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:
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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