Running the ball takes teamwork; sometimes, it is not so much about the play design as it is about the matchups, the individual effort, and the faith to know that the hole will be opened up by a lead blocker. Inside The Pylon’s Mark Schofield and Brian Filipiak will show how three simple words – do your job – combine to produce positive running plays.
In the running game preview for the Thursday night tilt with the Jets, Mark Schofield asserted that the weak spot in the New York run defense was their right edge. While Nate Solder has been the target of criticism this season, there is reason to believe that New England can have success when they run behind him tomorrow night. The film from Buffalo is one more reason for our optimism. Despite only marginal success on the ground, the left tackle exhibited his prowess as a run blocker on a number of plays.
On 2nd and 10 in the first quarter, Tom Brady is under center with 11 personnel on the field. Buffalo counters with nickel personnel and shows their standard wide 9 alignment on both edges. The Patriots run Stevan Ridley to the right-side A Gap, and the scheme and execution on this play is marvelous:
From his left guard position Dan Connolly ignores the defensive tackle across from him, which sets up the trap block from Michael Hoomanawanui. Because of the wide 9 alignment from Jerry Hughes, by the time the defensive end recognizes that the run is away from him, Connolly is in a perfect position to seal off Hughes on the back-side.
The final element of perfection on this play is the effort from Solder. Freed from responsibilities on either the defensive tackle or defensive end, the left tackle is able instantaneously to attack the linebacker. Solder fires out to meet Nigel Bradham and is immediately able to get the linebacker’s shoulders turned perpendicular to the line of scrimmage and place himself between Bradham and ball carrier. All the defender can do is arrive late to the pile and fall on top of the bodies after the whistle.
In the second quarter, Julian Edelman gained 10 yards on an end-around play attacking the right side of the Bills’ defense. Alshon Jeffery had 2 carries for 13 yards on similar plays against New York in Week 3, so this is a strategy New England might use again on Thursday night.
The Patriots have their quarterback under center and 11 personnel on the field, using tight trips to the right side of the formation, while Buffalo responds with nickel personnel. The tight end, Rob Gronkowski, comes in short motion from left to right. New England displays the same halfback dive look at the Bills, but on this play Brady fakes the handoff to Ridley and gives the ball to Edelman coming from the trips formation:
Now, using the end zone view, we can isolate the effort from the left tackle:
Aided by the simulated run to Ridley, Solder is able to work up to Bradham again and eliminate the linebacker as a threat. The tackle’s first two steps are fantastic and put him in perfect position to execute his block. He keeps a wide base as he engages the defender and again gets the defender turned away from the play.
In this next play, Solder is able to get a block on Jerry Hughes even with the defensive end’s wide alignment. Facing 2nd and 1, the Patriots have 12 personnel on the field and run Ridley to the left side behind the wing tight-ends. This still, taken from the moment of the snap, illustrates the relationship between Solder and Hughes:
The defensive end is to Solder’s outside shoulder at the beginning of this play. Now watch the job the left tackle does in again turning his defender’s shoulders perpendicular to the line of scrimmage and getting his body between defender and ball carrier:
This time, Hughes is the victim of a perfect block and the defensive end is a non-factor on Ridley’s rush to the left edge.
With just over four minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter on Sunday, the Patriots lost running back Stevan Ridley for the season with an ACL/MCL tear. In the wake of this development the offense turned to the “next man up,” reserve ball carrier and special teamer, Brandon Bolden.
Bolden reminded us of former Patriot BenJarvus Green-Ellis on this next run, a hard-nosed carry behind left guard. Against Buffalo’s base defense the Patriots have their 12 personnel on the field with Brady under center and Bolden in the backfield. As the play begins, Bolden fires his left foot wide to the sideline:
The first step is still extremely crucial on this play, as it creates separation between ball carrier and quarterback leading to a safe exchange. However, as this run is to the interior of the line, the running back cuts forward with his next steps:
Bolden hits the hole quickly and then faces a snap-decision:
He can try and cut this back inside, or he can put his head down and take on the linebacker coming his way through the B gap. Bolden chooses the path of most resistance:
The runner puts his head down and surges through the B gap knowing a collision with the linebacker awaits. He secures the ball and falls forward after impact for a steady five-yard gain:
While not the “sexiest” run of the season, Bolden again showed sound footwork and decision-making on this play.
