Clearing Lanes: Exploring the Purpose of Patriots Defensive Tackle Sealver Siliga

Sealver Siliga is on his fourth team in three years, but he’s fighting for an extended stay in Foxborough. (USA Today Sports Images)

NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas

It was after 6 p.m. on an October Tuesday when the news broke. But the news wasn’t announced via press release, an agent or a reporter.

It came directly from the source.

“Proud to say I am now officially a New England Patriot!,” 23-year-old defensive tackle Sealver Siliga posted on Twitter, along with a photo of himself pointing to the Patriots poster surfacing the wall behind him.

New England had signed Siliga the practice squad – a familiar destination for the well-traveled Utah Ute. And perhaps because of that, expectations were tempered.

Since going undrafted as a junior entrant in 2011, Siliga had been cut by the San Francisco 49ers, the Denver Broncos, traded to the Seattle Seahawks and cut thrice more. The 6’2”, 325-pounder had been a member of two practice squads and played in one career game.

Although after just five weeks on New England’s eight-man roster, Siliga was promoted to the 53-man roster. He’s played in five games since, starting four of them. He’s totaled 23 tackles and three sacks over that span.

Yet as an interior defensive lineman, Siliga’s true purpose with the Patriots hasn’t been seen in numbers.

It’s been seen in the lanes he’s cleared for teammates.

With the width, arm length and leg strength required to fulfill 4-3 under tackle duties, Siliga has found a role in New England’s 29th-ranked rushing defense. His role hasn’t been carved by an ability to make tackles, though; it’s been carved by an ability to free his front members to do so.

Tracking down running backs is not a common occurrence for Siliga; he ran a 5.38 40-yard dash at his pro day nearly three years ago. But what he has tracked down are the blocks barricading him from running backs.

By either creativity and design, many of Siliga’s uphill battles have been won vicariously through others. This was illustrated versus the Miami Dolphins in Week 15.

The situation was a 2nd-and-4 from Miami’s 40-yard line. The play call was an outside-zone run to the strong side. Elusive halfback Lamar Miller had already compiled 14 yards on two carries, and he was looking for more against New England’s 4-2 nickel defense on the fourth snap of the game.

The Dolphins employed “21” personnel with tight ends Charles Clay and Dion Sims manning the left side of the line ahead of Miller. The alignment would be about more than the tight ends, however; it would be about the offensive line functioning as one entity to orchestrate the zone blocking scheme.

In which, Clay would take cornerback Aqib Talib. Sims and left tackle Bryant McKinnie would take right defensive end Chandler Jones. Left guard Sam Brenner would take Siliga’s three-technique. Center Mike Pouncey and right guard John Jerry would take linebackers Brandon Spikes and Dont’a Hightower. Right tackle Tyson Clabo would take defensive tackle Chris Jones. And wide receiver Brian Hartline would take two-point left end Rob Ninkovich.

On the other side of the line, the leftward zone would be a test of reaction and muscle for Siliga. He would he have to forge the guard instead of the B-gap, because the B-gap was temporary. And if both linebackers found themselves halted at the second level, much of the slack would rest on Siliga at the point of attack.

This was evidenced as Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill handled the snap and exchanged with the 5’10”, 218-pound rusher.

Miami’s line got a quick jump, but it was met by New England’s.

Talib diagnosed the front-side play and arced outside Clay, while strong safety Steve Gregory traced nearby to monitor the C-gap. Spikes and Hightower and anticipated the handoff and approached the inside, but Spikes was soon cut off by Pouncey. All while on the back side, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard and Ninkovich played contain, but Ninkovich was slowed by Hartline.

In the thick of the trenches was another story. Chandler Jones established ground on the outside shoulder of Sims, just as Chris Jones established ground on the inside shoulder of Clabo.

Siliga dug in off his first step and didn’t recede. He used his well-grounded leverage to drive through the laterally moving Brenner.

In turn, the Miami backfield had been permeated.

