The New England Patriots qualified for their fourth consecutive AFC Championship game after defeating the Baltimore Ravens, 35-31, in an instant classic between the two rivals. In previewing the game, we noted that Brady and the offense would likely see the Ravens’ double overload pressure concept at a crucial point in the contest.
The Patriots overcame two separate 14-point deficits ‒ the first team to accomplish the feat in NFL playoff history. Quarterback Tom Brady led the way in the second half, carving up the Baltimore secondary with deadly precision while defusing their menacing pass rush with quick-strikes. The Patriots offensive line held up fairly well in pass protection ‒ particularly when factoring in the mid-game loss of center Bryan Stork due to a knee injury ‒ but it was Brady’s ability to win the pre-snap battle that put his offense in position to succeed.
After the Ravens used the double overload pressure concept (shown below) to their advantage against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card game, Baltimore defensive coordinator Dean Pees brought back the overload scheme versus the Patriots:
The Steelers’ undoing against the double overload front started before the snap. While leaving enough in pass protection to account for potential rushers, the call for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to take a three-step drop out of the shotgun ‒ with all receiving options running intermediate routes downfield ‒ necessitated perfection from the line in executing and holding their blocks against the well-schemed defensive play. And they weren’t, leading to a Terrell Suggs interception off a hurried throw by the QB.
Finding themselves in a similar situation as the Steelers just a week ago, the Patriots faced a critical 3rd and 6 from the Baltimore 44-yard line, and the Ravens elected to overload each offensive tackle with three overhang defenders.
Operating out of the shotgun with running back Shane Vereen offset to Brady’s right, the Patriots use 11 personnel with tight end Rob Gronkowski in line. Prior to the snap, the offense deploys a trips formation on the left.
In forming the double overload front, the Ravens line up Suggs (#55) and fellow linebacker C.J. Mosley (#57), as well as safety Darian Stewart (#24), over Gronkowski and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. On the opposite side, the defense has linebackers Elvis Dumervil (#58), Daryl Smith (#51) and Pernell McPhee (#90) aligned just outside left tackle Nate Solder. The Ravens use a single down lineman,Haloti Ngata, (#92) in a 0 technique. In the secondary, the Ravens show a Cover 4 shell pre-snap and play off-coverage, giving 9-yard cushions to the outside receivers.
The Pre-Snap Read and Adjustment
Prior to the snap, Brady appears to call out the Mike ‒ the fifth rusher that would be the responsibility of the offensive line if he rushes. He then makes a second gesture to the same side, perhaps identifying the inverted safety (Stewart) or reconfirming the Mike to his blockers.
In addition to Brady’s communication, the offensive linemen ‒ led by left guard Dan Connolly ‒ point out specific defenders and confirm blocking assignments.
As the seconds wind down on the play clock, Brady motions wide receiver Julian Edelman from the left slot to the right, noting the reaction of the secondary. Cornerback Lardarius Webb (#21) follows Edelman’s motion, maintaining his 9-yard spacing:
The Snap, The Rush and The Line
Center Ryan Wendell delivers a clean shotgun snap to Brady. The Ravens appear to roll into Cover 3 as the safety standing on the hash mark backpedals toward the deep middle. Using six men in protection, Vereen remains in the backfield to block.
Although showing blitz with the double overload, the Ravens send only three rushers, all from the same side in an effort to overwhelm and confuse. McPhee slants down the line to draw attention from Connolly in order to create a two-on-one against Solder, but the guard does not bite. The pass protection scheme appears to call for Wendell to block the weak-side A gap with right guard Josh Kline in position to pick up Ngata, who ends up dropping into a short zone over the middle.
By blocking the gaps and not a specific defender, Connolly avoids the distraction and positions himself in the B gap as Dumervil and Smith attempt a cross-rush. Solder gives the Ravens a taste of their own medicine with the execution of a text-book cut-block on the twisting Smith, creating a throwing lane in the process:
The Route Concept and The Throw
Recognizing both the threat of heavy pressure and the alignment of the secondary, Brady knows pre-snap where he needs to place the throw. To the right, he has Gronkowski and Edelman working on the short side of the field, both facing the possibility of a jam and tight coverage off the line. To the left, he has two unpressed receivers in Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell working the wide side of the field.
LaFell runs a slant and Amendola a quick out ‒ the perfect combination against a Cover 3 off-coverage look. The slant route works as bait, pressing the cornerback (Rashaan Melvin, #38) to continue backpedaling initially, defending his deep one-third of the field. The underneath defender in zone coverage, safety Anthony Levine (#41), also reacts to the break of the slant route in his direction.
Taking just a single step back out of the shotgun and working under no duress with the clean throwing window created by Solder, the QB fires a short pass to Amendola for the completion.
Yards After Catch
Receiving the pass three yards short of the first down marker, Amendola does the rest. With Melvin driving down to the flat late, the receiver has time to turn and brace himself for impending tackle number one. Spinning away from the cornerback’s grasp, Amendola meets Levine a yard short of the sticks, but manages to stretch the ball across the imaginary first down line before being forced out of bounds ‒ a tremendous play that capped off a terrific game from Amendola (5 catches, 81 yards, 2 touchdowns).
The Patriots completed the drive with the eventual game-winning touchdown just three plays later.
Thorough pre-snap communication and subtle adjustments by Brady and his offensive line, as well as great individual effort by Amendola, allowed the Patriots to do what the Steelers could not: beat the Ravens’ double overload pressure scheme at one of the most decisive moments in the game. And now, in the words of Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots are moving on to the Indianapolis Colts and the AFC Championship game.
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Brian Filipiak knows about proper blocking technique, the basics of run defense, how to defeat an overload, and the point-of-attack.
All video and images courtesy the NFL and NFL Game Rewind.