Following his second straight game without a reception, questions abound regarding Danny Amendola’s usage by the Patriots and Tom Brady. We evaluated every passing play against Oakland when Amendola was on the field to determine if he was getting open and, if so, whether Brady was looking to get him the ball. Now, we know that Amendola joined the huddle for 13 passing plays, excluding yet another catch nullified by infraction-prone Brandon LaFell’s offensive pass interference penalty. On eight of these snaps Amendola was open but was only targeted once; let’s take a closer look at what happened.
On the Patriots’ first offensive play of the game (discussed in This Week in Passing: Oakland Recap), Amendola splits wide to the left while LaFell lines up wide to the right. Both receivers run 5-yard hitch routes and Brady chooses to throw to LaFell. Amendola is open, but Brady, given the placement of the ball on the right hash mark, makes his read and decision based on field position, opting for the shorter throw.
Late in the 1st quarter, the Patriots face 3rd and 23. Oakland is in a sub package using six defensive backs. From a slot to the left, Amendola runs an out route and is open. However, pressure up the middle flushes Brady to his right away from Amendola.
Here the Patriots face 3rd and 4 and they have Amendola and Edelman in a stack slot formation to the left. Amendola runs a corner route deep while Edelman breaks off on an out route at the first-down marker. Amendola does get open, but only after Brady has already connected with Edelman to earn first-down yardage..
This concept of using a stack slot and running one route off of another is employed by the Patriots later (play #9) in a goal-line attempt to free Amendola for a touchdown.
The Patriots again face a 3rd down, this time needing eight yards to move the sticks. They have Brady in the shotgun with a receiver split wide to the left and Amendola in trips formation to the right. Oakland again has six defensive backs on the field. On this play Amendola and Rob Gronkowski both get open, but Brady reads this defense as being vulnerable to the weak side and delivers the ball to Shane Vereen, who has a linebacker in man coverage. Vereen makes the defender miss and gains the 1st down. This looks to be a weak-side read from the snap, as Vereen against a linebacker is almost always a favorable matchup for the Patriots.
On Gronkowski’s touchdown catch, Amendola is lined up in the slot to the right. He runs a curl route at the goal line and is well-covered by Tarell Brown.
Here the Patriots face 2nd and 8 just before the two-minute warning at the end of the first half. They bring Amendola in motion across the formation to set up trips to the left, leaving Edelman alone to the right. Amendola and Gronkowski are both open on this play but Brady throws to Edelman on the outside. This also looks to be a weak-side read based on the Cover 3 coverage. The weak-side linebacker is slow to get under Edelman’s route and, with the cornerback playing deep, Edelman is open for a first-down reception.
This play is a designed swing route to Vereen. Amendola is setting up to block the slot defender before the ball is even thrown.
On this play, Brady makes his throw before Amendola has made a break. Nothing to see here.
This is the goal-line throw to Amendola, who begins lined up wide right. The Patriots put him in motion to the left, but only as far as the right slot where he forms a stack look with Edelman. New England works an in-and-out concept between the two receivers as Edelman breaks over the middle while Amendola runs an out route at the goal-line. The opportunity is there, but Brady throws the ball just a touch too far to the outside and Amendola cannot make the catch. This play is designed to go to Amendola as the first option, but the throw is off-target and falls incomplete.
Here, Amendola is the middle receiver in the trips formation and he runs a short in route. As he makes his break inside he appears to slip and Brady looks off to find Edelman on a deeper sideline route. Although Amendola eventually gets open, Brady is able to spot another receiver downfield following Amendola’s momentary stumble.
Following a big 3rd-down conversion to Gronkowski, New England looks to take a shot downfield on first-down. It appears Brady wants to hit Amendola on a deep post route, but the quarterback pulls the ball down and instead throws to LaFell on an intermediate route. Amendola is in the slot to the left and, coming off of the play-action, Brady first seeks out the receiver on the post route. He even seems to look at Amendola – twice – but decides against forcing a throw into tight coverage and comes back to LaFell on the safer in route.
The end-zone camera shows Brady looking a number of times to Amendola before settling for the shorter throw to LaFell. From the sideline camera you can see how Amendola was bracketed downfield on the post route, making the throw to LaFell the less risky option.
New England has 1st and 10 midway through the 4th quarter and Oakland has their nickel defense on the field in Cover 3. The Patriots attempt a play-action pass but the pocket breaks down and Brady has to scramble to avoid the rush. As this play develops, Amendola does a great job of recognizing that the quarterback has left the pocket and he breaks his route up the field. However, the alignment of the deep safety prevents Brady from risking a throw to Amendola and the quarterback chooses again to make the safer throw to LaFell underneath.
The final play appears to be another weak-side read from Brady. Facing 3rd and 8 with just over 6:00 left in the game, New England has trips to the right and LaFell split wide to the left. Oakland has their nickel defense on the field with Cover 1 called in the secondary. Off the snap Brady is looking weak-side the entire play, observing the dual out routes from LaFell and Vereen.
Having reviewed Amendola on every passing play he was on the field for, it does not appear that Brady is overlooking Amendola when he is open, at least not intentionally. Amendola was open on routes but often the quarterback’s primary read seemed to be away from Amendola’s side of the field. Other times, Amendola broke open after Brady had already thrown the ball. At this point, it is difficult to conclude that Brady is ignoring Amendola. It would appear that due to reads and schemes, Brady is simply doing what he always has: Looking to make throws to different targets. For the majority of these plays, Brady’s decision making was based on a pre-determined read, either due to coverage or to field placement. Pass protection woes aside, it seems from the film that the game plan was to work weak-side as much as possible. As the season wears on and game plans are altered, look for Amendola to play more of a role in the New England offense.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.