Chris Jones swim-moved Clabo to the grass. And Chandler Jones pressed in and around Sims to roadblock the run’s intentions.

Concurrently, Siliga divided the two Joneses and served as a barrier by pushing his man back upright into Miller’s foreground.

Siliga kept his feet moving and heavy hands shoving. As a result, he lifted Brenner off his right foot and afforded his enclosing linemen a chance to make a play on the restricted ball-carrier.

With little space to pursue, no cutback, and no time, Chandler Jones curved around the edge to wrap up Miller at the Miami 39.

Siliga made his presence felt without making contact with Miller. He helped guide his opponent into his run defenders, neutralizing the play before it could materialize.

The carry went for a one-yard loss.

No. 71 is not the prototype of a two-gap nose tackle that can absorb multiple blocks and eat space. Yet as a one-gap defensive tackle, he has been able to use his frame to move blockers and sway running lanes.

That has translated in pass rush.

In Week 16 against the Baltimore Ravens, Siliga was able to get to the quarterback for his second sack in as many weeks. But his efforts facing the pass went beyond hitting Baltimore’s Joe Flacco.

Six plays into the second half on a 3rd-and-3, the Ravens turned to an “11” grouping. The plan was a levels concept out left between wideout Jacoby Jones and tight end Dennis Pitta, and it was a verticals concept out right between receivers Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown.

Flacco stood in shotgun with running back Ray Rice flanked next to him for blitz pickup.

New England’s nickel defense countered with a loaded two-up, two-down line. It was a look that exuded pressure, as linebackers Hightower and rookie Jamie Collins loomed over the B- and A-gaps.

It was a façade. The six-man front was only a four-man rush. Ninkovich was spying on Rice, and Collins was sugaring the inside only to assume coverage on Pitta.

The zone blitz entrusted Chandler Jones to jam Pitta off the line and then jailbreak for the inside. For the stunt to be well-executed, others would have to draw a blocks and split the protection scheme.

Enter Siliga and Hightower.

From the one-technique across from Ravens center Gino Gradkowski, and from the three-technique across from right guard Marshal Yanda, Siliga and Hightower were prepped to crash the inside shoulders of their respective assignments.

If effective, the blockers would slide left and open a void right.

And as Flacco took the snap, the beginning stages of that plan transpired.

Siliga and Hightower punched inside, engaging with their counterparts and swerving the line outside the hashes.

Meanwhile Ninkovich and Chandler Jones departed from their stand-up defensive end spots, which left offensive tackles Michael Oher and Eugene Monroe unable to occupy blocks.

And once Collins received coverage responsibilities on Pitta, the delayed rush was in the works.

Chandler Jones circled behind Chris Jones and veered downhill towards the emerging gap Hightower and Siliga had opened.

Siliga dragged his man into the left guard and left tackle, and Hightower bulled through to release him after the pile congested.

Both Joneses shot into the opening with their sights on Flacco, who had been flushed from the pocket.

Siliga ripped out of his block and followed suit.

Flacco was chased outside the tackle box and was forced to throw the ball away just as Chandler Jones yanked him down. It wasn’t a sack. But it was just as effective as one for the Patriots.

The pressure was not only a byproduct of pass rush; it was a byproduct of pushing the pile and prying the pass rush loose. Hightower and Siliga had set the inside.

In the regular season finale against the Buffalo Bills, Siliga was a contributor in both the run and the pass. On a 4th-and-1, he lunged low and launched linebacker Dane Fletcher high to tackle Thaddeus Lewis’ QB sneak for a one-yard loss. On a 3rd-and-10, he zeroed in on a scrambling Lewis for a fumbled 13-yard loss.

Now Siliga may never be a prototypical run-stuffer in the mold of Vince Wilfork. He may never be a pass-rusher in the mold of Tommy Kelly. For all intents and purposes, he may never be in the mold of a perennial starter for the Patriots.

