coverage and even better as a pass rusher, the role in which he shined in college at BYU. He recorded 25 sacks in college, including 13 as a junior. Bringing pressure on 50 percent of snaps is extremely impressive.

Kaepernick was 1-of-4 passing for 11 yards and had a 14-yard scramble in Van Noy’s six total pressures, including the sack.

Here are other notes from our film review:
— It’s not a big surprise Van Noy and McClellin out-snapped Elandon Roberts at linebacker. Roberts, a rookie, has struggled since the Patriots traded Jamie Collins and needs a lot of work in coverage. He looks like he’s running in sand while moving laterally. He also hasn’t been good enough against the run to warrant risking him being on the field for a pass.

— Branch, who reportedly was suspended for four games Monday, had a typical game, meaning he was dominant in moments, struggled at times but manned his correct assignment and overall was solid. Sometimes Branch will look like two different players. There isn’t another player on the Patriots’ roster with his size and length to dominate in the running game. Rookie Vincent Valentine will take over Branch’s starting role if his appeal is unsuccessful. Rookie Woodrow Hamilton would move up to No. 3 on the depth chart, and the Patriots might need to sign another defensive tackle.

— Rookie wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell looked like Brandon LaFell with hands Sunday, running many of the same routes as the former No. 19 but actually catching the passes.

— Running back Dion Lewis didn’t quite look like himself yet, but he certainly was quick and twitchy enough to be back on the field following two knee surgeries and over a year away from the game field.

— Cornerback Logan Ryan had a much-needed strong outing after a couple of weeks of struggles. He didn’t allow a catch and had two pass breakups. Check out our pass rush, coverage, offensive line and accuracy stats here.

— Long only has one sack on the season, but he consistently is in the backfield in the pass and run game. He’s easy to miss, but when you pay attention to his play, it’s easy to see why he’s still receiving considerable playing time.

— The 49ers’ defense keyed in on Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett, allowing Brady to hit Mitchell, Julian Edelman and running back James White all day in the passing game. Bennett was expected to have a big day with Rob Gronkowski out. Bennett did, but it was in opening up the rest of the field for his teammates.

Thumbnail photo via Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY Sports Images

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