New England’s offense has many strings to its bow. With versatile weapons like tight end Rob Gronkowski, wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, and running back Dion Lewis, the Patriots can and will move players around to work the best possible matchups.
Here against the Colts, New England lines up Amendola in the backfield, almost hiding him from the defense. Just before the snap, Amendola motions out into the slot.
This move by the Patriots gets Amendola matched up on a linebacker, which is a matchup he’ll win the vast majority of the time. He runs a quick out here.
As he cuts outside, Amendola has a couple of yards of separation from the defender, making him an easy target for Brady to throw to.
Brady hits Amendola for a quick and easy completion and allows Amendola the opportunity to pick up extra yards after the catch.
The Patriots are happy to run an efficient offense, built on a foundation of finding good matchups and picking up small chunks of yards at a time, like on that play. But they are perfectly capable of attacking deep down the field.
Here, the Patriots line up in a bunch formation, with every eligible receiver tight to the formation. Typically this would indicate a run or another short quick pass like we saw previously. But instead, New England runs three vertical routes down the field.
The Jets’ defense runs cover-three, the Redskins’ base coverage scheme, on this play. Brady uses his eyes smartly on this play. He knows there is a single deep safety in the middle of the field and wants to work back to Edelman up the seam. To create space, Brady looks to the receiver on his right, dragging the deep safety towards that side of the field. Meanwhile, on the back side of the play, the outside receiver runs an out-and-up route to draw attention of the deep outside zone corner.
That creates space for Edelman up the seam. Brady works back across and pulls the trigger.
Brady deliberately places the ball on Edelman’s outside shoulder, taking him away from the deep safety and allowing him to shield the ball from the safety.
With Brady’s experience and football intelligence, along with smart play designs, the Patriots will test the Redskins’ defense and their ability to diagnose plays and react quickly. It will be hard to get the upper hand on Brady, who will happily audible out of looks he doesn’t like. The Redskins’ defense will have to make sure they are all on the same page every play.
On this play, the Jaguars load the box against the Patriots. Brady, who starts under center, doesn’t like the look and changes the play.
Brady drops back into the shotgun, which alerts the Jaguars to a potential pass play. The linebackers begin to make signals to the rest of the defense, indicating an audible call of their own.
After both sides change their plays and get set, the Patriots send Gronkowski up the seam.
The Jaguars appeared to switch to a cover-three scheme, but one of the linebackers wasn’t on the same page with the rest of the defense. He worked to the flat instead of dropping to the middle of the field as a hook-curl defender. That mistake opens up a huge hole in the middle of the defense for Gronkowski to work with.
Brady doesn’t miss out on mistakes like that and finds Gronkowski wide open over the middle. Gronkowski picks up plenty of yards after the catch, taking this play all the way down to the Jaguars 8-yard line.
The Redskins’ defensive players will have to make sure they are all on the same page to avoid mistakes like these. The Patriots are hard enough to defend against without making mistakes and giving up big plays on busted coverages.
The Patriots will also look to test the Redskins’ fundamentals. The ability to read, react, pursue and make a tackle in space is something that a zone defense like Washington’s is built upon. But the Redskins haven’t been particularly good at making tackles. New England won’t shy away from throwing screen passes to test just how good the Redskins’ fundamentals are.
Here, the Patriots line up Lewis in the backfield, with Brady under center. But before the snap, Lewis motions outside.
With Lewis outside, Brady snaps the ball and throws a quick screen. New England’s offensive linemen all work quickly to the edge to block for Lewis.
As Lewis secures the ball and begins his run, he has nearly a full offensive line out in front of him to lead a path.
Lewis takes a simple screen pass more than 15 yards and picks up a first down in the process.
They won’t just throw screen passes to the running back either, they’ll throw them to anyone. Edelman in particular, can be dangerous on screen plays.
On this play, the Patriots use a slightly unusual formation, with three receivers to the same side of the field, two lined up outside the numbers. That leaves plenty of space for Edelman to work with in the slot.
As Edelman receives the screen pass, all he needs is the left tackle to reach a block on a linebacker to set him free into open field.
The left tackle manages to reach the block, giving Edelman all he needs to burst through the hole and into the secondary. Only the deep safety can make a tackle.
This is not a situation the Redskins want to find themselves in. Edelman has been an effective punt returner for the Patriots and can make people miss in the open field. Open-field tackling hasn’t been the Redskins’ strong suit for a number of years now. Pro Football Focus attributes 60 missed tackles in the Redskins’ seven games so far. Keenan Robinson (12) and Trenton Robinson (10) have been the worst offenders. Those two and the rest of the defense will have to show drastic improvement or players like Edelman will capitalize.
The icing on the cake for the Patriots’ offense is Rob Gronkowski. He’s an x-factor in the offense. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end can line up just about anywhere and be a mismatch for the defense. He’s too quick and athletic for safeties and linebackers to cover, but too big and strong for corners. New England likes to move him around throughout the game. We’ve already seen a play where he lined up inside and ran up the seam. But they are just as happy to line him up outside.
Against the Cowboys, the Patriots split Gronkowski out wide and match him up against a cornerback. He runs a simple fade route.
Brady has complete faith in Gronkowski, and shows that trust by throwing to him before he’s even open. The corner plays Gronkowski about as well as you can ask to this point in the play. But Gronkowski has such a size advantage, Brady just throws high and to the back shoulder.
Gronkowski makes an adjustment to the ball, opening himself up and shielding the ball from the corner. He pulls in the catch and then gets to work on picking up additional yards after the catch.
After picking up the first down, Gronkowski continues working for more yards. He’s incredibly physical, using a strong stiff arm to fight off the incoming tackle attempt from the safety. Gronkowski eventually gets shoved out of bounds, but only after he picks up 33 yards.
Gronkowski takes an already strong Patriots offense and pushes it into the elite category. He’ll undoubtedly have to be the main priority for the Redskins’ defense. But if they focus too much on one receiver, then Edelman, Amendola and Lewis, among others, are perfectly capable of making Washington pay for not giving them enough attention.
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