Tag:Nate Solder
Posted on: January 29, 2012 12:54 am
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Super Bowl XLVI Preview: Patriots O vs. Giants D

Breaking news: Brady is key to the Pats winning. (Getty Images)
Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

It’s this side of the matchup that makes Super Bowl XLVI so compelling. New England’s juggernaut offense against the league’s best four-man pass-rush. Here’s the breakdown.



1. Relevance of rematch factor
What happened in Super Bowl XLII has virtually no bearing on this game. Yes, that game was decided by New York’s front four getting pressure on Tom Brady. And yes, front-four pressure will play a huge role in this Sunday’s game. But the pressure in Super Bowl XLII was schematically generated by the Giants’ inside blitzes (both feigned and real).

This approach compelled the Patriots’ help-blockers to work inside, leaving one-on-one matchups for defensive ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora outside. This was a brilliant strategy by Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo because it punished Brady for taking seven-step drops. Those seven-step drops were obligatory in an ’07 Patriots offense that was built around the vertical prowess of Randy Moss.

But as mentioned, that gameplan is now irrelevant, as the ’11 Patriots are built around the horizontal prowess of Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker. What IS relevant is the gameplan the Giants had in Week 9 when they went into Foxboro and forced four turnovers en route to a rare Patriots home loss.

New York’s Week 9 gameplan centered around physical coverage behind a four-man pass-rush. No surprise – that’s how the Giants are built to play. What’s important is to understand HOW the Giants executed this gameplan.

Considering New York’s personnel is basically the same now as it was in Week 9 (only better), there’s no reason to think they won’t go with the same approach again. Let’s dissect that approach.

2. The four-man rush
One thing that sets the Giant’s four-man rush apart – besides an insane collection of talent – is its mismatch-creating versatility. The Giants have used 27 different front four alignments this postseason.

Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul can both slide inside and work against overmatched guards (and every NFL guard, even Pro Bowlers like Logan Mankins and Brian Waters, is overmatched against athletes like JPP and Tuck). They can align linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka anywhere up front. They have a beastly all-around force in Chris Canty (and for what it’s worth, a solid duo of rotating run-stoppers next to him in Rocky Bernard and the underrated Linval Joseph).

Most quality four-man pass-rushes have guys who are either speedy or powerful; Pierre-Paul, Tuck, Kiwanuka and, by defensive tackle standards, Canty, are all speedy AND powerful. This is what creates their versatility, and it’s also what allows the Giants front four to tee-off rushing the passer without becoming vulnerable to the run.

Expect the Giants to jumble their front four looks as much as possible. They also might walk linebackers up to the line of scrimmage just to give Brady and his linemen something to think about. As we talked about last week, the key to beating Brady is to not just get pressure on him, but to make him consciously worry about his protection.

3. New England’s response to New York’s D-line
The Patriots, like 30 other NFL teams, will have their hands full with many of the individual front line matchups against New York. For an elite left guard, Logan Mankins can be surprisingly iffy in protection sometimes. Left tackle Matt Light often rises to the occasion against top-shelf speed-rushers, but it’s a lot to ask of the 33-year-old to block Osi Umenyiora on an island. On the right side, tackle Nate Solder struggled in pass protection last week against Baltimore.

In Week 9, the Patriots were obviously concerned about one-on-one situations in the trenches. They used six or seven offensive linemen on 20 snaps. In the first half, they often kept Gronkowski and, at times even de facto wide receiver Hernandez, in to pass-block. Don’t expect them to do that as much this time around.

New England’s offense has become even more spread-oriented, which means more pass-rush nullifying three-and five-step drop passes. Because of the skill players’ versatility, the hurry-up has become the Patriots’ main offensive attack. Expect them to use frequent hurry up in order to prevent the Giants from rotating defensive linemen.

The Patriots will likely go with their two-receivers, two-tight ends, one-back personnel, and they’ll have different groups of plays already packaged for whatever personnel the Giants defense responds with. A hurry-up will keep the same defensive personnel on the field for an entire series, forcing the 270-plus-pound D-linemen to play snap after snap after snap without rest. The hope is this wears the defense down late in the series and late in the game.

