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What Defensive Scheme Can The Patriots Use In Week One To Limit Tyreek Hill And Jaylen Waddle?

It is officially game week for the New England Patriots! On Sunday, September 11th, Mac Jones and the Pats will face off against the refurbished Miami Dolphins who feature the quickest receiving core in the game. How should the Patriots lackluster secondary limit the passing game in this crucial Week 1 matchup?

On Twitter, there are typically three stages to a blockbuster NFL trade: shock, mayhem, and realization.

After Adam Schefter tweeted that Tyreek Hill was being traded to and extended by the Miami Dolphins on March 23rd, everybody was completely flabbergasted. Well, I correct myself, everybody except for Patriots fans were completely flabbergasted. You see, New England fans skipped right to the last stage: realization. Tyreek Hill was going to be in their division until 2027.

As surprised as we were, I have no doubts that Bill Belichick was upset when this trade came through. Stopping Jaylen Waddle is hard enough, but now stopping Tyreek Hill as well? It seems impossible. Regardless, football, and life in general, is all about trying your best even when the odds are stacked against you. Thus, here is the ideal scheme for stopping this painfully good receiving duo on the Dolphins.

How Should The Patriots Limit Tyreek Hill?

Before they begin to scheme anything, the Patriots coaching staff needs to clarify who the best receiver is on the Dolphins. Unless they see something that 99% of the NFL doesn’t see, then they’ll choose Hill as the WR1. Once they’ve done that, then they can start using the same double-team scheme that they used against Kansas City when Hill was still with them.

Essentially, the double-team scheme would consist of a Cover One/Cover Three look that turned into man coverage as the play developed. The single safety on the field, typically lined ten yards off of the ball, would act as a safety net for the corner who was manned up on Tyreek Hill. As shown in the Tweet below, this scheme worked really well.

Really excited about Monday's drop, so here's a cutup of the Patriots using true double-teams vs Tyreek Hill. Big part of their AFC Championship game plan in 2018 and showed up once the last time they played in 2020 — Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) September 3, 2022

When the scheme wasn’t used against the Chiefs, then disaster unfolded, resulting in chunk play after chunk play. Take a look at the second Tweet in this thread:

For reference, this is what Tyreek Hill had done to the Patriots up to that point. Never seen someone run through a NE defense the way he did in those first two matchups — Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) September 3, 2022

The only problem with this scheme is that it allows for other receivers to be frequently placed in one-on-one situations. But as we saw in the video, if you have talented corners who aren’t at the top of the depth chart, this won’t be a problem. Obviously, now that times have drastically changed and the depth chart for the cornerbacks doesn’t look nearly as good for the Patriots as it did then, this scheme has a lot more room for failure. Some luck and top-tier performances by Patriots defensive backs is going to be needed in order for this to work.

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How Should The Patriots Limit Jaylen Waddle?

Now that we’ve figured out how to limit Tyreek Hill, we have to figure out how to limit Jaylen Waddle. Since we will mostly be running man coverage for the Hill scheme, that will leave Waddle in a one-on-one situation most of the time. The only way you can limit these one-on-one openings is by rotating through several different coverages depending on the down.

For starters you can run the same Cover 1, 5 rush look as before without double-teaming Hill. This will definitely be a lot riskier and might allow more yards, but at least it will evenly distribute coverage to every receiver and allow the defense to focus on lower-end targets.

You can certainly run Cover 3 and rush four out of the same look as well. This would provide a lot more stability for shorter, more underneath routes while still giving decent support for deep balls. If the pass rush is quick enough and Waddle’s route coincides with the zone of a Patriot back, then this coverage could prove to be effective on some occasions. Considering the raw skill and elusiveness of Waddle, this coverage could also fail, even if his route coincides with the zone of an opposing back.

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Cover 3 (via Inside The Pylon)

There are a few different variations that could limit Waddle, but the short answer is that you really have to trust your corners to limit him since the main focus is on Hill and his defensive scheme. I am sure that Waddle will have more yards than Hill in this game if the Patriots run the scheme we talked about.

How Frequently Should The Different Schemes Be Used?

It’s common football knowledge that you can’t run the same defensive play again and again in a game. It may work in backyard football games or even some high school football games, but if you pull this in the NFL, offensive coordinators will easily be able to exploit your defense simply by identifying the repetitiveness in coverage and alignment.

Hence, this is how the Patriots should chop up their defense for Sunday’s game

  1. 25% Hill Scheme (Cover 0, rush 5, double Hill using corner and safety)

  2. 25% Cover 3 (see above)

  3. 25% Cover 1 (same alignment as the Hill Scheme but there is no double team)

  4. 25% miscellaneous defense (Scenario-dependent defense: blitzes, Cover 4, etc.)

Follow me on Twitter, @patsdowney!

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