Even amongst knowledgeable fans, offensive contributions will almost always get a bit more attention.
And clearly the likes of Cordarrelle Patterson, James White, Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman deserve recognition for their many individual efforts to help the Patriots to the 31-17 win over the Packers Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.
But while offense may be the story of most NFL games in 2018 -- especially in places like New England where pass-first attacks are led by superstar quarterbacks – the Patriots much-maligned defense deserves just as much attention and credit for the work it did against Aaron Rodgers and Co.
So during his Monday morning day-after-game conference call with the local media Bill Belichick spent big chunks of the 30-minute marathon media session talking about some of the things New England threw at the Packers future Hall of Fame quarterback and his teammates.
One play in particular that drew high praise from the New England coach was the sack of Rodgers shared between Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn in the fourth quarter. The “huge” play came shortly after Lawrence Guy’s forced fumble that was recovered by Stephon Gilmore and turned into a 24-17 lead by the Tom Brady-led offense. The subsequent sack led to a three-and-out for Green Bay and turned things back over to an offense that closed the door on the visitors with an ensuing 55-yard Josh Gordon catch-and-run touchdown.
Big plays by both sides of the ball led to the big win, including the very big sack to end Rodgers’ comeback hopes.
“On that play, first of all it started off with good coverage on the play so there was no, really no receiver came open right away,” Belichick said of the third-and-7 sack with just more than nine minutes to play. “We were able to have pretty good coverage on the play, but the rush got there quickly and Trey and Adrian did an excellent job on the twist game there on the defensive right side. That came clean.
“It was a play that’s one of the tools in the box for the defensive linemen, there are different individual pass rush techniques and then there are ways to run games and twists and so forth to try to stress the protection. It was something that the players really had talked about prior to this play, earlier in the game about the way that Green Bay was blocking us. We thought we might have a chance to run this. It was an excellent call by Coach [Brendan] Daly and Coach [Brian] Flores to kind of get it teed up. Because I thought it was a huge play in the game. We had a seven-point lead which isn’t very much against these guys and to be able to get the ball back midway through the fourth quarter with a seven-point lead, and get a three-and-out after we got the turnover the series before and scored was really huge. I thought it was a huge play in the game. It was very well executed by Clayborn and Flowers. It was well run and the timing of the play having it teed up to go at that time was a great job by the coaching staff, too.”
Beyond the big sack, here are some of the other key takeaways of Belichick’s day-after-game conference call that lasted a bit longer than usual.
Gilmore did “a real good job” on Davante Adams: Rodgers’ favorite passing target heading into Sunday night was wide receiver Davante Adams, who entered the game leading the Packers with nearly twice as many catches as any other target. As such, Adams was a clear priority for the Patriots defense. That meant plenty of time for No. 1 cornerback Stephon Gilmore matched up with Adams, as well as mixing in a variety of zone looks and safety help.
It worked, as New England held Adams to just 40 yards on his six catches (6.7 avg.), though he did have a 2-yard touchdown when Gilmore was not in his area. Gilmore had a pass defense in the end zone as well as a near interception that Adams had to break up.
After looking at the tape, Belichick sounded quite pleased with Gilmore’s work within the overall impressive pass defense.
“I thought Stephon did a real good job on him,” Belichick said. “And it’s tough. He’s an excellent receiver. He does a lot of things well. We doubled him a decent amount of the time, too. As well as playing some zone. But he’s a great receiver with a great quarterback in a great offensive system. So it’s hard to stop. I don’t think you are going to stop him, you just try to slow him down and keep him from killing you. I thought Gilmore played him very well.”
Flea flicker “very well executed” by all involved: One of the big plays on offense for New England was a second-quarter flea flicker that saw Brady hit Edelman for a 37-yard gain after getting the toss back from White. No two plays unfold the same way in NFL action, the flea-flicker had a slightly different look to it and Belichick explained all that went into the successful play from all involved New England players.
“That play is a play that really takes great timing and execution,” Belichick explained. “It’s a hard play to execute on a lot of levels. There is some risk to it obviously. The idea is to suck the defense up in or toward the line of scrimmage and be able to get somebody behind them. You always count on the running back to make the right decision. So you never want to pitch the ball back if there is going to be a problem with the pitch back.”
This time, after taking the handoff, White made a slight movement to his left and then a somewhat angled pitch back to Brady as left tackle Trent Brown dealt with pass rush off the left side of the line.
“James made a great decision, it was a tough one, too,” Belichick continued. “Because when he had the ball, [Nick] Perry was up the field.
“We were able to get it cleanly executed but it was a tough play. It was very well executed by James, by Tom, by Julian and by the offensive line as a total group to sell the run but still be in position to pass block and then give the play, everybody an opportunity to handle the ball. Lot of little things on that play. Lot of things that can go wrong. But if it works then there is an opportunity for a bigger reward. There are a lot of moving parts to that. They did a good job.”
Playing out of position ‘part of the job’ in New England: Patterson has rightly gotten high praise from fans and media alike for his ability to move to and contribute at the running back position in recent weeks. Though he’s made his career carrying the ball as a returner and gadget runner on offense, Patterson has had to step up for an undermanned Patriots backfield. He’s the latest in a long line of players over the years who’ve played out of position or even on the other side of the ball out of necessity in New England.
Belichick was asked about Patterson’s willingness to step up to a new role, and the coach responded with an interesting answer that would certainly fall under the “Do Your Job” mantra that he’s made famous in Foxborough.
“I’ll just say, in all my years of coaching, and I guess unfortunately it’s been a quite a few, it would be very rare…there were so few example of it being any way but that,” Belichick said of players taking on any task that’s asked of them. “That’s just the way it is. Look, players want to play. Players want to help their team. Players want an opportunity to contribute. We all know that you have to do some things that maybe are secondary or third or fourth on the list, at times, in order to do the things that you want to do. Receivers have to block in order to catch the ball. Backs have to pass protect instead of being able to run the ball. You can’t carry the ball on every play anyway. Those things, they’re part of the job. I’ve been very fortunate to have players that, they’re all kind of like that. They want to help the team. They want to do whatever they can do, whatever you ask them to do whether it’s change roles on offense, defense or in the kicking game. But they want to contribute and they want to help in a way. A lot of times by helping somebody else it helps themselves. And there are certainly plenty of other plays where other people do the same thing for them. So it’s great, but I think it’s pretty common on the teams I’ve been on, in the world that I live in. That’s the way it is. If you ask a guy to do something he doesn’t come back and say, ‘I don’t really feel like do that.’ I mean that just really doesn’t happen.”