It’s vital that the Patriots win the battle on first and second down. Doing so makes the hurry-up offense more vibrant and, obviously, mitigates the substantial pass-rushing advantage that New York has on third-and-long. Winning on first and second down is hard to do consistently without running the ball at least a little. This is why New England will likely go with the 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends) as opposed to their new 02 personnel package (zero backs, two tight ends, three wide receivers).

Then again, Hernandez has been a surprisingly adroit ballcarrier ... perhaps a no-running back grouping is indeed viable. Or given that they’ve had an extra week to prepare, perhaps the Patriots will debut an all new offensive wrinkle (like they did after their last bye, with the Hernandez backfield packages in the divisional round against Denver).

4. New York’s coverage
The advantage of getting pressure with four is having seven guys to crowd the field in coverage. Few back sevens are as well-equipped to defend the Patriots’ pass game as the Giants’. They have athletic pass-defending linebackers (Michael Boley and Jacquian Williams) who can play laterally. More importantly, those linebackers can exert brutish force against any receivers running shallow inside routes. Those shallow inside routes are the backbone of New England’s passing attack.

The Giants also have versatile safeties who can (maybe) hang with Gronkowski and Hernandez. Deon Grant did a fabulous job on Gronk in Week 9 (he had a great pick in underneath coverage, and overall, Gronkowski’s impact was not as pronounced as his 101 yards suggested).

Antrel Rolle doesn’t run extremely well, but he’s agile enough to compete with Hernandez. In Week 9 Hernandez had not yet blossomed into the über-versatile weapon that he is today. So, Rolle actually spent most of that contest defending Wes Welker in the slot. Rolle got beat late a few times but also made some physical plays in the first half.

Physicality is a key concept. The Giants have capable press corners in Corey Webster and Aaron Ross. Webster is an outside defender who normally shadows the opposing team’s top receiver. Because Welker so often aligns in the slot, and because Deion Branch is not worth putting your best cover guy on, expect Webster to draw a litany of different matchups out wide. Same goes for Ross, who is actually more likely than Webster to cover Welker in the slot.

The Giants played more press-man than usual against the Patriots, and with good success. In the four games in which New England’s offense struggled the most this season, Brady’s completion percentage barely topped 50 when facing safety-help man coverage.

5. New England’s response
The Patriots know that aggressive press coverage can really disrupt the timing of their routes – an especially dubious scenario given that many of their routes are synched with other routes. Expect the go-to receiver to line up off the line of scrimmage as a means of creating more initial spacing (which makes it hard for a defender to deliver a jam). This could mean Welker in the slot, Hernandez in the slot or backfield, Branch in motion, etc. Play action could also take away inside help early in the routes, which bodes well for Welker:

This is an illustration of great route combinations. “Route combinations” refers to how one receiver’s route works hand-in-hand with another receiver’s route to exploit a specific coverage. This play shows a somewhat unusual case of an offense creating throwing lanes against man coverage with space-oriented route combinations (as opposed to regular man-beaters like pick plays, bunches or double crossing patterns).

It’s second-and-five. The Patriots are in a 1 x 2 set out of 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends). Judging by the cornerbacks, the Giants are in man coverage. This is confirmed when Rob Gronkowski goes in motion and Deon Grant follows him.

The matchup Tom Brady likes is Wes Welker against safety Antrel Rolle in the slot. Welker is going to run a deep cross. This is somewhat of a tendency-breaker, as most would expect Welker to run a shallow cross on second-and-five.

The primary intent of Gronkowski’s motion is NOT to verify the coverage, it’s to balance the formation and ensure that Grant will play close to the line of scrimmage. If he’s near the line, he’ll be unable to drop off Gronkowski and jump Welker’s route over the middle.

Don’t be surprised if the Patriots have their tight ends or running backs run patterns outside the numbers while the receivers run patterns inside. This would put pressure on the linebackers and safeties to play with more speed than power and make it more difficult for corners to count on a little help over the shallow middle (which most corners need). These inside-outside crossing elements are also natural man coverage beaters, which the Patriots must rely on.

