Scouting The Enemy- Patriots
The Patriots are back in town, and it’s a crucial game for the Jets in their playoff hunt. The Pats beat the Jets earlier in the year, and they are assured another playoff appearance along with a bye week. The Pats win consistently for a number of reasons, and let’s examine them.
Brady is a Hall of Fame QB that will go down as one of the best to have played the game. In a league centered around quarterbacks, having a QB of Brady’s caliber gives the Patriots an inherent advantage in any match up. He’s also mastered the system well enough that they are in the top 6 for plays per second, and it jumps to top 4 if you discard the second half when they have had substantial leads. As you will see in the examples, the Patriots count on late movement and precise timing of snaps to confuse the defense. The pace of play also prevents the defense from setting up in exotic looks and match ups to mirror the offense, taking away their lifelines. The key to defending Brady is to make him uncomfortable in the pocket and bringing in pressure up the middle. However, the Pats are a quick pass offense, so the task of reaching Brady is going to be hard for the defensive line.
Late Action at the Line
This is from the match up against the Jets earlier in the year. Discard the result of the play here, watch the late movement at the top, and the confusion it causes for the defense. On the outset, this is man coverage at the top, but the Patriots wide receiver moves in behind the other wide receiver creating a reaction issue for the defense. The person burned by this move is Cromartie, as the defense switches at the last minute, and the inside CB is lost. The Pats have a wide open underneath route, and an open deep route with inside position on Cromartie just because of simple movement. This wasn’t the Patriots just being superior shoulder to shoulder, but the late movement caused confusion for the Jets and almost burned them. This formation has been used by Chan Gailey this year as well, and the Jets are including it more and more in their playbook. However, what makes it such an effective weapon for the Patriots is the timing, there is barely any time for the defense to react, therefore creating mismatches out of thin air.
Another example of late movement and how it burned the Jets. In this case, you can pay attention to the end result, because this is manufactured directly by the movement. On this play, the Jets are in good defense for what the eventual play call is, a pass to the RB. However, when Edelman moves from the backfield, everything is thrown off. Edelman in this case is the responsibility of Pryor, so when Edelman moves, so does Pryor. The RB is the responsibility of the right side LB, who isn’t rushing the QB, pretty much setting the edge against a run or a pass to the RB. On a straight up play, the Jets are in great position to defend the RB pass. Once Edelman moves, the LB doesn’t have enough time to communicate with Pryor that they need to switch. Watch how the LB moves back at the snap to stay with Edelman, taking him out of position to cover the RB. This puts Edelman in position to make a block on the LB, forcing Pryor to make a good play on the tackle. The timing of the play is exquisite and forces the defense to miss plays or give up yards when it shouldn’t have.
This is another play that the Pats pulled out of thin air. If you follow the progression of the play, Gronk is double teamed on this play. The LB is going to drop back with him, and the safety over the top should suffice to have him covered. Gronk is of course good enough, that he can beat a double team, but the quick movement negates any need for him to beat two men. Brady has him move across the line, but snaps the ball before the defense can adjust. The LBs were blitzing off the other end, naturally to get pressure since the LB on Gronk was staying back in coverage. Both LBs at the bottom of the screen run towards Brady before realizing the trap too late. Gronk runs for good yardage, and a first down. If the offense had waited, then the LB at the top would have switched with the LB at the bottom, who was blitzing, and Gronk would be better covered. In the match up on Sunday, you will see plenty of late movement from the Pats, which will throw the defense into disarray.
Disregard the Patriots doing a late change, WR positioning, and the wide open slot WR it created. Focus on Gronk with this play. The Titans are set up in a defense the Jets will roll out against him at some point on Sunday. The defensive end bumps into Gronk from the outside, to throw off the timing, and the LB covers Gronk. Notice the defensive end pushes him inside, and the LB covering him is on the inside. On most tight ends in the game, by the time they recover to get open, the defensive line has gotten in the QB’s face. However, Gronk brushes off the DE contact, and runs a great route to the outside. They go to the one area the Titans are not defending on this play with Gronk. The whole idea of them pushing Gronk towards the inside was to have a longer transition period if he wanted to turn outside, giving the inside positioned LB time to recover. However, Gronk makes a flawless turn leaving the LB helpless in this case. This is a play where the Titans did what they wanted to do (at least in regards to Gronk) and they still got beat.
Again, forget the late movement with the WR, and the tiered position, and just focus on Gronk with this play. He’s lined out wide with a CB on him playing the inside position. It’s also, close man to man coverage. The one route they are trying to prevent with this defense? The slant or in route. However, Gronk has other plans and decides to just over-power his defender and make the catch. This is the reason why Gronk is such a weapon for the Patriots, because he’s too big and strong for the faster CBs, while being too agile for the LBs. This play has the CB doing everything right, and he just beat him one on one. The Jets see this time to time with Brandon Marshall.
This play illustrates again why Gronk is too agile for the LBs, as he runs right past them. The run fake causes the LBs to move up a bit too much, and by the time the LB recovers, it’s too late. Brady and Gronk also have some great timing, because as soon as Brady gets out of the fake, he’s setting up for a pass to Gronk. The Dolphins get burned on this play for a TD, partially because the safety missed a tackle, and a CB falls down trying to push a WR. This is just an example of how explosive Gronk is coming out of the TE formation.
Mistake Free Football:
The Patriots just don’t turn the ball over very often, providing little chance for cheap points from the offense. They are top 5 in giveaways, year in and year out, which helps sustain drives and give rest to the defense. Also, their movements and personnel create space, helping Brady avoid dangerous throws. It’s rare to see Brady throw the ball into double coverage, because he has so many inbuilt options into every play.
Overall from the examples, you can see that it’s not just a Brady/Gronk show, it’s a whole system that’s built on timing that the Jets have to face. The reason why this offense struggles comparatively with Gronk off the field is because defenses need to allocate too many resources to stop him. If he’s left one on one, then he’s too good, and will find a way to be open. If you double team him, then you have left either your defensive line too weak for the RB, or your CBs susceptible to the last minute changes by the WRs. The Pats have fine tuned a great philosophy with their offense, relying on intricate timing to attack defenses. Hopefully, the Jets devise a plan to stop their offense enough times to give the Jets offense a shot in the game. The Jets are playing in a must win game, so it will be interesting to see what first year head coach Todd Bowles throws at Brady in their second match up.