The Notebook: The New England Patriots' best kept secrets

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Forget Tom Brady, there are some other players from the Patriots to keep your eye on in the upcoming AFC Championship game, says retired NFL defensive end Stephen White. He also takes a look back at Andrew Luck's play in last week's Divisional round loss.

Andrew Luck is a fantastic young quarterback.

Andrew Luck blew the playoff game Saturday.

See, it's not that hard to acknowledge both of those truths.

When Luck was on, he was amazing in the Colts' loss to the Patriots. When he was bad, he threw the game away. Four interceptions -- it really should have been five -- is unacceptable at any time, especially against the Patriots in a playoff game. I will even let the last one slide, because the game was already over at that point and he was just trying to make a play. I can't excuse the other three that led to 14 points by the Patriots.

*peers back at the final score*

Yeah, that's exactly why.

So, let's look at the interceptions and break them down.

Luck_first_int_medium

There's blame to go around on this one. Luck decides to throw a quick slant. The nature of that throw is that the quarterback has to trust his wide receiver to beat press coverage and get inside no matter what. Was it the right read with Alfonzo Dennard lined up pressing LaVon Brazill?

No idea.

I do know that Brazill got jammed up at the line and ...

Luck_first_int2_medium

By the time Luck had released the ball ...

Luck_first_int3_medium

Dennard was inside waiting on it.

So that's partially on Luck and partially on Brazill for getting beat up at the line of scrimmage.

Luck_almost_pick_medium

That next picture wasn't a pick, but it should have been.

Hightower_int_medium

To start off with, the pass was behind his intended receiver. After that, we can talk about the fact that there are other eligible receivers who are open deeper down the field.

Hightower_int2_medium

Hell, the end zone view shows you that at least one of those other eligible receivers should have been in Luck's line of sight.

Don't get me wrong, great job avoiding the rush and everything, but that's a bad pass behind a fullback when there is a better option just behind him. Bad decision, bad throw, horrible result.

This last interception will dovetail with my discussion of the other problems the Colts had on offense Saturday.

Collins_pick_medium

The plan on this play was to get Coby Fleener up the deep middle (red circle) or complete the little short route (yellow circle).

Collins_pick2_medium

As you can see, Luck is throwing into double coverage (blue circles) so it behooves him to be perfect here.

He wasn't.

Collins_pick3_medium

It does appear, at first, that Fleener is open after he clears linebacker Jamie Collins.

But it only appears that way.

Collins_pick4_medium

Collins is so damn athletic that he turns and catches up to Fleener just in time to pick off the pass. A pass that was thrown a bit behind Fleener, by the way.

That was an amazing play by Jamie Collins on a day when he was amazing on more plays than not.

I love Brandon Spikes as a player. I think he has brought an attitude and an edge to that Patriots defense over the years, especially on run downs. I hope he packed all his belongings when they informed him he was going on IR because this Collins kid is the real deal.

What's interesting is that it seemed that the Colts went in looking to target Collins in the passing game. There was the back-shoulder fade up the right sideline to Fleener that he defended perfectly.

Luck_3rd_and_8_medium

Fleener (red line) is out wide with Collins covering him man to man. On the opposite side of the formation the two inside receivers are running quick slants. The yellow line comes open as the blue line attracts attention.

Luck_3rd_and_8b_medium

Luck tries a fade up the sideline to Fleener (red circle) instead of the open slant (yellow circle) on the opposite side.

Luck_3rd_and_8c_medium

There is Jamie Collins again showing perfect coverage on Fleener and preventing the completion.

There was also the audible where Luck tried to match Fleener up on Collins at the goal line for another fade.

Same result, incomplete.

While the Colts were looking to attack Collins, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia was returning fire with Collins, using him as a secret weapon. The Patriots must have noticed that the Colts send their center away from the offset running back in shotgun on passing downs. So they lined Collins up to the back and had him blitz or maul him at the line of scrimmage in coverage. Here is an early example.

Collins_blitz_medium

This is a pretty simple blitz. Defensive end rushes outside, defensive tackle stunts inside, leaving the B gap open for the linebacker (red circle) to run through and try to beat the running back.

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Collins just ran slap over Donald Brown on this play and got a hit on Luck.

