SUPER BOWL LII: How to Beat the Patriots’ Defense

We are halfway through Super Bowl week. We’ve looked at the respective offenses, so now it is time to turn our attention to the other side of the ball. We start with a look at the Patriots’ D.

It may not have happened how he expected it, but veteran linebacker James Harrison is about to play in another Super Bowl. Cut by the Steelers in December, he has become a classic example of a very New England thing – improving what you have by picking up other teams’ veteran cast-offs. Even with is presence though, some of the Pats’ seasonal numbers look fairly horrific. They ranked 29th in total yards allowed per game, and 27th in yards per play against RPO offenses such as the Eagles’. On the other hand, though they also were the 5th best team in overall points allowed, and the fourth best in red zone defence. When they need to be, they can be a tough unit. And is the last hurrah for the dynamic duo of Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia, with the latter almost certain to leave after the game to become head coach in Detroit, So how can you beat them?

1. Watch the corners

Everyone remembers Malcolm Butler‘s goalline interception in Super Bowl XLIX, but as a player he hasn’t developed much beyond that rookie season and he still either wanders out of position or takes the odd play off. Opposite him, Stephon Gilmore, a former first round pick, is little better, if at all. Catch either of them napping and you’ll put yards on the board.

2. Find the spaces

One of the reasons why New England gives up so many yards is that they don’t often adopt traditional defensive concepts. This means that they’ll often run with five defensive backs and only one linebacker, leaving plenty of gaps beyond the line of scrimmage. Of course, they are also adept at disguising these looks, so it takes a savvy quarterback to spot them, but if you do, it is another way to move the chains.

3. Don’t let them win the red zone

It’s called the red zone for a reason, but it is the defense that is supposed to be at risk here, not the offense. The Patriots are adept at conning offenses into going away from their usual red zone strategy, simply by not offering the looks that a team is expecting. Quite often with the Patriots the formation that you see might not look how you expect, but it will play how you expect, so stick to your guns and don’t be taken in.

4. Pick on the defensive line.

The Eagles have a stout, if unspectacular, offensive line. The Patriots offer something similar on defense, where the days of the likes of Vince Wilfork and Rob Ninkovitch are long past. A lack of both experience and mobility could be a problem for them, especially if veteran Alan Branch remains sidelined by injury, as he has been for the entire post-season so far. They learn quickly, though – as Jacksonville and Tennessee found in their playoff games. The trick is therefore to both get them on the back foot early, but also not to give too many of your tricks away at the outset, so that you have something new to throw at them deep in the game.

Richard O’Hagan




Richard O'Hagan
Writer on such diverse topics as sport, music, theatre, law and politics. Author of 'Eddie the Sheep'. Supporter of underachieving teams, including the Chicago Bears from before that brief, heady, period in the mid-1980s when they were actually any good. All I want for Christmas is a Jim McMahon away shirt.
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