Mark Schofield finishes his countdown of the five most important New England Patriots offensive plays of the year, with Julian Edelman‘s touchdown pass against the Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional Round. Click here for Play #2: Gronk’s Rumble, Play #3: Amendola’s Scramble, Play #4: Edelman’s Dash and Play #5: Wright’s Catch.
Top 5 Patriots’ Offensive Plays of 2014 – Play #1 – “The Pass” – Divisional Round vs. Baltimore
New England opened the postseason by playing host to the Baltimore Ravens in an instant classic where the outcome remained undetermined until the Hail Mary from Joe Flacco fell incomplete to the turf. The visitors stormed out to two different 14-point leads during the game, including touchdowns on their first two possessions to take a 14-0 lead. After the Patriots tied the score, Baltimore scored just before halftime and again on their opening possession of the third quarter, extending their lead back 14 points at 28-14.
After a Ravens’ punt, New England took possession on their own 30-yard line and moved the chains after two plays. Facing 1st and 10 from their own 49-yard line, with the football on the right hash-mark, the offense lined up without a huddle and put Brady under center with 11 personnel. Shane Vereen was the lone running back while Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell occupied a slot formation to the right. Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski stood in a very wide, inverted-slot formation on the left.
Notice Edelman’s alignment in this still – four yards removed from the line of scrimmage:
Also, observe just how wide Amendola and Gronkowski are at the top of the screen. The tight end is on the numbers while the wide receiver splits the distance between the numbers and the sideline, setting the stage for what happens next:
Edelman motions from right to left. First, watch how he gains depth into the backfield on his motion, reaching the New England 44-yard line at the snap of the ball. This puts him five yards behind the line of scrimmage, ensuring Brady’s throw to him will be a lateral, or backwards pass. Second, watch how Baltimore reacts to Edelman’s motion. They rotate their coverage and the defender originally lined up over Gronkowski blitzes. The blitz takes one additional defender away from the flow of the play:
Edelman takes the pass from Brady and immediately sets to throw. Gronkowski sets up to block for his wide receiver/quarterback, while Amendola releases vertically along the sideline. Here is where Rashaan Melvin (#38) gets caught in limbo. Lined up across from Amendola in catch-man alignment, Melvin first breaks forward a few steps on the throw to Edelman before briefly turning to run with Amendola. But then Melvin inexplicably turns his head, sees Edelman with the football setting to throw…and stops.
Melvin’s indecision allows Amendola to break free, enabling the former Kent State quarterback to drop in a perfect touch pass:
Returning to the pre-snap alignment: The reason for the wide split is to eliminate the chance for an edge defender to spoil the play. If Amendola and Gronkowski lined up tighter to the formation, an edge defender could read and react to the throw outside and break on Edelman, forcing him to pull the football down, and spoiling the chance for a big play. The alignment ended up not factoring into this play, as Baltimore blitzed the defender off the edge anyways, but it is testament to the foresight within the play design.
Amendola’s touchdown evened the score again at 28-28. Following a fourth-quarter field goal by the Ravens, the game turned on two last-minute streak routes. Brady found LaFell in the front corner of the end zone to give New England a 35-31 lead, and then Duron Harmon intercepted Flacco on a very similar play with just over a minute left.
In a season filled with many worthy plays, the pass from Edelman to Amendola capsulized New England’s offensive brilliance in all facets: from the situation and field position through design and use of the on-field talent, and its ending with perfect execution, this sequence impeccably incorporated each element. For these reasons, it stands out as the Patriots’ offensive play of the year.
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.