PATS REPORTER

Perry: 'Crush rush' is Pats' best hope to slow down Wilson

PATS REPORTER

If you get Bill Belichick going on Russell Wilson, it might be a while before the topic of conversation shifts elsewhere.

"I mean, this guy's a tremendous player," Belichick said this week. "Honestly, I think he's in a way maybe underrated by the media or the fans, I don't know, but I mean I don't really see anybody better than this player."

And he was only just getting started.

"He can do everything," Belichick continued. "He's got obviously great leadership, playmaking skills. He plays very well in the most critical situations in the game. His decision-making, running, passing. His passing numbers are extraordinary. You could put him up against anybody since he's been in the league, literally anybody, in any category, really. His winning percentage is impressive. He’s there for every game, never missed a game. 

"He's got a great, great ability to do the right thing at the right time. He has tremendous vision and sees the field extremely well. I don't think there's a better deep ball passer in the league in terms of decision making and accuracy. He attacks every, literally, every inch of the field you have to defend with him. The deep balls, the sidelines, his scrambles, his ability to get the ball to his playmakers and in space. And then you have to try to tackle him, which, that’s very difficult too."

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The Patriots have a massive challenge on their hands Sunday night in trying to slow down Wilson. That much is clear. But there is one way they can give themselves a chance of slowing him down: By actually ... slowing him down.

 

Keep him in the pocket. Don't allow him space to operate. Force him to throw to his receivers, backs and tight ends on schedule. Force him to challenge perhaps the deepest group of defensive backs in the league early in the play. 

It's easier said than done. But Belichick's defense has little other choice. If it allows Wilson five or six seconds to operate behind the line of scrimmage, even the league's best secondary will have a hard time sticking with its assignments. 

If turning to their "crush-rush" -- where defenders bull-rush their blockers back into the quarterback to crush the pocket and eliminate scramble lanes -- is the way to go, then the Patriots have plenty of film to dig into to show them good examples of what that looks like. 

They've crush-rushed against Josh Allen in Buffalo to limit his effectiveness with his legs and force him to become a pocket passer. They've done it against Patrick Mahomes, trying to limit the Chiefs quarterback from scrambling for yardage while simultaneously eliminating scramble-drill situations when Tyreek Hill or other Kansas City pass-catchers have an inordinate amount of time to uncover down the field.

But perhaps the best example of a consistent crush-rush in New England came the last time Aaron Rodgers and the Packers visited Foxboro. In that 2018 matchup, the Patriots bull-rushed blockers backwards to squeeze the pocket and take away Rodgers' ability to get creative behind the line of scrimmage.

The issue with Wilson, of course, is that he's good in just about every situation. He got the ball out quickly at times in Week 1, finding pass-catching back Chris Carson out of the backfield on screens and quick-hitters. He also worked the ball down the field from the pocket on fourth down, finding DK Metcalf for a long, on-schedule touchdown pass.

In 2019, Wilson was one of the best in the league regardless of situation. 

On dropbacks that lasted longer than 2.5 seconds -- including improvised scramble-drill attempts -- he had a quarterback rating of 102.2 and a 15-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

On dropbacks of less than 2.5 seconds, he completed a much higher percentage of his passes (74 percent versus 58 percent on longer drops), but his touchdown-to-interception ratio was equally ridiculous (16-to-2) as was his rating (111.5).

Even if the Patriots pressure Wilson with an emphasis on power -- rather than a rip-up-the-field-with-speed plan -- that doesn't guarantee anything. But it's better than leaving him unbothered behind center. 

The case for rushing Wilson

Wilson's 2019 passer rating with a clean pocket`
111.5
Wilson's 2019 passer rating under pressure
89.3

When kept clean, Wilson had a 114.5 rating (fourth in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus) last season. His 80.5 adjusted completion percentage was ninth, and he had a 21-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. 

Under pressure, he was still very good relative to the rest of the league. His rating was 89.3 (fourth), he had a 66.7 adjusted completion percentage (seventh) and a 10-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

 

Good. But not superhuman. 

That may be the best the Patriots can hope for as they take on arguably the league's top quarterback on Sunday Night Football. And going to their crush rush -- which has worked against mobile quarterbacks in the past -- might be the best approach.