Because Brady runs like he’s wearing ski boots, defenses facing New England don’t have to commit a linebacker to shadowing the quarterback. Thus, they essentially have one extra player at their disposal. The Patriots mitigate this defensive advantage by crafting creative route design concepts:

Upon the snap, there are two key elements:

1. Welker is coming out of the slot, not off the line of scrimmage. Thus, he has about two yards between him and Rolle, which is enough to prevent Rolle from exerting a physical jam.

2. Brady fakes a handoff to Danny Woodhead. This slows the pass-rush just enough to give Welker the time needed to execute his deep cross. More importantly, it distracts linebackers Mathias Kiwanuka and Michael Boley. They might be in a man-read assignment, meaning if Woodhead goes right, the linebacker to that side (Boley) picks him up. If he goes left, then Kiwanuka picks him up. In that case, the design of the run action was outstanding because, by starting Woodhead on the left side and running him off the fake to the right flat, the attention of both linebackers is drawn. That’s what happened here, as Boley and Kiwanuka both responded to the fake by stepping forward and becoming non-factors in this play.

(Note: It’s also possible that Boley had Woodhead straight-up, with Kiwanuka serving as a free-roaming lurk defender. If that’s the case, then Kiwanuka played this exceptionally poorly.)

Being drawn forward, the linebackers are unable to sense Welker’s crossing route and unable to give Rolle any sort of help inside. Thus, Rolle is caught playing too far outside.

On the left side, Gronkowski ran a very shallow out-route while Chad Ochocinco ran his out towards the sideline. Both of these routes were designed to widen the defense and create a big open gap for Welker.

Overall, this play had a combination of four routes working together: Woodhead’s flat on the right, Gronkowski’s out and Ochocinco’s fly on the left and Welker’s deep cross down the middle. The result: an easy 25-yard completion to arguably the league’s best slot receiver.

Again, the crossing patterns are natural man-beaters. So are bunch and stack alignments, which are great for pushing a defense into off-coverage and creating space for quick-striking throws. These tactics will replace a lot of would-be run plays in New England’s up-tempo offense.

Check our NFL expert picks for all the Super Bowl

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: December 24, 2011 1:54 pm
Edited on: December 24, 2011 1:55 pm
 

Patriots offensive line injured and in turmoil

MankinsBy Josh Katzowitz

With the playoffs coming soon, this is a bad time for the Patriots to lose multiple men off the offensive line. But today, that’s exactly what’s happened only a quarter into their game with the Dolphins.

Starting left tackle Matt Light was a surprising (and late) deactivation today after suffering an ankle injury in warmups, and left guard Logan Mankins, one of the best in the league, replaced him on the end of the line. But in the first quarter, Mankins hurt his left knee and left the game. He is questionable to return.

Already, New England -- which has fallen behind 10-0 -- was without right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, and now, the Patriots have to play with rookies Marcus Cannon and Nate Solder on the line.

After he got hurt, trainers looked at Mankins’ leg on the sideline, and during the course of their examination, Mankins took off his pants on the bench. Whatever that means, it’s probably not a great sign.


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Posted on: September 12, 2011 4:35 pm
Edited on: September 12, 2011 4:47 pm
 

7-Point Preview: Dolphins vs. Patriots

Posted by Will Brinson


1. Miami Dolphins (0-0) vs. New England Patriots (0-0)
Rumblings started to form on Twitter Monday that the Dolphins are taking a look at David Garrard. Even if this doesn't happen, it is perfect, because the Dolphins are in the middle of their 15th quarterback controversy of the year, and they haven't even played a game yet.

It's a mess in South Beach, theoretically, but there's reason to be hopeful. I continue to believe that Chad Henne can evolve into a good NFL quarterback. He's been freed from the shackles of Dan "Third and Draw" Henning and has been given "full reign" by new OC Brian Daboll to call audibles at the line of scrimmage.

Last season's game in Miami is viewed as a blowout. That's because the Patriots won handily, 41-14. But what folks don't remember is that without a Miami special-teams implosion, this game was actually pretty close.

