Sam Ehlinger is getting an early, inside look at the Patriots’ defense
November 3rd, 2022
Bill Belichick facing young quarterbacks has been one of the biggest mismatches in the NFL over the last two decades. After sending Zach Wilson through a three-interception gauntlet last week, Beliclhick and his defense get another chance to face an inexperienced passer this week in Colts quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
Ehlinger was a sixth-round pick by the Colts in the 2021 NFL Draft – the same draft the Patriots took Mac Jones 15th overall. He appeared in three games as a rookie, but played just 18 snaps without throwing a pass. He was named the starter last week, and completed 17 of his 23 pass attempts for 201 yards without a touchdown or interception in a loss against the Washington Commanders.
Needless to say, Ehlinger is pretty raw as he prepares to face a Patriots defense that ranks 12th in the league in scoring, and has forced a league-high 16 turnovers. However, he does have a valuable resource at his disposal, one that is intimately familiar with what he’ll likely see on Sunday.
As ESPN’s Stephen Holder shared on Twitter, the first Ehlinger did when game prep began in earnest on Wednesday was sit down with current Colts cornerback and former Patriot Stephon Gilmore. Holder added that the point of the conversation was “to discuss the details of the New England defense and Bill Belichick’s tactics.”
“Ehlinger added that when preparing for most teams, you can kind of familiarize yourself with players’ numbers so you know who is where,” Holder added on Twitter. “But, he said, with the Pats, you can’t use that approach because they so often change lineups and personnel groupings from week to week.”
Since joining the Patriots in 2000, Belichick has been tasked with preparing for a first-or-second-year starting quarterback 90 times. The Patriots are 71-19 in those games, with those quarterbacks on average completing 54.6 percent of their passes for 268.8 yards per game, with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 89-to-107.
A big part of the way the Patriots have traditionally confused young quarterbacks is by rotating their coverage, moving cornerbacks and safeties into new assignments after the snap. That’s not something that’s done much at the college level, and adapting to it is usually one of the biggest adjustments young quarterbacks have to make.
Given it’s been just over a year since the Patriots traded Gilmore. With no changes made on the coaching staff since, it seems likely that many of their rotation philosophies – which Gilmore would have been deeply involved in – will be similar if not identical to what they were during his tenure. Will Gilmore’s advice be enough to help Ehlinger sort it all out? We’ll see on Sunday.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarthor via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.