But Siliga is doing what’s been asked of him. He’s clearing lanes.

And much like his signing announcement over two months ago, few saw it coming.

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18 Responses to “Clearing Lanes: Exploring the Purpose of Patriots Defensive Tackle Sealver Siliga”

  1. DT for next will look like this VINCE WILFORK, ARMOND ARMSTEAD, SEALVER SILIGA, JOE VELLANO, JOE VELLANO and a draft pick. Like or not this is riality at full speed. Wilfork will restructure his contract and move on. Thank you

    • acm says:

      I don’t know how much cap room the Pats would save by cutting VW but I’d think he stays with the team on a restructured deal – has too big a role in the locker room, imo.

      I don’t think Vellano makes the 53-men roster bar a flurry of injuries. I expect he would be sent to the practice squad and the Pats start the year with VW, Kelly, Armstead, Chris Jones, S. Siliga and a possibly a draft pick.

      • Mike says:

        I would agree except for the Kelly part. I can see Kelly calling it (or being traded), and being replaced by a 2-3rd round draft pick. As far as Vellano who I championed on PFW, I want to see where his 2nd year takes him. I honestly see his quick first step translating more to a RE in a 3-4, if he bulks up a bit. I think their might be some 4th-5th round trade value there. Or he could make 2nd year jump. He reminds me of Mike Wright a little.

        • Mike says:

          Also, Armstead has been released. I highly doubt we see him back next year if he couldn’t clear up a non football injury in 4 months he was with us.

  2. kevan says:

    i guess im the only one that thinks wilfork will be a patriot next year. dam shame. good point on the money saved joshd but he got injured early in the year he’ll be ready to go. first time he’s been hurt too.. got my money on big vince. he will be in a pats uniform 2014 week one. ill be the guy typing i told you so.

  3. joshd says:

    Pats will save 8 mil in cap money if they cut Wolfork. Its unlikely that the pats would gamble that he’ll be 100% after the injury and not save the cash for someone healthy.
    The pats would only save 3.5 of cap space on mayo and 2.5 on mankins, even though they have relatively high salary.

  4. kevan says:

    i dont know how any pats fan can say wilfork is gone next year. its the equivalent of saying pats were gonna trade brady when matt cassell started playing well in `08. why is no one saying this about logan mankins? i just dont see it happening. this might be the first year the patriots are not in the top 10 run defense since wilfork got drafted in 04′. gotta check the stats on that but i can not remember being out of the top 10. yea the pats traded seymour, but at the time there were 2 1st rd picks on the dline=wilfork and ty warren. get rid of him then pats will almost have to draft a guy in the first who wont be as good anyway. if pats end up getting rid of wilfork ill give yall props for calling it and admit i was wrong but at this point im saying wilfork will be a patriot next year. and when he is back you haters cant cheer for him. just kidding go PATS

  5. Jackbenimble999 says:

    It’s great to see an article devoted to Siliga. It’s hard to judge just as a casual fan, but it seems as if the Pat’s run defense has become a lot stouter since he took over for the scrappy Vellano. It’s gotten to the point where when he looked like he might be out of the game with an injury, it seems like it would have been a serious blow to the Pat’s playoff chances. I don’t want to jump the gun, but how could other teams not have seen his ability as a run-stuffer? Kudos to BB for landing this guy. As mentioned by others, it’s possible the Wilfork isn’t back next year, and anyway he’s getting along in his career and coming off an injury, so we’ll need someone like Siliga. I do think Wilfork comes back, though. He’s too much of a team guy. He’ll take a salary “adjustment”.

  6. acm says:

    Siliga has been of great help so far to solidify the middle both with his presence in stopping the run game and athleticism allowing him to make tackles in the backfield and/or sack the QB. Right now the bigger issue with stopping the run lies on the outside, imo, due to either problems with setting the edge or lack of consistency in the reads by the LBs.

