This Week in Passing: Bengals Recap

After a tumultuous seven days in Foxboro, Tom Brady stormed the field on Sunday night. Before most spectators had even settled into their seats, Brady had staked the Patriots to a 7-0 lead they would not relinquish. By night’s end the veteran quarterback completed 23 of 35 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns, establishing a quarterback rating of 110.7 for the game. Brady’s performance was his best of the young season and we evaluated the film to uncover what New England got right in Week 5.

Play-Action

While the Patriots established their running attack, New England also turned to the play-action passing game throughout the night with tremendous success. The offense began both the game and their first drive of the second half using this concept, gaining a first down on both plays.

New England opened the game on their own 20-yard line following a touchback, and Brady came out under center with 21 personnel on the field. In the clip below, Cincinnati aligns in their base 4-3 defense with Cover 2 showing in the secondary. Following motion from Julian Edelman across the formation, Brady fakes an off-tackle run to Stevan Ridley and looks downfield:

The run fake draws in all three linebackers on this play. The trio of defenders, standing at the 25-yard line pre-snap, all come towards the line of scrimmage after the fake. They scramble to regain their coverage zones, but it is too late for any of them to get under the route from Brandon LaFell. The wide receiver runs a deep curl against the coverage and is able to settle down in front of the safeties and well behind the linebackers. Thanks to the play fake, there is a huge throwing window for a big completion.

Holding a 20-3 lead, Brady and the offense opened their first drive of the 3rd quarter following a Bengals punt. Cincinnati’s base 4-3 is on the field to counter the 21 personnel from New England. The Patriots simulate an off-tackle play behind left tackle Nate Solder. Watch how the linebacker flows to the hole:

Vincent Rey steps into the hole expecting to take on James Develin’s block. However, the fullback is not blocking and continues into the flat. Develin is open for the catch and a new set of downs. This is a play that Houston ran with success against Buffalo (as we will cover in TWIP Preview and KYE) and New England fans should look for this play again on Sunday.

In our pregame KYE, we stated that Emmanuel Lamur was Cincinnati’s best cover linebacker, an opinion shared by Cris Collinsworth during Sunday night’s broadcast. Nevertheless, the Patriots attacked Lamur in the passing game throughout the night. As explained in the Offensive Play of the Week, Tim Wright caught his first touchdown of the season on a play-action play beating Lamur in coverage. Here’s another example of the offense using play-action to move Lamur out of his zone and open another throwing window:

New England has Ridley as a singleback using 11 personnel. The Bengals respond with their nickel package. As New England fakes the halfback counter play to the right side of the formation, watch as Rey and Lamur attack the line of scrimmage respecting the run. The fake to Ridley moves the linebackers out of their zone responsibilities and enables Rob Gronkowski to find space on his seam route.

The Patriots were able to attack Cincinnati’s best coverage linebacker and, at least on this night, got the better of him. The film illustrates how the Patriots targeted Cincinnati’s linebackers using both play-action and creative route design by working the boundaries between zones, as we’ll see next.

Seam Routes

Used by the Patriots with sporadic success in the first four weeks of the season, seam routes were back in a big way for New England on Sunday night. Following Darrelle Revis’s strip of A.J. Green late in the first half, New England took over at Cincinnati’s 25-yard line. On 1st and 10 the Patriots put Brady in the shotgun with 11 personnel and a slot formation to each side of the field. Cincinnati countered with nickel personnel and showed Cover 2 in the secondary:

Watch the seam route Gronkowski runs from the right slot on this play. Lamur is covering the tight end one-on-one underneath with help over the top. When Gronkowski makes a slight cut to the outside, Lamur throws his arms up expecting a throw on a corner route. This slight adjustment from the linebacker is the only opportunity Gronkowski needs to cut back along the seam and gain separation. Brady’s throw is on the mark and arrives before Lamur can recover or the safety can arrive.

Perhaps the best-designed play of the night was this seam route to Wright. On 2nd and 10 in the 3rd quarter, Brady is in the shotgun with 12 personnel. Wright is the inside receiver in the slot to the left and Edelman’s deep motion takes him into the backfield before the snap. The play looks to be a bubble screen to Edelman:

Cincinnati’s entire defense bites on the fake throw to Edelman, opening up a huge area for Wright on his seam route. As a team that utilizes the wide receiver screen on any down-and-distance, but particularly on 2nd or 3rd and long, this is a play design New England must return to throughout the season. A finely-crafted sequence by Josh McDaniels and called at the perfect moment.

Finally, Wright’s first catch of the night came on another seam route. New England has just crossed midfield for the first time in the game and, with 12 personnel on the field, Brady has tight slot formations to each side of the field. Cincinnati’s nickel package is on the field and shows Cover 1 in the secondary. From the inside position in the left slot, Wright runs a perfect route down the seam:

The Bengals play Cover 1 in the secondary and the coverage down the field is quite good. The cornerbacks are both in good position on the deep routes run by LaFell and Edelman near the sidelines.

The only player in position to make a play on Wright’s route is the free safety, but George Iloka is put in a very bad spot by the route design. Pre-snap he knows he has Edelman and Gronkowski to his left. If he commits too early to their side of the field, the seam route goes the distance. But if the safety jumps on the seam route too early, Brady might hit a play down the field. He does his best to maintain his alignment and make the quarterback blink first. Brady does just that, to the tune of a big gain (and for those who don’t think Brady can throw deep anymore, at least one NFL free safety disagrees.) The Bengals defend as well as they can here, but this is just an example of a well-designed play beating the coverage.

Regardless, Wright’s route is well-executed. He makes a quick move to the outside, which allows him to gain separation from the underneath zone defender when he cuts back to the seam. The free safety never moves from his middle leverage, likely influenced by Gronkowski and Edelman on the other side of the field. Edelman runs an out-and-up route holding the safety in place, while Wright is wide open for a big gain.

Conclusion

Brady and the offense provided the type of performance fans were waiting for all season on Sunday night. The quarterback was on target with nearly every throw and his receivers were open more often than in the previous four games. Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels’ game plan worked to perfection on this night, as Cincinnati’s defenders were out of position throughout the game. A similar performance against Buffalo will put New England back in familiar territory atop the AFC East standings.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

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