The Chess Match: Brady and the Jets

Despite the final score, the New York Jets defense played very well against the New England Patriots, keeping the vaunted New England offense under control for three quarters. Mark Schofield looks at the chess match between Brady and the Jets, and how even when you’ve got the right call, good execution, and tight coverage, Tom Brady can still beat you.

With 10:51 remaining in the game, New York holds a four point lead over New England. Tom Brady and the offense are in a bad spot: facing 3rd and 17 at their own 27-yard line. Two plays later, New England are well inside Jets’ territory with a fresh set of downs. How they got there shows that the Patriots offense is anything but pedestrian.

3rd and 17

After a toss play to LeGarrette Blount lost seven yards, New England faces a very difficult third and long. They empty the backfield and put their quarterback in the shotgun, with trips formation to the left, slot alignment right, and 11 offensive personnel in the game.

The Jets choose to play coverage on this snap rather than pressuring the QB. They have a 4-2-5 sub package on the field showing Cover 2 in the secondary, which they roll into Cover 6, with the Cover 2 side of the scheme deployed to the slot side of the field. Cover 6 is a field specific coverage that contains elements of Cover 4 and Cover 2. Defenses use the Cover 2 side of the scheme on the short side of the field to help the safety, while using the Cover 4 part of the coverage on the wide side of the field.

Regarding Cover 2 generally, this used to be a primary scheme for defenses until offenses started to attack the middle of the field (between the safeties) with three- and four-receiver formations. Defenses adjusted with the advent of Tony Dungy and the Tampa 2 wrinkle, which drops a linebacker into that deep middle area, taking away that soft spot in the coverage.

This is exactly what the Jets do on the Cover 2 side of the field. On the Cover 4 side of the field, they use a matching concept to combat the trips formation, with two defenders dropping into quarters, while a third plays man on the middle trips receiver:


New York linebacker David Harris (#52) is shaded to the slot side of the offensive formation; he is tasked with dropping into the middle zone. As the play begins he will read the slot receiver, match a vertical release from that WR, and try and get under any potential post route. The receiver is Julian Edelman (#11) – one of Brady’s favorite targets – and he’s running the post route.


Advantage: Jets, right? They have the perfect coverage called to try and prevent a completion to Edelman:

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Edelman sets up his cut to the inside by widening his route towards the sideline before making his break. He starts the play well above the top of the numbers:


Before Edelman makes his cut inside, he has reached the top of the numbers, forcing safety Dion Bailey (#34) to turn his hips toward the sideline to guard against a corner route:


So when the receiver cuts to the inside, Bailey makes an awkward baseball turn in response, giving Edelman separation.

Notice how Harris is in good position underneath the receiver. This is where the quarterback comes in. During the Monday night telecast of the Arizona-Baltimore game, Jon Gruden talked about the “three A’s of quarterbacking: Accuracy, Anticipation, and Audibles.” Brady demonstrates the first two on this throw. When he is about to release the pass, Harris is in good position to break up the play. But the QB throws Edelman open, leading him away from the coverage to a spot right on the hashmark:


Not only does Brady demonstrate great anticipation here, but he puts the pass where the only player of the 22 on the field who can catch the ball is Edelman:

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After the game Brady commented that the play was “not exactly how we drew it up,” pointing out that Edelman broke the route across Bailey once he saw the safety’s hips turn. The receiver does flatten the pattern a bit, and his quarterback was on the same page for this play.

1st and 10

Having converted on third and long, New England now faces a 1st and 10 at the New York 46-yard line. They keep the same personnel on the field, and Brady remains in the shotgun in an empty backfield, this time with trips right and slot formation on the left. The Jets also stay with the same personnel, this time showing blitz:


Six defenders are on the line of scrimmage. The two linebackers, Harris and Demario Davis (#56) sugar the A gap presnap. The two defensive ends each use a wide 9 alignment, with Muhammad Wilkerson (#96) well outside right tackle Cameron Fleming (#71) and Quinton Coples (#98) in the D Gap beyond left tackle Sebastian Vollmer (#76):


Brady must make a quick decision: With only five blockers against six potential pass rushers, he can either roll the dice and gamble that the Jets drop one or both linebackers into coverage, or he can shore up protection. The quarterback goes the latter route, shifting tight end Rob Gronkowski into the formation:


New England adjusts the protection here, bringing the TE in as an extra blocker and using slide protection to the left. This is an area blocking design, where each lineman begins the play with an opening step to their left looking to block to the gap on their left shoulder:


Of course, the ball has not been snapped yet:


The Jets do not blitz on this play, dropping both linebackers into underneath zones and playing a matching Cover 3 in the secondary, with the slot cornerback looking to blanket Edelman, while the rest of the defensive backs drop into a three-deep look. So when Brady looks to throw, this is what he sees:


New York has seven defenders in coverage and the four receiving options are blanketed. In addition, Brady’s other security blanket, Gronkowski, is currently locked up with a DE in pass protection. Advantage: Jets, right?

Of course, Brady isn’t done yet:

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While no one would confuse Brady with Andrew Luck or Cam Newton in terms of athletic ability, the Patriots signal-caller shows here that pocket presence, understanding of the scheme, and footwork can be just as effective, if not more so, than pure athleticism. He needs to extend this play with his feet, and he also knows that with the protection sliding to the left, moving to the right  is the safest course of action. As he moves, he keeps his eyes downfield.

But as Brady makes his escape, Wilkerson escapes Gronkowski’s block and sets his sights on the quarterback. That is when the tight end shows great awareness himself, turning to find Brady. The QB flips Gronk the football, who rumbles inside the New York 35-yard line.

On both plays, the Jets had the right defensive call, and good execution. They had the right coverage to guard Edelman’s post route with a linebacker underneath the WR to prevent the completion. But a subtle route adjustment and a perfect throw from the quarterback allowed the third down conversion.

On the second play, the blitz posture forced Brady into adjusting the protection and keeping Gronkowski into block before dropping into coverage and smothering the other four receivers. But the quarterback showed great awareness, extending the play, and finding his tight end after Gronkowski releases from his blocking assignment. This just shows that even when you’ve got the right call, good execution, and tight coverage, Tom Brady can still beat you.

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.

4 thoughts on “The Chess Match: Brady and the Jets

  1. Nice Article. Good insights. Would have been interesting to see what would have been the outcome if the Patriots eliminate some of those drops.

  2. Brady also yelled out “Gronk!” on that 1st and 10 play after the pocket collapse. You can see Gronkowski stop trying to block and immediately turn his head and release up field.

  3. Was it really Gronk’s awareness? I thought the replay on the telecast showed Brady yelling at Gronk to go after Brady started sliding right. Or had Gronk already released into a pattern by then?

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