The scramble drill: This is one of the exercises that football coaches often put their quarterbacks and receivers through, sometimes weekly, on the slight chance that such a situation might arise on game-day. While we do not know if the coaching staff put the Patriots’ offense through the drill this week, we do know that the team utilized the concept in a big way Thursday night: on Shane Vereen’s 49-yard touchdown reception and on our Offensive Play of the Week, Danny Amendola’s 19-yard catch.
When a receiver notices that his quarterback has broken the pocket, he must adjust his pass pattern to remain a visible and viable target for his passer. That seems relatively simple, but executing the scramble drill in game situations is complex. The receivers cannot all break off their patterns in the same way and end up looking like a group of six-year olds playing soccer. For that reason coaches have their players simulate these plays in practice.
Vereen had a relatively easy adjustment on his first touchdown reception. The running back was running an out-and-up route designed to occupy the deep defender and open up space for the underneath routes. When Tom Brady is forced out of the pocket to his right, the running back recognizes this and continues going deep. Safety Antonio Allen ignores Vereen, and seconds later New England has a quick 7-point lead.
Amendola’s adjustment is a bit trickier. The Patriots looked to be in great position a few plays earlier, facing a 1st and goal at the 3-yard line. Following a Vereen run for a loss of a yard, New England rattled off penalties on successive plays – a Tim Wright false start that sent him to the doghouse, and a Brandon LaFell offensive pass interference call. Brady and the offense now faced a 3rd and goal scenario at the 19-yard line. With the quarterback in the shotgun the Patriots use 11 personnel and empty the backfield. The Jets respond with a sub package using three defensive linemen, two linebackers and six defensive backs. The defense shows Cover 4, and Amendola is in the middle of the trips to the left of the formation:
As the play unfolds the Jets use man coverage with Antonio Allen on Amendola underneath. The receiver is running an option route, and when he recognizes the coverage he properly breaks to the outside:
However, Brady feels a bit of pressure on the edge and vacates the pocket, flowing towards Amendola’s side of the field:
Seeing that his quarterback is on the move, the receiver breaks his route vertically. The vertical route is a wise choice for Amendola considering the other routes the players are running. Remember, the Jets are playing Cover 4 on this snap. On the outside, LaFell has run a simple go route along the sideline, which occupying the cornerback. From his wing position Rob Gronkowski has run a post route, occupying the safety to their side of the field. This leaves an open zone for Amendola to occupy:
When the scramble drill starts, Amendola breaks off the assigned route, leaving Allen in his wake. Beaten again, Allen this time over commits to the out route and allows the receiver to gain separation.
However, Amendola still has one thing left to do: Catch the ball. His body control is amazing on this play because Brady is moving to the left and throws off-target. As discussed in the Kirk Cousins piece, throwing while moving left is a tough task for a right-handed quarterback. Brady’s pass is to the outside, and the receiver makes an incredible adjustment on the ball to secure the pass and complete the play:
Amendola was flawless on this play and executed the “greatest route in football history.” First, he correctly recognized the coverage and ran the correct option route. Then, cognizant of his quarterback’s movements, he adjusted his route into an open throwing lane for Brady. Finally, he contorts his body to snag the pass and convert a huge 3rd down for a touchdown. Watching from the end zone view you can see how this comes together. Because of the routes from LaFell and Gronkowski the zone is wide-open for Amendola:
This was a tremendous moment for the much-maligned receiver that sent the Foxboro faithful into bedlam. In addition to finding a new role on kick returns, Amendola might have broken out of a season-long slump and put the notion he doesn’t have the “quarterback’s trust” to bed with this flawless execution of the scramble drill. New England managed to escape with a win thanks in large part to this play, Inside The Pylon’s Offensive Play of the Week.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.