January 30, 2017


Fighting Flexibility With Flexibility (Danny Kelly, Jan. 30th, 2017, The Ringer)

The key to Atlanta's success this year has been its ability to identify the opposition's weakness, and then attack it with both the run and the pass from the same formations. Matt Ryan has a potent mix of multifaceted players at his disposal -- tight ends that can block and catch, a running back duo that can run and catch. As such, the Falcons balanced a seventh-ranked rushing attack with a league-best passing offense.

Opposing defensive coordinators just never know when the Falcons are going to throw or when they're going to pass. So, do you bring out your base defense against multi-running-back or multi-tight-end looks and risk losing effectiveness in coverage? Or do you bring in an extra defensive back and lose that size and strength against the run?

But maybe New England's figured out what to do when faced with an impossible question: refuse to answer it.

The Patriots' versatility starts with the variety of their scheme. Nominally, New England has run a 4-3 scheme for the past several years, but it's common to see Belichick and Co. tailor the defensive design to the skill sets of the available talent. On Sunday, we'll see elements of both the 4-3 and the 3-4, and on some plays, we'll even see 4-3 and 3-4 principles combined into a unique one-gap/two-gap hybrid. In a league where traditional position designations grow ever more irrelevant, New England's defense has been the archetype of adaptability.

Like just about every other defense in the league right now, the Patriots' base defense has five or more defensive backs on the field, whether it's a "big-nickel" package (which features three safeties), a nickel look (with three cornerbacks), dime personnel (with six defensive backs), or some other permutation. But the Patriots don't run those subpackages like everyone else. By moving Flowers, Hightower, Ryan, Chung, and McCourty around based on opposing personnel groups and formations, the Patriots can match up with whatever the offense presents.

Posted by at January 30, 2017 9:51 AM