Bill Belichick’s New England defenses have developed a reputation for devising schemes to take away their opponent’s top option.
The Patriots weaved quite a web on Sunday to swallow up Raiders’ star tight end Darren Waller.
Less than a week after a spectacular performance on Monday night, Waller was completely shut down by New England for more than 55 minutes in New England’s 36-20 home victory.
“He was one guy we couldn’t let have a big game,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “We had a bunch of different guys on him.
“Corners at times. Safeties at times. It was great by our defense overall, just having a high awareness of where No. 83 was.”
Waller had 12 catches on 16 targets for 105 yards and a touchdown on Monday against the Saints. He had no catches on just two targets against the Patriots before catching a pair of passes for nine yards on the Raiders’ final garbage time drive.
“We have a lot of good receivers,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “We didn’t come in here to target Waller every play. Credit New England. They had a nice game plan. They got pressure on our quarterback a few times. We had Waller open. The film is out there for everybody to look at, but New England did a nice job. They did a better job than we did today.”
In covering Waller, the Patriots used several different approaches to disguise what they were doing from play to play.
“There was one play I missed him on, but they did a good job of making it look like double-coverage when they weren’t doubling,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “They do a good job and you don’t have three seconds to think, ‘Is he really doubled there?’ … I owned up to that. I told him I missed him.”
Belichick had the opportunity to watch Waller’s performance on “Monday Night Football” with the rest of the country. He credited his players with executing the defensive game plan, but it was clear the Patriots’ coaching staff had devised a scheme focused on ensuring someone besides Waller was going to have to beat them.
“When we had opportunities to jam and reroute him, we tried to do that,” Belichick said. “He’s a tough guy to match up on.
“I thought the players competed against Waller. A number of guys matched up on him, depending on what the coverage was. And there was some zone coverage in there as well. He’s a good player. A tough guy to defend. I’d say part of it though is we played zone against him. So it wasn’t all man-to-man matchups.”
Waller’s first target of the game came on a second-and-6 play on the Raiders’ first drive of the third quarter with McCourty in coverage. McCourty was on Waller again on a second-and-7 play from the New England 9-yard line early in the fourth quarter.
The Raiders kicked a field goal two plays later.
Waller’s first catch came with 4:15 left on a second-and-10 play as he was run out of bounds after a gain of eight. Three plays later he gained one yard on a first-and-10 pass to the left.
Receiver Hunter Renfrow, who had team highs of nine targets, six receptions and 84 yards, said the best way to make a team pay for focusing so much on Waller is by having other pass catchers make plays.
That didn’t happen often enough on Sunday.
“I think they did a great job of just playing underneath coverage,” he said. “When Darren has a monster game the way he did, he’s going to attract attention.
“If they’re going to take Darren away, it gives other people opportunities because that’s the kind of player he is and the respect he’s earned.”
Waller’s two catches matches his lowest total since becoming a starter for the Raiders at the start of the 2019 season. The nine yards was his low in that span, surpassing an 11-yard effort in a loss to the Texans in Houston last year.