TWIP Part 1: McDaniels, Vereen, and the Glory of the Up-Tempo Offense

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.

Play One

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.

Play Two

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.

Play Three

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.

Play Four

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:

http://i809.photobucket.com/albums/zz11/mascho030916/VereenTD1A.png

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:

http://i809.photobucket.com/albums/zz11/mascho030916/VereenTD1B.png

Brady and his protection slide to his right and Allen (in the red circle) breaks forward, seemingly to cover Wright on the out route:

http://i809.photobucket.com/albums/zz11/mascho030916/VereenTD1C.png

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:

http://i809.photobucket.com/albums/zz11/mascho030916/VereenTD1D.png

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.

Conclusion

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.

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

2 thoughts on “TWIP Part 1: McDaniels, Vereen, and the Glory of the Up-Tempo Offense

  1. Maybe this is for another article. When do personnel changes happen? Clearly they are easier when the clock stops, and the offense has some constraints — can’t have 12 men in the huddle, and (I think) if a guy enters the game and joins the huddle, he has to stay on the field for that snap, right? Are coaches expected to know immediately after a play what personnel change, if any, is called for? Or does the OC call it out, the changes are made, the defense is also watching closely and reacts, all as the play clock continues winding down? How does the defense know who is coming in? Is that called in from the press box?

  2. Sorry, I’m just seeing this now.

    Personnel changes like you say are easiest to execute when the clock is stopped, but in most cases they happen when the offense huddles. (There is a slight caveat to this. The typical huddle is about 7-10 yards behind the line of scrimmage. In today’s game you might see teams huddle 3-4 yards behind the ball. That gives them at least the opportunity to break the huddle quickly should the need arise, such as an advantageous personnel decision from the defense).

    Anyway, I digress.

    In most cases, the play call begins on the sideline with the OC shouting out the personnel grouping. Players come on and off the field as the OC then radios in the playcall to the QB. The defensive coaching staff monitors the offensive personnel from the spotter positions above the field (as well as on the other sideline) and then respond accordingly. This all happens in the seconds leading up to the snap.

    This gets us into the idea of “scripting,” first utilized by Bill Walsh with the 49ers during the 1980s. Walsh decided that it made sense to enter each game with a set series of plays, and the offense would practice those in order during the week to them ready for what would happen on Sunday. They would simulate every aspect of each play, including the substitutions. Given the success the 49ers had in the 1980s teams at every level began to follow this concept. Both in high school and in college I ran offenses that used scripted plays to begin each game. To a certain extent it made sense. It eliminated some of the initial apprehension during each game, because it was simply an extension of practice.

    And we practiced the substitution patterns as well, at least in college. Every Friday during our walkthrough practice we would “run the script,” simulating not only the plays we would be running initially but the process of getting the right players on and off the field. I know it sounds crazy, especially for a D3 school, but it worked for us.

    Again, I hope that helps. I truly appreciate the questions, as you can probably tell I love talking about this stuff. Thanks again for reading and reaching out.

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