Play of the Day – Delanie Walker Tight End Screen

How do you keep the defense honest, especially when you bring a bunch of big guys on the field who are normally used to move the ball on the ground? Let’s take an example from the Titans playbook.

The Play

The Titans come out in 13T Personnel, where one of the tight end spots is being played by an extra offensive tackle (#71).

The one receiver they’ve actually got on the field is veteran Andre Johnson, who runs across the field to the opposite side to try and clear out the defense to that side, and maybe bring a defender or two with him.

Mariota carries out the play fake and then delivers the ball to Delanie Walker on a tight end screen, who gets a decent gain on first down.

This is a great way to create a passing threat out of a normally run-heavy personnel grouping.


What really sells this play is the two pullers, one guard and one tight end (Fasano) pulling to simulate the counter action on the play.

The weak side blitz that doesn’t get there in time just means that the Colts defense is a man short to that side, and it makes it a lot easier for the blockers to get out in front.

Here’s the Video:

Walker runs this route better than a lot of receivers. Instead of dancing around, he gets vertical right away, and turns this into a very productive first down call, setting up the offense ahead of schedule.

Having the ability to run the tight end screen out of multiple formations and personnel groupings gives your opponent something else they have to worry about. It’s a low-risk, high-reward approach that can turn into a big play if the defense doesn’t flow to the play and pursue properly.

Want more clips like this one?

Subscribe to my YouTube channel and get a new video every day.



Chris Ault: Pistol Inside Zone Basics

Chris Ault Pistol Inside Zone

It’s official: The inside zone has taken over the game of football.

Look far and wide, but it’s increasingly rare that you’ll find a team at most levels of the game who doesn’t have it somewhere in their playbook, especially in college or the pros.

Still, there are holdouts. Maybe you’re one of them?

Don’t worry, Chris Ault, renowned creator of the Pistol offense, knows exactly how you feel.

As he talks about in the video below, he was never a big zone guy.

Now? He’s considered one of the foremost experts in the zone run game, especially the pistol inside zone.

After retiring as the head coach at Nevada, Ault now works as a consultant with the Kansas City Chiefs.

You may not be able to hire him as a consultant for your team, but he’s got a great video course over at CoachTube on the basics of the Inside Zone, and I highly recommend it.

For now though, let’s talk about what made him change his mind and embrace the inside zone. » Read more

Carolina’s Offense vs Denver’s Defense in the Super Bowl

I know it’s Monday, but I’ve got some great news…

The first issue of the Every Play Revealed Newsletter is now available!

I wanted to really study Denver’s defense and how they managed to shut down Carolina’s offense in the biggest NFL game of the year, and I learned all kinds of interesting things that I put in this first issue, including:

  • How Denver disguised their coverage in key situations to confuse Carolina’s offense
  • The complex and interesting Carolina run game
  • Breaking down the Panthers offensive audibles
  • How the Panthers designed their formations to create lots of space for their elite tight end Greg Olsen
  • And more!

All 16 drives of Carolina’s offense taking on Denver’s defense have been analyzed and broken down for this first issue.

This is the kind of breakdown you can’t find anywhere else!

CLICK HERE to get it now!

How I Watch Football Film

I often get asked what my “process” is for breaking down film. My initial response is usually to say that I don’t have one, and I’m not sure that I do anything complex that couldn’t be done after a long time of watching and analyzing film.

Since I’m out of coaching these days and am now writing books instead, I use different techniques than you might, but that’s what I’ll be talking about today.

I don’t have an original and fool-proof way of breaking down film that I developed on my own. Almost everything I do I learned and borrowed from someone else, and found a way to add to what I do.

Hopefully you’re able to do the same, to take one or two things from what I’m writing about today and make yourself better.

I should add that if you’re a young coach who is looking to learn more about the game, you won’t be able to do that by doing your weekly breakdowns of each opponent during the season and then never watching video again until it’s time to prepare for week one the next fall. Good coaches are always looking to get better, and that means spending extra time in the offseason to learn about the newest trends in football, and especially what your opponent is doing.

You may say, “I just don’t want to put that much time in.”

That’s fine, just don’t complain when you’re not rewarded with more responsibility in your coaching career.

If you’re someone who doesn’t want to put all that time in, just stop reading right now, because this isn’t for you. » Read more

The Best Book On Football Game Breakdowns You’ve Never Read

A couple years back at the AFCA Convention in Nashville I had the pleasure of listening to Mike Stoeber, the Associate Director of Football Technology for the Jacksonville Jaguars, speak on the topic of game breakdowns.

Since I was sitting in the crowd, I was lucky enough to get a copy of his excellent book “Football Game Analysis” in paperback.

It is simply the best book I’ve ever read on the topic of football breakdowns.

This book gave me a ton of great ideas about how to approach game breakdowns, but more than that, it’s a complete guide on how to structure your breakdowns through HUDL or whatever program you use, so that you have a comprehensive system of terminology in place instead of a bunch of words that you may have always used but may not make sense to too many other people on staff.

It’s important to have a real “system” approach to the way you look at the game, as well as how you tag what you enter into your breakdown program so that you get accurate results that are easy to understand.

Unfortunately, you couldn’t find the book anywhere, until now.

