Mark Schofield continues his countdown of the five most important New England Patriots offensive plays of the year, with Julian Edelman‘s catch and run against the San Diego Chargers. Click here for Play #1: The Pass, Play #2: Gronk’s Rumble, Play #3: Amendola’s Scramble, and Play #5: Wright’s Catch.
Top 5 Patriots’ Offensive Plays of 2014 – Play #4 – Edelman’s 69-yard Touchdown – Week 14 at San Diego
Before the 2014 season, pundits and Patriots fans circled Weeks 8 through 14 on their schedule and scribbled “gauntlet” in the margin. New England faced a slew of tough opponents, playing against Chicago, Denver, at Indianapolis, Detroit, before traveling to Green Bay and San Diego. The Patriots entered the stretch with a 5-2 record, hoping to split those six games and come out the other side with an 8-5 mark.
Instead, the Patriots cruised through this stretch, emphatically winning the first four games before dropping a hard-fought 26-21 contest in Green Bay to the Packers. New England took the field the following Sunday night in San Diego knowing a victory would keep the team atop the AFC and in control of their home-field destiny.
The Patriots struck first on a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. But the Chargers responded with two quick scores – the second on a fumble by Brandon LaFell that they returned for a touchdown – to race out to a 14-3 lead. New England closed the half with a field goal and a touchdown, but a Manti Te’o interception in the end zone right before halftime kept the score 14-13.
New England took the lead in the fourth quarter with another Gostkowski field goal, needing one more score to put the game away. The Patriots took over on their own 31-yard line with 8:53 remaining in the game.
Shown below, Tom Brady lines up under center with 12 personnel with LeGarrette Blount in the backfield and LaFell split wide to the left. Tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui and Rob Gronkowski are in a wing alignment to the right, with Julian Edelman split to the outside. San Diego has their base 3-4 defense on the field with the secondary using Cover 1:
The Patriots run a play-action pass, using a max-protection, two-receiver route scheme. Brady fakes a handoff to Blount to the right-side B gap, while both tight ends stay in to help with pass protection. LaFell runs a deep corner route on the left while Edelman runs a slant route from right to left:
Watch as free safety Marcus Gilchrist, the deep middle defender, gets fooled by the run fake:
The free safety races in at the start of the play, then tries to scramble back into position as Brady pulls the ball back. With Edelman beating his man defender, Gilchrist tries to find the receiver. But in his haste to get back into alignment Gilchrist overruns Edelman. This allows the WR to break the free safety’s attempted arm tackle and race the distance:
A final aspect of this play is the maximum protection scheme of New England, and how it both insulates Brady in the pocket and influences the result of the play. Strong safety Eric Weddle is in the box at the snap of the football, aligned over Gronkowski. He reads the TE in Cover 1 and, once he recognizes that Gronkowski is blocking, drops into a robber position and tries to get under Edelman’s slant:
But with eight men blocking for Brady, the quarterback has time to allow this play to develop. He can let Edelman clear Waddle’s robber coverage and gain depth from the line of scrimmage. Once the receiver pulls in the throw, he is further away from the line of scrimmage with only a beaten cornerback and an out-of-alignment free safety left to elude.
New England completed a number of big plays using two- and three-receiver routes in 2014. While maximum protection schemes won’t likely be used often in the Super Bowl – due to Seattle’s secondary strength and lack of a pass rush – the Patriots might use them in the play-action passing game. If they can get Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas out of position, they have a chance to make big plays down the field in the passing game using similar routes.
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