A jet sweep at the goal line doesn’t seem like the smartest play call, and Kyle Van Noy made sure the Atlanta Falcons were not rewarded for making it Sunday night.
Down 20 points early in the fourth quarter and facing a fourth-and-goal from the New England Patriots’ 6-inch line, Atlanta lined up with an empty backfield and motioned wide receiver Taylor Gabriel from left to right behind quarterback Matt Ryan.
At the snap, Ryan pivoted and handed to the sprinting Gabriel, who immediately was smothered by Van Noy for a 5-yard loss.
The Patriots regained possession on the turnover on downs and added an insurance field goal en route to a 23-7 victory over their Super Bowl LI foes.
“It?s a little bit of an unusual play to run down on the goal line, but we?ve seen it before,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Monday morning in a conference call. “It?s a tough play, because in your goal line defense, when you?re trying to stop the run down there, you?re almost always in some type of man coverage principles. So, when the receiver — Gabriel — comes across in a fast motion like that, it?s almost impossible for the guy who has him in man coverage to get through all of the traffic and get over the top on everything, and he?s there on the other side.”
Anticipating the handoff, Van Noy rushed around the edge from his linebacker spot to cut off Gabriel’s path. Defensive end Trey Flowers also fought through a double team to eliminate any sort of cutback lane for the speedy wideout.
Cornerback Malcolm Butler made a great play on third down to set up the fourth-down stop, tracking Julio Jones across the end zone and batting down a pass intended for the All-Pro wideout.
“Kyle made a great play, made a very instinctive play,” Belichick said. “He recognized the motion and then saw that the defender was a little bit behind the receiver, so he moved into position to have better leverage on the play. Trey Flowers also saw that and it might have forced him a little bit deeper. Kyle might have made the play anyway, but Trey got a good read on it, too, and was able to partially disrupt the play.”
Van Noy, who was traded to the Patriots midway through last season and signed a two-year contract extension last month, has been a workhorse for New England through seven games, playing 95.9 percent of defensive snaps. Only safety Devin McCourty (99.8 percent) has played more.
Van Noy played 52 of a possible 57 snaps Sunday night, finishing with seven tackles and two tackles for loss.
“We headed into the season thinking that he would certainly have a bigger role than he had last year just because the amount of time that he?s had to familiarize himself with our system and practice it all through the spring and all through training camp,” Belichick said. “Kyle has been a very durable player. He?s out there every day. He gets better, works hard every day. He?s able to do more, and he wants to do more.
“He?s the type of player that wants more responsibility and likes the challenges of doing different things — coverage, pass rush, playing the run, playing on the line, playing off the line. His hard work has paid off in a lot of opportunity and a lot of production in a number of different areas. The one area that stands out is, of course, the number of plays that he?s on the field for.”
Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images