Student assistant Mike Rodak takes a look at the television copy of Thursday night’s preseason game against the Falcons and offers some of his second-quarter observations:
1. An important part of run defense in a 3-4 alignment is “setting the edge.” The outside linebacker in the scheme typically fills this role, which requires meeting a blocker a few yards deep at the edge of the formation to prevent the ball-carrier from bouncing outside. OLB Marques Murrell was unable to set the edge on one such run, getting pushed back by TE Tony Gonzalez and allowing RB Michael Turner to cut back and turn the corner. Thin at outside linebacker, this skill is vital in the team establishing an effective run defense.
2. Early in the second quarter, the Falcons shifted to a no-huddle offense, which appeared to give the Patriots some problems communicating their defensive calls. On one play, the Falcons lined up with TE Justin Peelle uncovered in the slot. OLB Derrick Burgess moved outside, off the tight end, to cover Peelle, but released Peelle at the snap and blitzed. Peelle was left open and picked up a first down with a 14-yard reception.
3. Veteran RB Fred Taylor, seeing his first action of the preseason, showed elusiveness and an ability to break tackles. On one outside power run, Taylor put a quick juke move on unblocked Falcons safety Erik Coleman to avoid what would have been a loss on the play.
4. Rookie TE Aaron Hernandez continued to show impressive athleticism. Lining up in the backfield for one play in the second quarter, Hernandez caught a pass in the flat, with OLB Sean Weatherspoon trailing in coverage. As Hernandez turned upfield, he sensed Weatherspoon coming after him and planted one foot forward before pulling backwards. That caused Weatherspoon to overpursue and allowed Hernandez to pick up a few extra yards and a first down.
5. On Friday, coach Bill Belichick voiced his disappointment with the team’s seven negative rushing plays in the game. An example came when the Patriots were deep in Falcons territory and attempted to run with Fred Taylor. LT Matt Light pulled to his right, and TE Rob Gronkowski was unable to block LE John Abraham, who was lined up over Light and stopped Taylor in the backfield. Abraham was assisted by DT Trey Lewis, who easily beat RG Stephen Neal on the play.
6. On the fumble by QB Tom Brady in the second quarter, two factors were at play. The first was the route by WR Randy Moss on the play, which tracked him down the sideline and into the end zone. Brady first pumped towards Moss’ direction before trying to throw as he got hit. The pressure came from LE Kroy Biermann, who was pushed inside by RT Sebastian Vollmer after DT Jonathan Babineaux stunted and threatened to beat Vollmer outside. This led to the second factor: RG Stephen Neal, who was dealing with Babineaux, was not in a position to accept Biermann, who was able to get to Brady. Later, Brady and Moss were seen discussing the play, suggesting there was something more than just pressure and a hard hit to force the fumble.
7. The Patriots continue to look beyond outside linebacker for ways to generate a pass rush. On a first down during a two-minute situation late in the second quarter, ILBs Brandon Spikes and Eric Alexander both blitzed out of the team’s sub package. The pressure forced QB John Parker Wilson out of the pocket, holding him to a one-yard gain on the scramble.