The Patriots scored on a 103-yard kickoff return from Brandon Tate (no longer with New England) and a Kyle Arrington 31-yard blocked field-goal return. To dump a pound of salt in the wound, Patrick Chung also took a pick 51 yards to the house to finish off the rout. Take away those three touchdowns (I know, I know but just play along) and it's a much closer game in which Henne was respectable before getting pressed into throwing the ball in bad situations.

Add in the fact that he's got more versatile weapons (read: Reggie Bush) than 2010, and it's not unreasonable to expect an alright game out of Henne this evening. Brady, as you may know, is capable of doing damage to other teams.

2. What the Nerds and Degenerate Gamblers Say:
This is kind of amazing: according to Sportsbook.com, 94 percent of the public's money is on the Pats -7. If we were talking about the Pats money line, that's one thing. But we're discussing a seven-point road favorite playing a division rival who's beaten said favorite a bunch of times when they come down to Florida.

Things could go either way, really -- Tom Brady over the last six years (we're going six instead of five since he missed 2008) has vacillated wildly in Miami. In 2006 he went 12 of 25 for 78 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions. In 2007 he went 21 of 25 for 354 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. In that time, though, he's only 3-2 in Miami.

"He’s human, right?" Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake asked of Brady Sunday, per Omar Kelly of the Miami Sun-Sentinel. "He has two eyes and red blood? If you cut him, will he bleed? He puts his pants on one leg a time."

He may actually put his pants on differently and HOW DARE YOU TALK ABOUT TOM'S EYES, SIR? Er, wait, sorry. Yes, Brady is human. He's been vulnerable against the Dolphins in the past and he'll be vulnerable now.

There's no real logic why everyone's slamming their money after New England favored by a touchdown on the road even if they could easily cover, other than "the Patriots are always awesome, win games and usually manage to be flashy and smart while the Dolphins are typically the opposite and quite boring and therefore will lose."

3. Key Matchup to Watch
The aforementioned defensive end, Cameron Wake, is one of the scariest players in the NFL. Were it not for the Dolphins lacking relevance in 2010, Wake probably would have gotten pub as the Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL.

With Wake and Dolphins-turned-Jet-turned-dancer-t
urned-Dolphin Jason Taylor lining up to terrorize Brady, the Patriots offensive line has a serious task on its hands -- both left tackle Matt Light and right tackle (and rookie) Nate Solder, replacing starting right tackle Sebastian Volmer, will require additional help in doubling up on Wake.

Fortunately for the Patriots, they have a pair of tight ends who are capable receiving options and pretty good blockers in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, so don't be shocked to see lots of two tight end formations out of New England as they look to bolster their pass defense.

If Wake and Taylor crank up the pressure on Brady, the Patriots could be in a for long day, especially considering they aren't typically the type of team that counters quarterback pressure by pounding the rock. Their answer is a dynamic short-passing game that chews up clock and wears opponents down.

It's much harder to pull off if Brady's ending up on his ass every two or three plays and/or doesn't have time to get through his progressions. And when Brady slows his progressions down, the Patriots aren't pushing the tempo and the defense has more time to adjust and, generally speaking, a much better chance of stopping New England.

4. Potentially Relevant YouTube

So, this weekend some ridiculous bizness went down with the Notre Dame-Michigan game, in which roughly 735 points were scored in 10 seconds. Or something like that -- Denard Robinson (he of sure-fire future NFL Draft scrutiny!) led the Wolverines to a stunning victory. He then jumped in the crowd and a weirdo fan decided he need to rub Robinson's arm and share the magic with the world.

In case you're scratching your head, both Tom Brady and Chad Henne went to Michigan and they will need magic from their arms to win tonight. Do you see? (Via Spencer Hall's Alphabetical)



5. The Patriots will win if ...
They can protect Brady and give him time to get the ball in the hands of his playmakers and subsequently control the tempo against the Dolphins. The Patriots passing game was fine in the preseason, but Chad Ochocinco was a bit underwhelming (to say the least) and having him step things up in Monday night's would be pretty typical of how the Pats role with respect to bringing wide receivers and sandbagging their production before the season starts.

