While there are a lot of uncertainties concerning what the Patriots will see from the Buffalo offense under the new coaching staff commanded by Doug Marrone, there is also a new, yet familiar, face running the Bills’ defense.
Marrone brought offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett with him from Syracuse University, and on defense, he turned to Mike Pettine, who was the Jets’ defensive coordinator the last four seasons. Under Pettine, the Jets finished in the top 10 in total defense each of the last four years, and were particularly sharp against the pass. With shutdown cornerbacks such as Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, Pettine was able to employ an aggressive blitzing scheme in New York.
So how much can the Patriots expect Buffalo to blitz in Sunday’s season opener?
“Quite a bit, percentage-wise,” coach Bill Belichick said in Tuesday’s conference call. “There are some tendencies that are stronger than others, but yes, blitz pickup will be definitely something that we need to work on this week, no question about it.
“This looks a lot like the Jets’ defense, just different. This year, Buffalo looks like the Jets schematically.”
Of course, the Patriots are facing a different personnel group in Buffalo, leaving Pettine to employ defensive backs Leodis McKelvin, Ron Brooks, Justin Rogers , and Stephon Gilmore (out six weeks with a broken wrist).
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels acknowledged their hard-nosed style and ability to jam receivers.
“We’ve played against and competed against McKelvin and Rogers before, and they do a good job of trying to disrupt timing at the line of scrimmage,” McDaniels said. “[Brooks] can run well on the perimeter also and plays very aggressively in a physical style when he goes inside in the nickel packages.
“This is a really talented group with great ball skills that’s not afraid to stand in there and make it hard for you. We know we’re going to have to play very well to move the ball in the air.”
In the four years Pettine was with the Jets, his defenses held opposing quarterbacks to an NFL-low 186.3 passing yards per game. They also forced the highest percentage of three-and-outs (29.4 percent) and held opponents to a 34.6 percent third-down conversion rate.
The ability to engineer a defensive scheme that pressures teams in third-down situations is a valuable asset for any team, but it will be particularly refreshing for Buffalo, which ranked fourth-worst in the NFL last season in allowing opponents to convert 44 percent of third downs.
According to McDaniels, what makes Pettine’s defenses so formidable is his ability to disguise coverage packages.
“They’re not going to give you a lot of easy yards,” McDaniels said.
“They have the ability to be very multiple when [Pettine] wants to be and change up their looks, their packages, their pressures, and those kinds of things.”
McDaniels is eager for the challenge.
“He’s a great coach, a great coordinator, and it’s always a big challenge when you get an opportunity to prepare and compete against one of his defenses,” McDaniels said.
From the start
When the Patriots acquired cornerback Aqib Talib from the Buccaneers last November, it didn’t take long for him to be appreciated in what was a struggling secondary. His impact only became more apparent when he was injured early in the 28-13 loss to Baltimore in the AFC Championship game.
The Patriots re-signed Talib to a one-year deal and have enjoyed having him around since the start of training camp.
“Very, very happy with his work and his ethic,” said defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. “This guy studies film, he really practices hard, he competes every day.
“Obviously, the more you’re here, the more we can get down and improve upon. It certainly is beneficial to have everybody as long as we can from the spring all the way through.”
The Patriots have an NFL-high 14 rookies on the 53-man roster, including a pair of Rutgers defensive backs, 22-year-olds Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan.
Talib, 27, is entering his sixth season and has the most NFL experience among the youthful secondary.
“He’s a good example on the field for those guys who are coming into the program to get in behind him and follow along,” Patricia said.
Taking a Mulligan
After cutting tight ends Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells Saturday, the Patriots signed Matthew Mulligan Tuesday. Mulligan, a four-year NFL veteran, was in camp with the Packers but was also cut Saturday. The 6-foot-4-inch, 267-pound Maine native and University of Maine product played in St. Louis last season, and spent three years with the Jets. “I look forward to figuring out how he can help us win from one week to the next,” McDaniels said . . . The Patriots signed a pair of offensive tackles, Jordan Devey and R.J. Dill, to the practice squad.