How the Patriots could fool Chargers star Justin Herbert on Sunday
When Bill Belichick praised Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert before Sunday’s game, there’s no need to wonder if it was real.
“I don’t think you’ll find much better than him,” Belichick said this week. “This guy is really an impressive player… I have a lot of respect for him. I think he will be one of the best midfielders in the league for a long time to come.”
Belichick is right in this respect: Herbert He is the 15 best player in the NFL In terms of passing yards and touchdowns seven weeks into his second season.
And at 23, Herbert is still young as a player, which means the Patriots may have some defensive things the young star might not expect.
New England certainly benefited from it last season during a 45-0 defeat in Week 13. Of course, Belichick said he doesn’t count on keeping Herbert to 3.9 yards per pass attempt without touchdowns and interceptions again.
But some plays from last week’s game plan against Zach Wilson – another talented still-green quarterback – may give a glimpse into how the Patriots are playing against Herbert in hopes of giving him trouble again.
Some of the defensive tendencies of the Patriots are well known. For example, they like to play with the man covered by one high cabinet. Their three main players this season – JC Jackson, Jonathan Jones and Jalen Mills – have played the league’s highest men’s coverage rates among corner players with more than 64 cover captures, According to Pro Football Focus.
But just because Bates usually run self-defense coverage doesn’t mean that every opponent gets what they expect.
In this third inning in their opening campaign against the Jets, the Patriots defense tricked rookie quarterback Zach Wilson with some superb trick after snap.
The New England defense shows a one-shot pre-hit high with Devin McCourty midfield and Adrian Phillips playing on the single receiver side. This refers to Cover 1, where McCourty plays deep center with the man covered on all possible receivers and either an extra man is sent after Wilson (traditional cover 1) or falls short (the “robber” cover 1).
The Patriots go with the “robber,” but not in the way Wilson would expect.
They send out four passes, with nickel cornerback Miles Bryant coming in for a blitz. McCurry descends from his solo high position to fill in Bryant on the Jets’ future Jamison Crowder. Meanwhile, Phillips is back in charge to replace McCurty in the deep middle.
Perfect play call. The Jets, anticipating the man’s coverage, played a “choice” play from the outside, hoping to prevent Bryant from covering the Crowder’s wheel track. But Bryant comes on offense as McCurty easily blocks the wheel’s path from above, forcing Wilson to eat the ball for a sack.
Another way to get Herbert to hold the soccer ball on the pass: Put extra men in cover. The Patriots did so on a few occasions against Wilson, resulting in an incomplete.
But the key to the New England eight-man cover packages is that they stay aggressive with the three men chasing a quarterback.
This is an example of the second attack aircraft command.
In the second and long half, the Patriots play man-covering one high safety against an empty New York formation but add two area defenders — Matthew Goodon to the left of the defense and Kyle Duger on his right — to block crossing paths.
There’s actually a bit of a cover-up bust as Bryant and JC Jackson momentary double-team slot receiver Braxton Berrios before Jackson set out to take Crowder on the flat.
But the Jets can’t take advantage of that because of what New England does up front: Kyle Van Noy comes in on a blitz, grabs the center’s attention and gets a piece of the left guard in his slash lunge, freeing Christian Barmore. To jump inside and impose a foul from Wilson.
The Patriots ran a similar play at the end of the same drive as the planes were flying into the red, making another incomplete and escaping without giving up a point where Matt Amendola’s kick missed wide.
Herbert, of course, is a lot better than Zach Wilson at that point in their career. He will also be keen to study what the Patriots did to him personally last year as well as what New England did with Wilson last Sunday.
But the Patriots have shown they can challenge even the league’s best quarterbacks when they play defensively, holding Tom Brady at times in Week 4.
This defense will definitely need to bring an A-plus effort to the table if they are to contain Herbert and foul the top 10 assists this weekend.
Subscribe for Patriots updates?
Get breaking news and analysis in your inbox during football season.