    Siliga’s rise has made me wonder if the Pats could actually afford to not look for a DT in the early rounds of the 2014 draft. I had my eyes on two DTs – Daquan Jones (likely a 2nd rounder from Penn State) and Shamar Stephen (a possible 5th rounder from Uconn) but Siliga’s performance and physical similarities with D. Jones may allow the pats to wait till the later rounds for a DT.

    I suppose it would depend on how Wilfork’s coming along in his rehab come draft time. As has been mentioned earlier, if all is looking peachy by then, the Pats would have Wilfork, Kelly, Armstead, Siliga, Jones and Velano all coming back as well as Cory Grissom back from IR (Sopoaga is likely gone already).
    In this not-so-unlikely scenario, I would be happy with just say S. Stephen from the draft and maybe another DT or two in the 7th or UDFA.

    • kevan says:

      right on acm. i think ninko and chandler have done a pretty good job setting the edge, but i have seen issues with the linebackers. spikes and hightower are a lil slow and stiff while jamie collins is still raw ive seen him over pursue. most of the issues were in the middle but its looked alot better since siliga started playing. he has actually helped the linebackers clean up some of those problems. if he can eat a center and a guard that saves a LB to run free. the siliga kid just looks like he belongs. but were on the same page. chris jones had 6 sacks as a rookie, vellano played scrappy all year. this siliga kid. and if armstead can go they said he was a 2nd rd talent. add in wilfork and kelley with those kids improving that might be pretty good. draft a te or c/g or a db or end first. lets see what pats do with ryan wendall and aquib talib first. that will be key especially talib.

  7. dslave says:


  8. dslave says:

    They will never stand pat with this defensive line next year. There is NO WAY it will look the same j h Tarboro states. They will draft and develop someone in the first 2 rounds, and yes ,WILFORK could become a cap casulality with his cap #. He’s owed like 9.5 million against the cap. I’m still wondering how PATS FANS, haven’t figured out how they operate. Wilfork will have too restructure his contract.

    • kevan says:

      DSLAVE ??? i didnt say it would look the same. im just not guaranteeing a 1st or 2nd on anything. cant believe “PATS FANS” havent figured out patriots and bb are unpredictable. maybe pats can develope vellano jones selinga armstead and save a pick. i said maybe cuz i dont know. just opinions and projections. there are no guarantees and no “NO WAY” when were talking pats bb and the draft. mankins is due over 10 mil mayo is due over 7 are they gone too? pats are a perrenial top 10 run defense, lose wilfork and go straight to the bottom of the league. no one in the nfl proved their worth this year more than wilfork. they could ask him to redo a deal but i think his spot on the team is safe. just my opinion. maybe spikes or wendall gotta walk i dont know and neither do you. what about draftin a de. ninko and chandler are good but carter is old buchannon is working but bequettes a bust. pats need a strong 3 guy for sure. dude if your gonna call me out just make it accurate.

    • kevan says:

      seriously that was annoying and retarded. i didnt say the dline would b the same. ur makin shit up or u cant read. then u want to get sarcastic like u have the patriot operation figured out. yea you knew they were gonna take jamie collins and duron harmon last year huh. the dline will be different next year= wow ur really goin out on a limb there huh captain obvious.

  9. kevan says:

    id like to see this kid stick around. he’s got some size and pretty athletic too. crazy because with everyone hurt it seems obvious to draft a dt. but pats have wilfork, kelley, silinga, armstead, chris jones, and joe vellano (sopoga will be gone cuz he’s due over 3 mil.) all coming back. that might not be that bad.

  10. J H TARBORO says:

    Sealver Siliga really showed up big yesterday but i’ve seen a glimpse of things to come with him in prior games. He has a good base and compact body and generates lots of explosion in multiple directions. Sealver should be retained for next year, maybe we could get the most out him here in our system.
    I’ve seen teams with loaded rosters bring in guys like this and not know how to utilize his talent. Great pick up for the Pats going forward even better than Sopoga who cost us a 5th round pick.

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