Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images
Drew Lock is welcomed back with a huge test. Is he ready?
To get a better idea what they have in front of them Sunday I reached out to Mark Schofield. A recovering attorney with work you’ll find at places like Inside the Pylon, Big Blue View, Pats’ Pulpit, and USA Today, Schofield brings a unique insight to this matchup.
1st and 10
How would you gameplan for Drew Lock if you were Bill Belichick?
Schofield: I still think you approach this game if you’re Bill Belichick with the same general idea. With younger quarterbacks, my thinking is that the more you make them think, the better off you are going to be. The conventional wisdom is that when facing a young quarterback you blitz them to artificially speed up their thought process, and last week’s Ravens’ game plan against Joe Burrow is an example of that thinking. But you have to be creative with how you do it. Because if you are telegraphing blitzes, you simply give the young QB a chance to get to hot reads, and you in essence make their thinking easier.
So you need to be creative. Blitz in unconventional ways so the quarterback has to read and react. Then play zone coverages in the secondary so the quarterback is forced to work through reads and not just play matchups.
The caveat there is that Belichick considers Cover 1 the Patriots’ bread-and-butter, so he might not move away from that as much. However, he does play a lot of zone against Kansas City, so he could do that against Denver.
2nd and 10
Outside of Garett Bolles, the Broncos’ offensive line has had a rough start to the season. Are there any matchups up front that you really like for New England?
Schofield: Interestingly enough, the Patriots rely more on scheme than talent to win up front. Although two players have stood out so far: Lawrence Guy on the interior and Chase Winovich off the edge.
What we have seen most often from New England is the use of three-man fronts, with John Simon and Winovich along with often Ja’Whuan Bentley as the linebackers. Lots of 3-3-5 and 3-2-6. Often daring teams to run the football.
A wildcard in this game could be Derek Rivers. He was loved by many coming out of college, for what he did at Youngstown State on film and his performance at the Senior Bowl. But he has battled injuries during his time in the NFL. He added some strength and quickness this offseason, and that has translated well for him.
3rd and 10
Last week you mentioned that 31 is the first person you’re looking for. Why is that, and how do you think Justin Simmons can make things harder for the Patriots?
Schofield: Well, I always approach studying film from this starting point: I put myself into the shoes of the quarterback walking to the line of scrimmage. Where are my eyes going first when I scan the defense?
For two reasons. First, Denver has done a pretty good job of rotating their coverage and spinning their safeties at the snap. From my charting – which I will concede might not be 100% accurate but I’d stand by it as being darn close to that – Simmons has aligned as a middle field safety pre snap on 51 plays, 17% of his 298 snaps. But he has played a middle of the field role on 56% of his plays, or 166 snaps. That gives you an inkling of how much they are spinning their safeties at the snap. So finding Simmons, both pre- and post-snap, is the first step to figuring out what they are doing in coverage.
Beyond that, the guy I’m most worried about in terms of making a big play against me is Simmons. He does a good job at reading the QB’s eyes in that single-high role, and when asked to execute in more man coverage situations (whether pure man or match or zone schemes with man principles like Cover 4) he is adept at getting to the catch point and disrupting the play.
So yeah, I want to know where he is at all times.
4th and 3
What do you think Pat Shurmur ought to do against this defense?
Schofield: First the general, then the specific. I think any offensive coordinator with a young quarterback needs to do two things to help them: Motion and play-action. Motion, both for information and impact as Dan Orlovosky terms it, is one of the cheat codes that you can give a QB. If you’ve played Madden recently and you’ve played around with the gamebreaker traits they have on quarterbacks, one of them allows you to see the defensive coverage presnap. There’s a way to do that in the NFL: Put guys in motion, and align players in non-traditional spots. For example, if you line up in empty and put a running back out wide in a wide receiver’s alignment, what can that tell you? If you see a linebacker across from him, they’re in man coverage. If there’s a cornerback, they’re likely in zone. Or if you send a player in motion, and somebody trails him across the formation. That gives you the zone/man read.
Then there’s play-action, which I strongly believe is another cheat code. Whether you are successful running the ball or not, using play-action effectively creates bigger throwing windows, provided you sell it. That comes from the guys up front. Linebackers and safeties are reading the guards, not the quarterback. So if the guards sell run well, you’ll create those throwing windows.
Specifically against New England now, you have to remember that Belichick is going to take away what you do best and make you fight with one arm behind your back. This week that might mean lots of cones and brackets on Jerry Jeudy to take him out of the game. So you’ll need to find another way. A recommendation: The screen game. If there is a weakness with New England it is at the second level. Get the running backs involved with screens and option routes, and take advantage. Don’t force throws in the direction of guys like J.C. Jackson and Stephon Gilmore, you’re just asking for trouble.