Josh McDaniels masterfully schemed the first drive last Thursday night, but he was far from done. Three other plays illustrate the brilliance of what McDaniels drew up for Thursday night. On each of these sequences, two Patriot receivers beat three or more defenders for a big gain. In Part 1, we looked at how the offensive coordinator’s scripted first series beat Rex Ryan’s defense on Thursday night. Here, we will look at three more examples of McDaniels creative play calling.
This first example is from a 1st and 15 play in the 2nd quarter. Following a false start, New England has their quarterback under center with 12 personnel on the field. Rex Ryan has his base defense in a 3-4 alignment showing Cover 3 in the secondary. To Tom Brady’s right is a trips formation; Rob Gronkowski is on the wing while Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman are in an inverted slot, with LaFell to the outside. The lanky receiver comes in motion towards the ball and is right behind Edelman at the snap. The player we highlight in the blue circle is cornerback Philip Adams:
With the Jets in Cover 3, Adams is responsible for the deep outside third to the bottom of the screen. The Patriots send only LaFell and Edelman out for a pass on this play. Edelman is to the outside in the red circle while LaFell is over the middle in yellow:
As the play develops LaFell runs a go route down the center of the gridiron and draws the attention of Adams, who turns his hips towards the middle of the field. Despite knowing that there is a deep middle safety, and that there is another receiver to his side of the field, Adams focuses on LaFell:
As Brady makes his throw to Edelman, Adams still has his feet planted on the 35-yard line. Even with deep safety help, the cornerback refuses to move from his spot and Edelman is wide open on the deep out route:
Review the entire play and see just how McDaniels draws up a route to use two players to beat five in coverage:
Using a combination of play-action and a screen simulation, McDaniels dials up a play to free up space down the field. On 1st and 10 at midfield Brady is under center and the Patriots deploy 21 personnel. James Develin and Jonas Gray are in the backfield in an offset i-formation. The Jets respond with their base 3-4 defense and are aligned in Cover 3 in the secondary. Off the snap, Brady fakes the ball to Gray heading to the right of the offense. The well-executed fake draws the bulk of the defense toward that side of the field:
Brady peels out of the fake and takes a deep drop. Again, he has only two receivers downfield: Edelman to the right side of the formation and LaFell to the left side of the formation (in red). In the secondary the four defensive backs are settling into their Cover 3 coverage, with three players in deep zones and the strong safety working into the right flat:
Edelman breaks inside on a post route that the deep middle safety recognizes:
Two defenders bracket Edelman on his post route: the deep middle safety and the cornerback to the bottom of the screen. With these two receivers occupied, LaFell is essentially in one-on-one coverage to the other side. He makes a hard cut over the middle of the field:
LaFell is open on his in-cut thanks to the design of the play. Edelman, occupying the other two deep defenders in the intermediate middle of the field, opens LaFell’s in route. Further, because of the fake stretch play, there are no underneath defenders posing any threat to the passing lane as the linebackers have been drawn towards the line of scrimmage on the run simulation. Because of the tremendous play design, Brady is able to hit his receiver over the middle for a big gain:
Shane Vereen’s second touchdown reception of the night was also due in large part to the design of the play. Facing a 3rd and goal situation from the 3-yard line, the Patriots empty the backfield with Brady in the shotgun. New England has 11 personnel on the field, with trips to the right side and Vereen and LaFell to the left side. The Jets put their nickel personnel on the field with a goal-line Cover 2 with the two safeties looking to help underneath. Just prior to the snap, Brady motions Vereen into the backfield, resulting in this pre-snap alignment:
Highlighted is Darrin Walls, the cornerback to the play-side of the formation. As the play begins, his feet are straddling the goal-line:
LaFell runs a modified corner route, cutting first to the middle and then back to the corner of the end zone. From the backfield Vereen runs a choice route targeting linebacker Demario Davis. A choice route empowers the receiver (or running back in this instance) to decide what route to run based on the coverage. On this play, Vereen breaks to the outside away from Davis’s man coverage. As the running back picks his route and Brady readies the delivery, look at Walls’ current depth:
Influenced by LaFell’s corner route, the defensive back has taken two steps toward the back of the end zone. This slight adjustment catches the back between possible assignments and opens up the window for Brady to hit his target. As the ball is in flight Walls is still out of position:
As you watch the play at full speed, notice how Walls confidently passes off LaFell knowing he has safety help, yet cannot help himself and takes a few steps back towards the end line:
Walls’ few steps create the throwing window to the outside, so while we credit play design for this touchdown, the individual effort from Vereen on Davis is also worthy of praise:
Vereen puts the linebacker out of position with his quick cut and, combined with everything else happening, the running back is open for the touchdown.
Perfection is nearly unattainable and the idea that Josh McDaniels isn’t good at his job is a terrific example of the all to common form of selection bias whereby people fixate over the glaring errors they remember simply because of, well, the glare. No coach succeeds on every offensive play, no matter how talented the offense ‒ not with 11 well-coached and highly skilled players on the other side doing everything they can to impede your progress, even if they are the Jets. McDaniels did not get everything right on Thursday night; New England’s final offensive drive leaves him open to criticism, for sure. But as these plays illustrate, even beyond the fantastic opening script, the offensive coordinator put together a great game plan and relied on some well-designed plays to put his offense in a position to thrive in the passing game. For all the vitriol he receives, there are times when Josh McDaniels deserves a ton of credit. This is one of those times.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.