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Patriots first-quarter review: What led to protection breakdowns on sacks?

Picked-up pieces from a first-quarter review of the New England Patriots' 17-16 win over the New York Jets on Sunday:

1. On the first of four Tom Brady sacks (13:49), which ended the first drive on third-and-3, it was a case of the Patriots not communicating and identifying where the Jets’ rush was coming from, more so than a lack of physical execution. The Jets had six in the box, and only two were down linemen (defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson was in a two-point stance), which helped disguise the mike linebacker as Brady attempted to set the protection. This is where the confusion seemed to start. The Jets overloaded the offensive right side but ultimately brought just a three-man pressure to the opposite side. The Patriots’ offensive line slid to the right, away from where the rush was coming. Credit to the Jets, but the Patriots can also execute much better than that.

2. The second sack appeared to be more of a physical breakdown on a five-man rush than a result of any communication or identification issue. Tackles Marcus Cannon (left) and Sebastian Vollmer (right) were beaten rather cleanly, with Cannon potentially having a minor beef that Quinton Coples had his hands illegally in his face. Still, the play had little chance because of the multiple breakdowns across the line.

3. The third sack goes into the category of more communication and identification, as defensive back Antonio Allen blitzed late off the right side and tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Shane Vereen had some confusion on what to do. Specifically, it looked like Gronkowski’s indecision on who to pick up -- Allen or rushing linebacker Demario Davis -- was a key factor The Jets timed it up well, and when left tackle Nate Solder blocked down, it created a situation where the Patriots’ five linemen were blocking just two rushers, while Gronkowski and Vereen were in one-on-one blocking situations against Allen and Davis. Nice scheme by the Jets. At the same time, the Patriots can execute better.

4. Brady’s ability to read the defense pre-snap is one of his greatest strengths. The Jets looked like they got him on that initial third-down play (13:49 sack), but one example of Brady’s excellence in this area came on his 13-yard pass to Brandon LaFell (4:49) when he turned back and pointed to running back Jonas Gray on which player Gray was responsible for blocking (safety Dawan Landry). That gave the play a chance, even as Gray struggled to hold the block a bit.

5. The Patriots’ defensive mindset was clear when the Jets opened the game in a three-receiver package and it was matched in a 5-2 base defense with three big defensive tackles in Vince Wilfork (6-2, 325), Sealver Siliga (6-2, 325) and Alan Branch (6-6, 325) aligned between the tackles, flanked by ends Chandler Jones (6-5, 265) and Rob Ninkovich (6-2, 260). That’s a lot of beef up front, and you usually see the Patriots match a three-receiver package with either a nickel package or a lighter base unit. This was all about stopping the run and making Geno Smith beat them, which he couldn't do when it counted.

6. Chandler Jones was excellent in the running game, with one example coming when he got his hands into Jets tight end Zach Sudfeld, pressed him into the backfield and helped shut down the edge on a Percy Harvin 1-yard run out of the Wildcat (10:37). That was a physical play from Jones to set up third-and-9, and then he followed it up on the next drive by staying home on Harvin’s jet sweep (7:41) to drop him for no gain.

7. One player you might not expect was showing up around the ball: safety Tavon Wilson. He played nine snaps overall and looked like he had the good read in coverage on the initial third-down stop (13:49) and then had the awareness to locate Smith to end the Jets’ third drive (7:08) when Smith tucked and scrambled.

8. The Patriots were ready for the fake punt following the Jets’ third drive, leaving defensive tackles Wilfork, Branch and Chris Jones, among others, on the field as New York punted from its own 47. They usually aren’t on the punt return unit. The Jets punted it away, but this reflected how the Patriots were expecting the unexpected throughout.

9. The Patriots were determined to get their running game going on their second drive, using a sixth offensive lineman on the first two snaps. But a Gray run of minus-2 yards on second down set up third-and-8, and the leakage up front came off the right side, where offensive tackles Vollmer and Solder aligned side by side and Solder got caught lunging. It looked like the Patriots were trying to sell a run to that power side of the formation, with the intention of the cutback, but Calvin Pace blew it up by busting through the strong side on Solder.

10. Akeem Ayers was limited to just five snaps on defense, but he led the club with two special-teams tackles. His primary contributions came on special teams in this game, as he was on the field at various parts of the game on each of the Big 4 units -- kickoff coverage, punt coverage, kickoff return and punt return. Ayers made a solid tackle on the game’s opening kickoff, dropping the dangerous Harvin, to announce his presence.

11. One area to give the Jets’ defense credit: Tackling Gronkowski. That isn’t the easiest assignment, but the first two Patriots offensive plays showed they were sound in that area (linebacker David Harris, then cornerback Darrin Walls limiting any yards after catch).