Josh McDaniels has frequently been the target of scorn from Patriots fans for his play calling and reluctance to adjust during contests. While this writer has at times joined in the chorus of voices calling for his head, there is occasion to offer the offensive coordinator praise. From their opening drive against the Jets and continuing throughout the game, the Patriots’ offense was in position to prosper due to McDaniels’ competence and creativity.
Following a touchback on the opening kickoff the offense took the field and put Tom Brady under center using 21 personnel, with James Develin and Shane Vereen in an offset i-formation. New York responds with their base defense in a 3-4 alignment. New England runs Vereen off tackle to the right between Sebastian Vollmer and Michael Hoomanawanui:
The running back surges forward for a gain of four yards to set up a 2nd and 6.
The Patriots remove Hoomanawanui and Develin and replace them with Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright. This proved crucial for the next few plays. By replacing a tight end and a running back with two tight ends, New England’s offensive personnel package allows the Jets to keep their base defense on the field ‒ which Rex Ryan chooses to do.
On 2nd and 6 New England empties the backfield and puts Brady in the shotgun. They use a trips formation to the left, with Brandon LaFell on the outside, Gronkowski in the middle, and Julian Edelman to the inside. The Jets respond with their base defense, putting four defenders on the line of scrimmage and showing Cover 4:
The Jets secondary sticks with Cover 4 coverage while the linebackers implement man coverage underneath. Gronkowski and Edelman both run routes to the inside that draw their defenders to the middle of the field. This opens up space for LaFell on the outside and the receiver is open on a short curl route. The cornerback and safety both fail to make the tackle, and the third defender who tries to tackle the receiver is Calvin Pace, a linebacker. Because New York has their base defense on the field, LaFell is able to run away from a linebacker instead of a speedier defensive back. The receiver picks up 24 yards and gets the ball out to midfield.
New England goes up-tempo, keeping both the New York base defense and their 12 package on the field. On this play the Patriots put a trips to the right side of the field with Brady again in the shotgun. To his left he has LaFell on the outside and Edelman in the slot. The Jets use Cover 4 on this play as well, again having the linebackers matchup in man coverage underneath:
From the inside position Edelman runs a post route that draws the momentary attention of the outside linebacker. The slot receiver’s pattern prevents the linebacker from occupying the passing lane on LaFell’s curl route. The throw is high and the receiver bobbles the pass, preventing a turn upfield and allowing the defense to stop the play after a three yard gain.
Facing 2nd and 7 on the Jets’ 48-yard line, the Patriots again forgo a huddle and prevent New York from switching out of their base defense deployment. Brady is alone in the backfield with a trips formation to his right. Gronkowski is on the wing, with Wright in the slot and Vereen split wide on the outside. Pre-snap, the Jets show Cover 3 in the secondary, with Antonio Allen the deep defender to the side of the trips formation. The Jets do not adjust or roll their coverage, staying in the Cover 3:
Gronkowski (who is circled) runs a short curl route while Wright (in the square) sketches an out pattern. On the outside, Vereen is busy using an out-and-up move along the sideline:
Brady and his protection slide to his right and Allen (in the red circle) breaks forward, seemingly to cover Wright on the out route:
With the deep safety out of position, Vereen is uncovered with nothing between him and the Bass Pro Shops. The running back scampers down the sideline and Brady uncorks a great throw for the touchdown:
As you watch this play, notice what happens underneath with the linebackers in man coverage, particularly on the backside:
The linebackers are all over the place. While only speculation, perhaps Allen was overly concerned with what was happening underneath and that caused him to bite on the route from Wright. Or perhaps Allen simply lost track of Vereen on the outside. The Jets stayed in their base defense and counted on their ability to matchup with New England’s 12 personnel. However, the Patriots were able to find the weaknesses in the coverage schemes.
Whatever the reason, Josh McDaniels put together a brilliant set of plays to open the game. He used his personnel packages wisely, keeping the base defense on the field, and then emptied the backfield to put stress on the secondary in the passing game. The result was a highlight reel play, but while the accolades go to Vereen, the outcome was set up by the decisions of the offensive coordinator. In Part 2, we will look at three more plays that show how McDaniels play design and creative use of personnel fuels the Patriots passing game.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.