On paper, this was supposed to be an enticing matchup for the New England Patriots defense. Going up against an overrated Minnesota Vikings offense that averaged just over six yards per pass attempt, ranking 26th in the league before week 11 play, and an offensive line that has struggled this season and is without their starting left tackle, the Patriots defense was in a position to show that they were a top defense in the league. After all, they only allowed one touchdown in nearly 11 quarters of play before their matchup against the Vikings.
Unfortunately for a Patriots team that finally put multiple offensive touchdowns on the board (for the first time in exactly a month), the backbone of this team was exposed and continues a concerning trend that stretches a couple of years now. When facing up against representable quarterback play, the Patriots defense has let up big plays and long scoring drives repeatedly.
How many times have we heard how Bill makes the opposing offense play left-handed? He has devised game plans to do exactly that many times throughout his illustrious career. However, the game on Thanksgiving evening was not an example of that. It was almost the exact opposite as Justin Jefferson was turned loose, grabbing nine balls for a buck thirty-nine and the opening score. Check out the top football betting strategies for betting on the NFL.
Let’s dive into the film against the Vikings and analyze some of the key plays the Patriots defense gave up.
Kirk Cousins throw to Justin Jefferson for a six-yard touchdown
As I just mentioned before, Jefferson was a massive factor in this game. The Vikings, as they do so well, are marching down the field on their first drive when a crucial 3rd and 2 presents itself on the Patriots six-yard line. The Patriots send three to rush the passer and drop eight into coverage.
With the eight people in coverage, you would expect Jefferson to be double-teamed, right? Right? Ummm… sorry to be the bearer of bad news but Jefferson was in single coverage against cornerback Jonathan Jones. The Patriots were in man-to-man with zone defenders in the flats and in the middle of the endzone.
Thielen occupies McCourty, the middle defender, and Cook occupies the right flat defender. Cousins has all the time in the world (a common theme in this match) and finds Jefferson open in the middle of the field, who displays his toughness in diving through multiple defenders for the score.
Against one of the best receivers in the league, the Patriots decided not to bracket the Vikings best offensive player and it leads to a score.
Kirk Cousins intercepted by Jonathan Jones
One of the few times the Patriots got pressure on Cousins led to an overthrown ball that Jones easily picked off. A well-executed stunt by defensive tackle Daniel Ekuale and linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley led to Ekuale getting right in Cousins’ lap. Cousins cannot step up into this throw, and it sails on him.
The defensive coverage might have confused Cousins as well. Jonathan Jones was in man coverage on Jefferson but passed him off to two Patriots defenders and stuck in the zone above the intended receiver. One of the few positive and timely plays produced by the Patriots defense.
Kirk Cousins throw to Justin Jefferson for a gain of twenty-one yards
Rookie cornerback Jack Jones is aligned across Jefferson about ten yards off the line of scrimmage and indicating outside leverage against him. In a situation like this, you expect the inside defender to be aggressive since Jones has outside leverage and is giving him a large cushion. This indicates that Jones is responsible for anything deep and to the outside, while the inside defender should aggressively help on anything thrown inside.
Jefferson runs a well-timed dig route and has all the space in the world. Patriots safety Devin McCourty looks to be the one assigned as the inside defender, but is way too conservative and gets to Jefferson too late. Easy pitch and catch for Cousins and Jefferson for a large gain.
Kirk Cousins throw to Justin Jefferson for a gain of thirty-seven yards
This play is the one where Jefferson bursts through the double team of Jonathan Jones and Devin McCourty for a large gain on third down. This is the exact play you want to call in this scenario, but honestly poor execution by both Jones and McCourty but also an incredible play by Jefferson.
Jones and McCourty are in bracket coverage but both are caught on their heels and McCourty is too aggressive taking away the inside. This might have been an adjustment off of the play that I just explained, but I am not 100% sure about that.
Like I said though, McCourty takes too sharp of an angle and allows Jefferson to run right past him, and if Cousins hits Jefferson in stride, this would have been a long touchdown.
Kirk Cousins throw to Justin Jefferson for a gain of seventeen yards
Notice a trend yet?
Two plays later, Cousins connects with Jefferson for another large gain and I put this one squarely on the play-calling. The Patriots are in zone coverage on this play and Jefferson ends up in Bentley’s zone off a play-action bootleg. Check out the top football odds.
There is no world where Bentley consistently covers Jefferson in this coverage, so I am putting the blame on the coaching staff. This is the definition of NOT putting your players in a position to succeed.
Kirk Cousins throw to Adam Thielen for a fifteen yard touchdown
The Vikings only had one offensive possession in the third quarter, which led to a field goal. However, the Vikings score the go-ahead touchdown on the ensuing possession.
The touchdown play was a great throw by Cousins but also a miscommunication in the secondary. Jack Jones is aligned against Jefferson in man to man, but the Patriots defensive scheme allows for passing off of coverage to confuse the quarterback. It is an intricate system that requires excellent communication, but on this play the communication is not there.
Jefferson crosses the middle of the field, and two Patriots defensive backs are ready to pick him up as he goes from the offense’s left to right. However, Jack Jones stays on Jefferson instead of helping cornerback Jalen Mills, who is one-on-one against Thielen. A great ball by Cousins leads to a touchdown, and you can see Jones jump up in frustration as he knows that he did not do his job. Mills also get up after the play, visibly frustrated at Jack Jones.
What Did We Learn?
The Patriots defense has been feasting against the likes of Mitch Trubisky, Jared Goff, Jacoby Brissett, Zach Wilson and Sam Ehlinger. But against a quality quarterback in Kirk Cousins, they did not live up to their billing. Looking ahead, it does not get any easier. Starting with Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills this week, the Patriots defense will go up against Allen (twice), Kyler Murray, Derek Carr, Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa. If this team is going to get into the playoffs and make some noise, their defensive unit will need to play a lot better than it did on Thanksgiving.
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