We have seen Solder create running opportunities at the second level, on the move and on the edge. We’ve seen Bolden’s first step and willingness to work behind his left tackle and how this duo can produce positive yardage. Now, we see what happens when the rest of the band joins in.
Early in the 4th quarter, New England was in the midst of a 12-play scoring drive that would end in a touchdown. The Patriots have 12 personnel on the field: Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman stacked on the open side of the formation, with Michael Hoomanawanui split wide and Rob Gronkowski tight to the formation. Bolden is lined up as the singleback behind Tom Brady The Bills are in their 4-3 base defense with both safeties deep and Jerry Hughes in a two point stance lined up on the outside shoulder of the tackle. This run will go to the weak side of the formation:
In the screenshot above, note the deep depth of the weak side linebacker, Keith Rivers, who is aligned with Edelman. At the snap, Bolden takes the handoff and heads left behind the tackle, Solder. This is a technically sound effort from both blocker and ball carrier – Bolden puts himself in position to execute a big run with his very first step. Off the snap he again uses a hard step with his left foot to the sideline:
Look just how far Bolden extends that left foot. This sets up his second step, which places him on a perfect angle to attack the now visible running lane:
Hughes explodes forward and drives wide of Solder. Solder in turn recognizes that Hughes’ alignment and speed are taking him out of position and adeptly counters by using his long arms to force him outside the hash mark and behind the play.
The key here is that to his right, the oft-maligned Jordan Devey is able to hold an undesigned single block on Stefan Charles, allowing Bolden to shoot through the B-gap. If Devey does not sustain this block, the play will be blown up in the backfield. The effective block is magnified by how it frees up Ryan Wendell to break off a supportive double team early and move onto the middle linebacker, old friend Brandon Spikes, at the second level. On the backside of the play, Josh Kline and Sebastian Vollmer double-team Marcell Dareus:
Quite often, the difference between a 3-yard gain and an 8-yard gain stems from the ability to block the second level defenders. In this case, it is the second level blocks of Wendell, Edelman, and LaFell that work together to create open space for Bolden beyond the line of scrimmage:
The running back bursts through the hole and is to the next level, where he recognizes the block from Edelman in the slot:
As mentioned, due to the depth of Rivers (who is showing off-man coverage in the event of a pass play), Edelman just needs to drive forward and angle off the linebacker. Bolden cuts to the outside off of his receiver’s block to pick up additional yardage:
While Rivers does an effective job of shedding Edelman, he is thrown off-balance just enough to allow the running back to make his move:
Bolden, quickly recognizing that Rivers has come free of his block, takes a quick step laterally to avoid the linebacker before bursting upfield for a first down. The Patriots are in the end zone a few plays later to extend their lead.
Taken together, these slight movements and quick decisions by every member of the offense add up to a technically proficient 8-yard gain:
Bolden’s first step was key. Solder’s seal on Hughes was key. Devey’s sustained block was key. Wendell breaking off a double-team and getting to the second level was key. Kline and Vollmer walling off the backside was key. Edelman’s chip on the linebacker was key. LaFell’s block on the outside corner was key; about the only players who didn’t deliver essential assistance to this play were Gronkowski and Brady.
This is great football, an example of what happens when you “do your job”.
Eight yard gains that move the chains that prolong drives in the 4th quarter don’t make headlines. Moreover, they are taken for granted, as if running the ball against an NFL defense should produce, at minimum, four yards. Players who only get noticed when they screw up – Devey and Solder – or maligned for their limitations – Bolden – have to execute their assignments in concert. If New England has success in the running game Thursday night, it will be due to another virtuoso performance from whomever suits up.
All video and images courtesy NFL.com and NFL Game Rewind.
Follow Brian on Twitter @Brian_Filipiak.
Brian Filipiak knows about proper blocking technique, the basics of run defense, how to defeat an overload, and the point-of-attack.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.