6. The Dolphins will win if ...
Reggie Bush makes the most out of his 20 touches. Well, he's supposed to get 20 touches anyway, and it's hard to imagine that if he's successful that this game won't be close. Bush not only can break off explosive plays, but his ability as a passcatcher out of the backfield will be tremendous for Henne -- he provides a safety valve and will keep the Patriots secondary honest and not able to double-team guys like Brandon Marshall.

7. Prediction: Patriots 24, Dolphins 17

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Posted on: August 1, 2011 8:59 am
Edited on: August 1, 2011 10:16 am
 

Patriots, Matt Light agree to 2-year deal

Posted by Ryan Wilson
 
It looks like Matt Light will again be protecting Tom Brady's blind side in New England. According to various reports, the left tackle agreed to a two-year deal with the Patriots Sunday night.

Light, 33, has played his entire 10-year career in New England and appeared to have no interest in leaving via free agency. He didn't visit other teams, although it wasn't immediately clear if the Patriots were interested in bringing him back.

The team selected offensive tackle Nate Solder in the first round of the April draft, a move that initially puzzled some draft experts because more polished, ready-to-start tackles like Anthony Castonzo and Gabe Carimi were available. Then again, in 2009 New England plugged rookie Sebastian Vollmer in at left tackle when Light went was injured and Vollmer played well.

For now, though, Solder remains unsigned and Light is back in the fold.

"Matt's been a good player for us for a long time," Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio told the Boston Globe Sunday.

It also means, as the Globe points out, that the five offensive linemen that ended the 2010 season return for 2011: Light, left guard Logan Mankins, center Dan Koppen, right guard Dan Connolly and right tackle Vollmer.

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Posted on: May 7, 2011 1:22 pm
 

AFC East draft truths revealed

Posted by Andy Benoit

One of the best things about the draft is that from it we can find out what teams really think about their current players. Excluding examples of teams filling obvious needs, here are some of the more revealing draft picks from 2011, with a quick blurb of what the team was really saying by making this pick.

Buffalo Bills

1st round, Marcel Dareus, DT, Alabama
Deep down we know we’ll never really run a 3-4 defense.

3rd round, Kelvin Sheppard, ILB, LSU
But just in case we do….

4th round, Da’Norris Searcy, SS, North Carolina
Replace Donte Whitner? Heavens no, we wouldn’t have him do that! We’ll have Searcy replace backup George Wilson…and let Wilson be the guy to replace Whitner.

Miami DolphinsM. Pouncey (US Presswire)

1st round, Mike Pouncey, G/C, Florida
We’re still not entirely sure if Richie Incognito is a guard or a center. So, we got an even better tweener to shape that decision around.

New England Patriots

1st round, Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
The hints of decline that veteran left tackle Matt Light showed last season are only going to get worse. No way we’ll pay him market value.
P.S. Sebastian Vollmer’s future is at right tackle.

2nd round, Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia
It’s a tradition around here to draft corners in the second round. Plus, Kyle Arrington has no ball skills.

2nd round, Shane Vereen, RB, California
We need to replace Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor. Also, we wouldn’t mind letting some other team overpay BenJarvus Green-Ellis once he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

3rd round, Stevan Ridley, RB, LSU
Just in case Vereen turns out to be a flop.

3rd round, Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
Even we’re not sure exactly why we did this. But we’ll figure something out.

New York Jets

4th round, Bilal Powell, RB, Louisville
We can’t shake the images of Joe McKnight throwing up at camp last year.

Check back throughout the week for other division’s Draft Truths Revealed. To see all Draft Truths Revealed, click the “Draft Truths” tag.

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Posted on: March 11, 2011 8:06 pm
Edited on: March 11, 2011 8:08 pm
 

Some comic relief: Solder blows up Broncos scout

Posted by Andy Benoit

With so much drama having exploded in the last few hours and with more surely to come in the next few hours, we’ll take advantage of this much-welcomed lull in the lockout action to pass along video of Denver Broncos scout Matt Russell (a former Colorado Buffalo) getting blown up by offensive tackle Nate Solder at Colorado’s pro day.



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Category: NFL
 
 
 
 
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