Mac Jones must deal with both the reality and illusion of Miami’s pressure packages. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)
Back in September, Jakobi Meyers spoke of a personal offshoot from Matt Patricia’s unconventional switch from play-calling on one side of the ball to the other: having been there and done that, Patricia should have a good idea of how opposing defensive coordinators see the game.
“For me, personally, just hearing him talk about (defense), it allows me to kind of see what defensive guys are thinking,” Meyers said to Dakota Randall of NESN.com. “Just why they would do this — not just what they’re doing, but why they would do it and, like, how I could possibly beat it if I know why they’re doing it. So, I think his defensive perspective is a great help.”
To date, as it’s turned out, any possible benefit in that regard has been outweighed by the inefficiencies and deficiencies of the Pats offense. But if there’s ever a time sideline mind games between Patricia and his counterpart might be relevant, it’s this Sunday’s matchup with Miami.
The Dolphins defense is coordinated by Josh Boyer, a contemporary of Patricia and his longtime colleague in Foxborough. Both broke into the NFL with the Patriots. When Patricia rose to defensive coordinator in 2012 and remained in the role through 2017, Boyer was under him coaching the team’s cornerbacks.
“Josh and I are very close,” an under-the-weather Patricia said hoarsely on Tuesday. “We have a great friendship and respect for each other, certainly through football but also through family. We’ve been around each other for a long, long time.”
That’s the personal side. Then there’s Sunday’s business.
“He’ll have something for us that we haven’t seen before,” Patricia promised. “He’ll have some matchups. He’ll have some pressure, for sure, different fronts and (he’ll) spin the dial on some of that stuff.”
Boyer became Miami’s coordinator in 2020, after accompanying Flores from Foxborough the previous year and succeeding Patrick Graham in the role. He was retained by McDaniel.
Son of a high school coach whose focus was defense, Boyer worked under much-respected Dean Pees at Kent State and in New England. He also paid dues coaching at places like King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. and the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in Rapid City.
Slightly built and outwardly unassuming, Boyer quietly helped Malcom Butler develop from Division II unknown to Super Bowl hero and J.C. Jackson rise eventually from undrafted rookie to the upper fifth of the NFL’s “Top 100.”
Unlike his public demeanor, Boyer’s defense is aggressive. Miami’s cornerbacks man up more than most and its blizters rush from all levels and angles. In Week 1, a turning point was a perfectly-timed safety blitz by Brandon Jones, who drilled Mac Jones within roughly two seconds of the snap and forced a fumbled returned by Melvin Ingram for a score.
“You look at last year, they really, as a defense as a whole, really evolved into a very aggressive, blitz-zero (coverage) team,” Patriots quarterbacks coach Joe Judge says. “When you watch other teams play them this year, you have to deal with the element of pressure with this team, just the way it is.
“(Josh is) going to find different ways of bringing it to you, different ways to disguise it, but you know it’s gonna show up. It’s going to show up a little on early downs, it’s going to show up a lot on critical downs, situational football. He does a good job of showing pressure, then dropping out and playing coverage behind it.”
Judge’s last point is especially important and easily overlooked. By teasing pressure pre-snap, the Dolphins can induce a quarterback to preemptively check to a different play. Maybe that means changing pass protections or keeping receivers in as extra blockers for extra rushers. Then, come to find out, after the play fails, there were no extra rushers because they all bailed into coverage.
“From a quarterback’s standpoint, you just have to play each play on through, understand what the check is per play, what the rules are per play and how we’re going to handle it,” Judge continues. “And just be patient with it, not try to assume, because they really do a good job of disguising.”