New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady notched his 22nd playoff victory, with a 27-20 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional round. Mark Schofield shows how Brady sliced open the Chiefs defense using his eyes, and his talented teammates, to maximum effect.
The Patriots entered Week 16 of the NFL season needing just one more victory to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. However, back-to-back losses, to the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins left the Patriots locked into the number two seed in the conference.
New England’s offense sputtered down the stretch, their offensive line struggling in pass protection and the passing game appearing sluggish on the whole. Pundits and fans looked to the return of Julian Edelman to boost the passing game and, if New England’s victory over Kansas City is any indication, they were right.
Tom Brady completed 28 of 42 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns, without being sacked by the talented Chiefs defensive front. A single play from their opening drive illustrated just how effective this offense can be with Brady, Edelman, and tight end Rob Gronkowski all healthy.
On their opening drive the Patriots face 1st and 10 on their own 31-yard line, with Brady (#12) in the shotgun, with 11 offensive personnel on the field. They utilize a trips formation to the right: Gronkowski (#87) on the wing, Edelman (#11) as the middle receiver, and running back James White (#28) split wide, well outside the bottom of the numbers. To the left New England uses slot formation, with Danny Amendola (#80) to the inside and Brandon LaFell (#19) split outside of the numbers:
Kansas City deploys a nickel package, with a four-man front, consisting of two down linemen and linebackers Dee Ford (#55) and Tamba Hali (#91) on the edges. The secondary shows Cover 1, with the free safety Tyvon Branch (#27) aligned 17 yards deep in the middle of the field. The rest of the secondary is using off man alignment, giving an eight to ten yards of cushion:
The Patriots utilizes two passing concepts on this play, one to each side of the formation. On the slot side they set up a smash concept, with LaFell running the corner route and Amendola releasing into the flat. To the trips side they run a tosser concept: Edelman and White running slant routes while Gronkowski releases to the flat:
Linebacker Josh Mauga (#90) is shaded to the trips side of the offense, tasked with covering Gronkowski. The Cover 1 scheme leaves Derrick Johnson (#56) as the underneath “hole” defender. Cover 1 schemes task this defender with covering the inside zones on short and intermediate passing routes.
All four of the defensive backs show outside leverage, displaying man coverage alignment. The scheme requires these defensive backs to funnel receivers to the inside, where there’s help ‒ either from Johnson or Branch:
However, despite the Chiefs’ best laid plans, Brady still hits Edelman on a slant route for an 11-yard gain:
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From this angle, we can see how the route ‒ and coverage ‒ work in concert to open a throwing lane. As Gronkowski releases into the flat, Mauga races outside, following the TE in coverage. Edelman pushes vertically on his first few steps, holding the defender in place, then abruptly cuts to the inside. This move coupled with the pre-snap cushion and outside leverage from the DB creates separation. But remember, Johnson is dropping into that space specifically to help on slant routes like this one run by the shifty WR. Despite his assignment, the linebacker vacates the underneath zone because of the quarterback, specifically his eyes.
Brady manipulates the linebacker by looking in the opposite direction, trusting Edelman to be at the spot where the ball is to be thrown. As the QB takes the snap he swivels his head outside to his left, toward Amendola and LaFell. Seeing this Johnson cuts to his right ‒ away from Edelman:
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As the QB hits the final step of his drop, he pulls his eyes off Amendola, pivots, and turns back to the right, finding Edelman on the slant route. The LB quickly recognizes this and attempts to cut back, but the window has been opened. The pass is placed perfectly, and the receiver does not break stride as he cuts upfield past the first down marker.
The play is a perfect illustration of how effective Brady and this offense can be with all of their weapons on the field. Even against a defensive scheme looking to take away routes like this, the combination of Gronkowski’s decoy route, Brady’s eyes, and Edelman’s quickness add up to a first down for the Patriots.
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.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.