Here is a later example when Collins had warmed up a bit.

Collins_sack_medium

Same basic setup except that this time the defensive tackle will rush through the B gap and the linebacker, Collins (red circle), will run through the A gap.

Collins_sack2_medium

Brown makes a strong attempt to cut Collins this time.

Collins_sack3_medium

It wasn't enough.

I don't even know how much I can blame Donald Brown on that sack. Hell, he did everything you teach running backs to do to try to cut a guy, but Collins just beat him. And I mean Collins was beating offensive linemen too when the opportunity arose, so he was an equal opportunity ass kicker. It was his pressure on Luck on a deep over pass to T.Y. Hilton that illustrates how strong Luck is for that matter.

Luck_strong_medium

That is the same kind of over route Luck missed earlier in the game.

Luck_over_medium

First Luck avoided the sack.

Luck_over2_medium

Then he avoided the first down by throwing the ball into the turf while trying to hit the short route instead of the over route.

If I'm going to talk about the bad with Luck, I don't mind talking about the good as well, and his touchdown pass to Brazill was a thing of beauty.

Brazil_td_medium

Brazill was lined up in the slot (red line), and the receiver outside of him (yellow line) runs inside on the snap and up the middle of the field to occupy the safety and to set somewhat of a pick for Brazill to run his wide go route.

Brazil_td2_medium

Not a great pick but there is some separation between Brazill and the defender.

Brazil_td3_medium

Then with the safety (blue circle) held by the deep middle route (yellow circle), Brazill (red circle) has single leverage against his defender. At this point it was all over.

Still, I have to ask why he can do great things like that then miss open guys like this when the game is on the line.

Luck_fail_medium

Want to complain about that Griff Whalen? Cool, I agree. I'd much rather talk about the other two routes (yellow circles) that were higher probability throws that Luck didn't throw to.

Flipping the script, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady didn't exactly set the world on fire either. 13-of-25 for 198 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions is pretty pedestrian for him. However, Brady didn't need to be a world-beater when his running backs were kicking ass and taking names all game. Thirty-five minutes time of possession is just crazy and it was mostly due to LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley running pissed off all game long.

I figured you wouldn't want to see a gazillion illustrations of running plays that gained 4-8 yards, so what I will show you first is what having a strong running game can do for you when you decided to throw a pass off play action.

Brady_pap_medium

Colts safety LaRon Landry (blue circle) got caught peeking in the backfield on this one. Danny Amendola (red line) took advantage.

Brady_pap2_medium

First off, it's single high safety, so why in hell is Landry in a hurry to come up for run support anyway?

Brady_pap3_medium

Second, if a safety bites that hard on play action, his next move better be to grab the wide receiver and tackle him. Can't be giving up extra yards when the receiver actually catches that deep ball. Take the flag and live to fight another down!

As far as diagramming running plays, there is one play I'm sure a lot of people want to know about and that is Blount's 73-yard touchdown.

My pleasure:

Blount_house_medium

Sometimes it's hard to tell what gaps the front seven have in a 3-4 defense. That is because guys could be two-gapping or could be not. What I can say is at this moment in that play, Robert Mathis (red circle) was inside of his block and forcing Blount outside, which was a good thing. A good thing because there were two Colts defenders (blue circles) outside waiting for him with their outside arm free, ready to make a tackle.

Blount_house2_medium

For whatever reason, Mathis peeked his head back outside, which opened up a cutback lane inside of him for Blount.

Blount_house3_medium

Once again Landry (blue circle) is up to the hole awfully quick from being the single high safety. I say that because usually when you're the single high safety, that means you are the last line of defense. Miss a tackle up near the line of scrimmage and, well ...

Blount_house4_medium

From the tape Landry seemed to gather himself getting ready for Blount to try to run over him. He didn't seem to be prepared at all when Blount went away from him and turned on the jets.

Blount_house5_medium

Po lil Tink Tink (blue circle)

This week's game between the Patriots and Broncos will be billed as Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning, but let me tell you one thing. If the Patriots can run the ball like this against the Broncos, who got a break with Ryan Mathews not being healthy last week, then what Brady or Manning does might not make much of a difference at the end of the day.

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