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After Further Review: Patriots-Bills, 1st Half Defense

A film study of New England's Week 1 win over Buffalo.


Just like NFL teams do the day after a game, we're going to watch the film in an effort to see what went right and what didn't – win or lose.

We begin the 2013 campaign with a review of the Patriots against Buffalo, their Week 1 opponent. And we'll start the discussion with the defense's effort in the first half.

1st Quarter – Defense



]( started on defense in the nickel, with Kyle Arrington as the slot corner, replacing linebacker Dont'a Hightower, and Alfonzo Dennard at his usual right corner spot. The rest of the defensive starters remained the same: Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones and left and right defensive end, respectively; Tommy Kelly and Vince Wilfork at d-tackle; Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes the linebackers; Aqib Talib at left corner; Steve Gregory and Devin McCourty at safety. The first two plays featured this personnel grouping.

...The next time the defense took the field, on the second defensive series, this lineup remained intact, with the exception of Dont'a Hightower replacing Spikes at linebacker. Effectively, this nickel package served as New England's "base" defense, if you will, against Buffalo. The game plan apparently called for this, as the Patriots expected Buffalo to employ three-receiver sets most of the time.

...New England's interior defense got decent penetration into the Bills backfield early on, with end Jones sometimes stunting into the middle to pressure Buffalo rookie QB E.J. Manuel. By the third series, though, rookie Joe Vellano had subbed in for Kelly, who seemed to get pushed around on the previous drive by the Bills' o-line.

...The Patriots forced a punt on that third Bills drive when Jones, lined up as a right tackle (rookie end Michael Buchanan replaced Vellano and took Jones' spot at right end), got an excellent rush and hurried Manuel into a bad throw.

...Buffalo went no-huddle most of the first quarter, but the Patriots, with very limited substitutions, held firm.

2nd Quarter – Defense



]( open the second quarter on D, New England subbed Vellano back in, this time for Wilfork. So, Kelly and Vellano were your tackles. Buffalo exploited this anomaly on the first two plays, gaining 20 yards total on the ground by running easily between the tackles both times. The Vellano-Kelly duo made up for this a short time later with a combined tackle-for-loss on 3rd-and-1 that forced the Bills to punt.

...Wilfork came back in on the next series, taking Kelly's place, and New England finally showed a traditional "base" defense (four down linemen, three linebackers, four defensive backs). Rookie Jamie Collins was the third linebacker, and Dennard went to the bench, Arrington moved from the slot to the edge to take Dennard's place. However, this only lasted a couple of plays before the Patriots went back to their nickel.

...After a Stevan Ridley fumble that the Bills returned for a score, the D was right back on the field, in the same personnel grouping, with Kelly and Wilfork the tandem again. Kelly appeared to get better penetration from the inside on this series.

...The Patriots got creative on the next series. Ninkovich moved to the right end spot, next to Jones at right tackle. Buchanan replaced Ninko at left end, with Wilfork at left tackle. The rest of the D stayed the same in the nickel. This grouping forced a Bills three-and-out.

...After a Tom Brady INT, the regular nickel unit was back on the field for two plays, the second of which was a Bills touchdown pass to a wide open rookie receiver, Robert Woods. On that scoring play, it looked as if Talib was supposed to stay with Woods, but he thought he was responsible for covering the flat. That's where Arrington was playing (the flat), and Gregory, at safety, allowed Woods to run free because he expected Talib to stick with him. The result: an easy Bills TD.

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