The New England Patriots have coasted into their bye week with a spotless record, largely due to their passing attack. However, the team still knows how to run the ball effectively. Brian Filipiak shows us how the effective Patriots wham schemes helped them amass a large amount of yards against the Jacksonville Jaguars in just a few plays.
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is one of the NFL’s most explosive playmakers. But while his downfield dominance in the passing game gains most of the fanfare, his credentials as a blocker often go unnoticed. Gronkowski is not only a key cog in opening up holes in the run game, his usage as a run blocker also generates an advantage off play-action.
Running the football starts up front. The success or failure of a run relies on the execution of a series of blocks on a given play. A blocking scheme looks to put those individual blockers in the best position to succeed. When it all comes together, an opposing defense can be left out-leveraged and overpowered.
One staple of the New England playbook is the wham – a run play with a blocking scheme designed to trap an initially unblocked interior defensive lineman. Generally executed out of a wing formation with the quarterback under center, the wham has the tight end (or fullback) on the closed side of a formation come in motion toward the QB just before the snap. Depending on the defensive front, the nose or defensive tackle will be allowed to penetrate the backfield only to be met by a near blindside block (or wham) by the oncoming tight end.
The blocking scheme is designed to create a significant leverage opportunity against the temporarily unblocked interior defensive lineman while also freeing up an interior offensive lineman to either provide help on a double-team at the line of scrimmage or hit the second level.
Against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 3, the Patriots utilized the wham play – with Gronkowski (#87) leading the way most often – several times out of a few different formations and personnel groupings.
Midway through the first quarter on a 2nd and 4 from the Jacksonville 42, the Patriots use the TE wham with 11 personnel on the field. The play hinges on trap blocking the 1 technique nose tackle, Abry Jones (#95), tilted toward center:
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As a result of the wham block, Jones is pinned up against fellow defensive tackle Michael Bennett (#96), who has been sandwiched by C David Andrews (#60) and LG Shaq Mason (#69) on a double-team. Gronkowski’s trap not only secures a massive running lane while freeing up Andrews to provide help on Bennett, but also allows RG Josh Kline (#67) to block linebacker Telvin Smith (#50) at the second level. Running back Dion Lewis (#33) presses the hole as RT Sebastian Vollmer (#76) helps part the sea on a kick out / down block against DE Chris Smith (#98). Lewis sprints into the secondary for a 10-yard gain.
On a number of occasions in the game, the Jacksonville defensive line had an interior tackle playing the aforementioned titled nose technique. The wham block can be particularly effective against this defensive alignment since it eliminates the need for a double-team and/or a difficult reach block attempt by the center on the tilted nose.
In the second quarter, New England ran the TE wham again on a 1st and 10 at the Jacksonville 42 but with a slight wrinkle in formation. Deploying 12 personnel, the Patriots load up on the left side of the formation with both tight ends:
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In this instance, the wham block targets the 3 technique defensive tackle Tyson Alualu (#93) but it creates many of the same advantages as seen in the previous play as well as some new ones. Gronkowski’s pre-snap motion over-shifts defensive back Davon House (#31) into the box and displaces him as the contain / force defender on a potential run bounced to the outside. By letting Alualu go unblocked initially, LT Nate Solder (#77) targets the linebacker at the second level right off the snap as Gronkowski completes the blindside trap block on the disadvantaged defender.
The blocking scheme also creates two more leverage advantages on the weak side by executing a fold block. Instead of blocking the tilted nose tackle, Andrews slips through to the second level to hit linebacker Paul Posluszny (#51). This leaves Kline – also free because of the wham block on Alualu – to fold under Andrews and pick up the 1 technique at a better angle.
With the entire Jaguars front reacting to the wham action and collapsing the middle of the line of scrimmage, running back LeGarette Blount (#29) presses it inside before nimbly bouncing outside and past House for a big 22-yard gallop.
Note: Inconsequential on the play, but it appears either RG Tre’ Jackson or RT Marcus Cannon miss their blocking assignment with DE Jared Odrick (#75) going unblocked – and not on purpose this time. Schematically, it makes more sense for Jackson to down block Odrick than work a double-team on a linebacker.
As witnessed above, the TE wham can be an extremely effective weapon against certain defensive fronts. But, once on tape, here’s where offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels can get creative with the wham concept in the passing game.
Rewinding to an earlier play on the same drive in the second quarter, the Patriots show the TE wham on a 2nd and 10 at the New England 20. Using 12 personnel, the formation has both tight ends aligned on the right side with Gronkowski in the wing position:
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Like clockwork, Gronkowski motions just before the snap in preparation for the apparent wham block on the 3 technique defensive tackle. Only this time, there is no trap – just some deception in the form of a play-action pass. The wham by Gronkowski and the rest of the blocking action up front simulates a run play to great success as the second level defenders get sucked up toward the line of scrimmage. With space created over the short middle, QB Tom Brady connects on the quick slant to WR Keshawn Martin (#82) for 13 yards and a first down.
In all, the three wham concepts highlighted above resulted in three first downs and a total of 45 yards. The Patriots most dynamic offensive threat may not have touched the ball on these plays, but Gronkowski’s involvement as a blocker was integral to their execution.
Follow Brian on Twitter @Brian_Filipiak.