Tom Brady secured the MVP trophy for Super Bowl XLIX with a masterful passing performance against the Seattle Seahawks, but he was one of many candidates. Julian Edelman caught nine passes for 109 yards and a score before Malcolm Butler turned in one of history’s greatest goal-line plays. And Shane Vereen’s overlooked 11-catch night was crucial to New England’s win, especially on the Patriots second TD drive.
The Patriots took over possession on their own 20-yard line following a Seahawks touchdown that tied the game at 7. With 2:16 remaining in the second quarter, Tom Brady and company had slowly worked their way into Seattle territory with receptions by Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen, as well as a jet sweep from Julian Edelman and a neutral zone infraction committed by Seattle’s Cliff Avril. With 49 seconds remaining in the half, the Patriots lined up for a first down at the Seattle 43-yard line in this formation:
New England uses one of its favorite plays, the high-low opposite. Rob Gronkowski is the inside receiver in a trips to the right, and he will run a crossing route behind the linebackers. Vereen is lined up to Brady’s left, and he will run a shallow route crossing in front of the linebackers:
The other three receivers run go routes, making this is a two-receiver read for Brady: Vereen or Gronkowski.
Returning to the pre-snap look, Seattle has its nickel defense in for this play and they show Cover 2, with Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor dividing the deep zone and the other three defensive backs in press-man position. The NFL’s best defense does a good job of disguising their coverage – rolling from Cover 2 into Cover 1 Robber seamlessly at the snap:
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Thomas drops into a robber position, giving the defense three players to counter Gronkowski and Vereen’s crossing routes. However, while the numbers favor the Seahawks, the offensive design wins the battle:
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Brady delivers the ball to his running back on the shallow crossing route. Thomas works into the path of Gronkowski’s crossing route, but the traffic created by the tight end slows his route to Vereen. All Thomas can do is lunge at Vereen’s legs, which the running back deftly avoids.
Vereen then outruns the linebacker and races deeper into Seattle territory with a 16-yard gain:
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On the next play, Brady finds Vereen again for a quick 5-yard gain, setting New England up with a 2nd and 5 at the Seattle 22-yard line. To give this next play context, understand that by this point in the drive Vereen has caught three passes for 26 yards.
Brady sets up in the shotgun again with 11 personnel on the field with trips to his left consisting of Brandon LaFell, Amendola and Edelman. Gronkowski splits wide to the right, and again Vereen lines up in the backfield next to Brady, this time on the quarterback’s right:
Both the Passing Preview and the Lane Interception piece discuss how Seattle uses Thomas to counter pass-catching running backs out of the backfield. On this play, perhaps because of Vereen’s success on the drive, Seattle again rolls out of a Cover 2 look pre-snap and into straight Cover 1:
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But this fools no one, because out wide to the right and lined up over Gronkowski is linebacker K.J. Wright:
This is a one-on-one matchup that favors the tight end. Now, I’m not saying Dan Quinn was a poor choice as Head Coach of the Atlanta Falcons, but the former Seattle Defensive Coordinator was lucky Arthur Blank offered him the job before he saw this play.
Gronkowski uses a stutter-step and then breaks vertically, and Brady hits him in stride for the touchdown:
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By rolling Thomas down into the box to cover Vereen, Seattle makes Chancellor the deep free safety on this play. He shades to the trips side of the field and cannot help Wright. It is unlikely that Thomas would have fared any better in providing help to the linebacker, but it is stunning that Wright was left on an island against Gronkowski. However, Vereen’s success on this drive forced Seattle to make an adjustment, and the Seahawks got burned as a result.
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 the NFL and NFL Game Rewind.