Patriots

Patriots

FOXBORO – OK, Redskins week. They are, as you may suspect, like the other 26 or so teams toodling around the league with no prayer at getting to Super Bowl 50 this season or by the end of the decade. TBH.

They’re coming off a win. A stirring, 31-30 comeback after trailing 24-7 at halftime. The opponent? Tampa Bay. The game before that, they lost 34-20 to a Jets team the Patriots had only minor difficulty with. So it’s exceedingly hard to locate the booby trap Washington can spring on the Patriots that makes them a team to take seriously on Sunday.

And that’s one thing that’s been different about the Patriots this season and in 2014. In 2010, ’11, ’12 and ’13, teams had a puncher’s chance of hanging in with the Patriots because the New England defense – while decent – wasn’t dynamic. Now it is.

Which is what strikes Redskins coach Jay Gruden as they get ready to visit Foxboro.

“What impresses me is their physicality, really,” he explained. “You’re not just talking about the big guys (like) Chandler Jones, I think their linebackers are extremely physical. I love the way they play. Their secondary gets their hands on you, they reroute you and they cover man-to-man. I mean, [Dont’a] Hightower’s obviously a force. Jamie Collins is playing excellent. But they do it with a lot of different guys. You know, [Rob] Ninkovich is steady. Then, they have a bunch of defensive linemen that come in there easily. They’ve got guys, Malcom Brown, these guys are all coming in and playing and producing. Everybody who seems like they play over there produces. They do what they’re supposed to do and they play well. It’s a great team defense, great concepts that they have. You take away the good players and they compete.”

The Patriots – at least against Miami – had that feeding frenzy vibe on defense. The pass rush came in waves, the deep secondary was ballhawking and the throw-it-to-the-flat game plan was sniffed out and squished by the linebackers and corners.

The Patriots are far more aggressive defensively now than they’ve been in the past in terms of sending blitzes and trying to create havoc once they get ahead.

Asked about pressure, Gruden said, “You want to stay out of third down a lot of times. I think they’re going to have some A-gap (blitz) success here and there. The big thing is whether it’s your running back or your guard stepping down and protecting, whoever steps up and picks them up has got to have their pad level down because I’ve seen Hightower run people flat over and same with Jamie.
 
“They do an excellent job in there, but whoever’s responsible for those guys, they’ve got to be ready to buckle up and get their pads down,” he continued. “It’ll be a great matchup for them but I think the big key is to stay out of third downs — third down and longs, third down and mediums — where it gives them the freedom where they can get in the A-gaps and blitz and they don’t have to really worry about the runs and all that good stuff.”
 
The Patriots are more creative and aggressive now than from ’10-’13 because they have A) better players and  B) more experienced players who understand the overall scheme.
 
“When you go through their personnel, I just see a lot of guys who are smart football players and are instinctive and aware,” said Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins. “I have a lot of respect for them because at this level everybody runs fast and while, yeah, you want to find guys who run 4.3s, not everybody has that. So what you really want is guys who are smart, who are aware, who understand the game. I see their defense being filled with guys like that. On top of it, they’re well coached. When they have that much ability and experience and instincts and well-coached, you're going to be a productive defense.”