Patriots Notes: Amoeba Defense Has Been New England’s No-So-Secret Weapon

FOXBORO, Mass. — Some notes and nuggets from Wednesday’s New England Patriots media availability at Gillette Stadium:

This excellent piece by’s Andrew Callahan on the Patriots’ ever-evolving defense prompted us to take a closer look at the most daring defensive scheme New England has employed this season: the “Amoeba.”

After debuting the look — which features a roving pack of linebackers and defensive backs behind one down lineman — during a Week 13 win over the Minnesota Vikings, the Patriots deployed it more than two dozen times over their final five games of the regular season, often trotting it out on third down to confuse opposing quarterbacks and offensive linemen.

Defensive play-caller Brian Flores trotted out an amoeba front on 27 of a possible 53 third downs over those five weeks (50.9 percent), including 21 of 38 third-and-5-plus scenarios (55.3 percent). And more often than not, it’s worked.

Teams gained first-down yardage on just eight of those 27 plays, or 29.6 percent. For context, only one NFL team (the 3-13 Arizona Cardinals) converted on less than 30 percent of their third downs during the regular season. Fifteen teams were above 40 percent.

The 2018 Patriots didn’t invent this creative scheme — it’s been used by a host of teams at the pro and college levels, including the early-2000s Pats — but it’s been crucial to their defensive success of late.

— It’s always noteworthy when a non-practice squad player is recognized as one of the Patriots’ practice players of the week.

This week, safety Obi Melifonwu received that honor, indicating his coaches are pleased with the work he’s putting in despite not seeing the field over the final four weeks of the regular season.

— Playoff veteran James White shared some simple words of advice to Sony Michel and the Patriots’ other young players as the team prepares for next Sunday’s divisional-round clash.

“You lose, you go home,” said White, who had the best game of his career in Super Bowl LI. “You’ve got to play your best football. That’s something that you just stress to them. Just stay up on yourself. Once we figure out who we play, study up on them and give it your best effort. You don’t want to have any regrets.”

— Patriots coach Bill Belichick had more praise for defensive end Derek Rivers, who returned to the lineup Sunday after six consecutive healthy scratches and recorded the first sack of his NFL career.

“Derek’s improved in every area,” Belichick said. “He works very hard, has improved physically, technique-wise, obviously understanding and execution of the defense. He’s gotten better in every area, works really hard.”

Belichick said last week Rivers, who’s in his second season with the Patriots, has a “really good future” ahead of him.

Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images

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