Rob Gronkowski Rumbles

Mark Schofield loves offense. Each week, he identifies the Patriots Offensive Play of the Week, breaking down the film to show how play design and individual execution can lead to success.

Nearly everything went New England’s way Sunday en-route to a convincing 51-23 victory over the visiting Chicago Bears. The game produced a number of candidates for Offensive Play of the Week, but Rob Gronkowski’s 46-yard catch and rumble to the end zone is our winner. The play stands out not only for the individual effort by the massive tight end, but for ending any realistic chance of a Chicago comeback. It’s also an example of how play design can induce an NFL defender to ignore a certain former Arizona Wildcat who enjoys catching touchdowns and celebratory spikes.

Nothing to See Here

Early in the 3rd quarter, the Patriots have a 31-point lead and face 3rd and 4 near midfield. Tom Brady is in the shotgun as New England deploys 11 personnel, emptying the backfield, with Shane Vereen to the left of the formation and in motion prior to the snap. Chicago counters with a nickel package consisting of three linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs. The secondary shows a Cover 1 look, with the middle linebackers dropping into zone coverage underneath. Gronkowski is to the right of the formation in a tight alignment:

Pulling the Linebacker

Matched up with strong safety Chris Conte, Gronkowski starts to run a post route. On the backside of the play Vereen runs an in-cut right at the first-down marker, and linebacker Christian Jones breaks on the route in man coverage. Middle linebacker D.J. Williams, circled in orange, is in an underneath zone:

The running back cuts his route five yards downfield over the middle, enticing Williams forward to help on Vereen. The linebacker abandons coverage on the 6’6” Gronkowski, who already has two scoring catches on the day and is charging down the seam on a post route:

Gronk Beats Conte. Again.

Gronkowski beats Conte ‒ as he did all day long ‒ while – Williams is out of position and unable to provide any assistance:

Gronk Smash

The tight end secures the ball and gains first down yardage, but the big man is not done yet. The rest of this play is vintage “Gronk”:

Gronkowski uses a ferocious right-handed stiff arm to shove safety Ryan Mundy to the turf, and then accelerates towards the end zone, dragging a few Chicago defenders with him as he crosses the goal line.

Smarter than Your Average Bear

This sequence illustrates how a pass route combined with the unconventional use of offensive personnel can influence a defender out of position. Vereen’s pre-snap alignment and motion open up room for Rob Gronkowski to complete a big play. One would think that the Bears might focus on the Patriots’ biggest target, given his penchant for securing receptions on third downs and his earlier success in the game. However, Williams commits to the short route from Vereen and is rendered unable to assist on Gronkowski’s post route. The tight end beats Conte and, because Williams is out of position, Brady has a big throwing window to his favorite target.

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

3 thoughts on “Rob Gronkowski Rumbles

  1. You are suggesting DJ Williams should have stuck with Gronkowski. I’m curious what you think his assignment should have been — get behind Conte and Gronkowski, or simply drop back to force Brady to make a very tough pass over Williams? And, in the latter case, it probably gives Conte a chance to get back into the play, at least to make a tackle right after the catch.

    But, if Williams does that, Vereen already has Jones beaten, so it’s at least a first down, and he probably doesn’t get touched until the 35 or deeper — not far from where Gronkowski shed Mundy. Vereen is more likely to be tackled at that point (if for no other reason than Jones is following, while Conte ended up on the ground).

    Had it gone that way (and, of course, maybe it’s not in the highlight reel at that point), is Williams blame-less, because his assignment was to cover Gronkowski? And then it’s all on Jones?

    I guess I’m suggesting the play design didn’t just induce Williams to ignore Gronkowski. It ensured that either Gronkowski or Vereen were covered by a single linebacker, putting it to Brady to find that guy and get him the ball.

    1. Williams is in a Rover concept. The Patriots use a high-low concept to work the middle of the field. The underneath route from Vereen is the low, while Gronk’s post route is the high.

      Conte and Jones are both in man-to-man coverage. Both believe they have help over the middle from Williams. Both get beaten to the inside, but again expect help.

      Williams is stuck in the middle. He sees the Vereen route in front of him and decides to commit to that, and I believe that is due to the down-and-distance situation. His movement forward opens up the lane for the throw to Gronk.

      Play design ensured that one of these guys would be open against Cover 1 Man Under Rover. Like you say it’s then on Brady to see who Williams bites on. Situation and design induced Williams to commit to Vereen. He sees that route in front of him, knows it’s 3rd and short, and can’t help but commit on the shorter throw.

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