I recently contacted Stoeber and he gave me permission to give the book away free of charge to anyone who wants it.

Click on the link directly below to get the PDF.

Football Game Analysis 2012

I’ll be writing more about this book and giving it a more in-depth look, but for now I wanted to get it out there as quickly as possible.

PS – I’ve got a brand new book out on the X’s and O’s of the Greatest Show on Turf.

You can get it here.

Breaking Down SMU’s Offense vs Baylor


Note: This is an excerpt from Breaking Down a Drive: SMU vs Baylor now available on Kindle here.

If you don’t own a Kindle, click here to download the FREE Kindle App on to practically any device (Yes, even an iPad).

Play #7 | 2nd & 9 | +26 Yard Line | 10:20 1Q



QB scramble for 13 yards and a first down.


If you want an example of how precise this offense is, look no further. Once again on 2nd and long, the offense calls a passing play (that leads to the QB using his legs), but the assignment of one of the receivers gives great insight into how Chad Morris coaches up his guys, and how much timing plays a role.

At first glance this play looks like your standard boot play. A play fake with a receiver underneath and another one dragging behind as the QB rolls to one side or the other.

In that respect, there’s not much different about this play. The interesting wrinkle comes from the X receiver’s assignment, and the timing involved.

You see, Morris has coached up his QB to make a decision, and make it quickly. In fact, the timing is so precise that the outside receiver to the side of the boot knows exactly how far down the field, and how long into the play he should start actively blocking the DB across from him.

If the corner is rolled up, it’s not an issue, because against press coverage he’ll just go vertical and take the corner with him and out of the picture.

What happens in a situation like this, though, when the corner is playing off?

You can’t just tell the receiver to go block him, at least not right away. That’s going to be a penalty, even if you know the ball will likely be thrown and caught in that area. So if you’re Chad Morris, you time up the play so that by the time the ball is thrown and caught, or the quarterback takes off with it, you know where the outside receiver will be, and you coach him up not to go after the defensive back until that point.

As the quarterback is rolling out to this left, he sees everyone covered, while at the same time, a big patch of green grass appears in front of him (with no defenders in it). So he takes what’s there, and uses his legs to pick up the first down.

So far on this drive, SMU has done a great job not putting themselves in difficult positions, where they have to make amazing plays to stay alive. As long as they can continue to gain consistent yardage on first down, they’ll be able to keep things simple because of the manageable down and distances.

You can read the whole thing here.

The Easy Way To Break Down The 3-3-5 Defense

The 3-3-5 defense is one of the most confusing schemes in the game today. It can overwhelm you in a hurry if you’re unfamiliar with it.

Even if you’re someone who loves to watch and break down film, you may have trouble keeping up with all the variations the defense brings at you.

So here’s the basic idea we’re going to talk about in this article:

Instead of drawing up every single blitz and putting them all in a scouting report for your kids that they won’t remember and will only confuse them, start analyzing where those guys end up. » Read more

Breaking Down Bill Belichick’s Super Bowl Defense

Bill Belichick is famous for his ability to simplify things for his defensive players, figuring out the tendencies of his opponents, and presenting the scouting report in a way that allows his best players to play fast. The key is that Belichick doesn’t take away everything you do, in fact, he doesn’t even try. It would be impossible to try to predict and prepare for every little wrinkle that an opponent offensive coordinator will put into his game plan, so instead Belichick just focuses on the four or five things his opponent does best, and tries to take those away.

Bill Belichick recaptured his spot at the top of the professional coaching world last February thanks to an excellent game plan.

Bill Belichick recaptured his spot at the top of the professional coaching world last February thanks to an excellent game plan.

This is one of the reasons why I wanted to go as in-depth as I did into Bill Belichick’s game plan in my latest book Every Play Revealed Volume II: New England vs Seattle. I draw up and break down every single play of the Super Bowl, and I also write about specific adjustments made by both teams over the course of the game. (Click here to get it)

After watching the Seattle offense on tape for any length of time, the question becomes how do you stop Marshawn Lynch from running wild on the defense? That’s exactly what we’re going to talk about in this post.

Covering the Interior Offensive Linemen

A careful examination of the different defensive fronts that New England played over the course of the game reveals a pattern.

Belichick has the goal of covering the three interior linemen, and especially controlling the path of the center as he climbs to the second level in the run game. This may seem counter-intuitive, especially with the wide alignment of the two defensive tackles, leaving the two A-gap unoccupied, but if you watch the actions of the inside linebackers closely, you’ll notice the way they attack the center and keep him off of the opposite inside linebacker, especially #91 Jamie Collins.

A perfect example of how New England uses their linebackers to play against the zone read by attacking the center the same way many defenses cover up the center with a nose tackle. It's the same concept.

A perfect example of how New England uses their linebackers to play against the zone read by attacking the center the same way many defenses cover up the center with a nose tackle. It’s the same concept.

Bill Belichick’s game plan centers around stopping Marshawn Lynch, even at the expense of keeping more people back in the secondary for the pass defense. New England dedicates six men staying inside the tackle box against a one-back formation, and plays intense, press-man coverage across the board. Using giant defensive tackles like Vince Wilfork to control the guards and play a 2-gap technique frees up additional men to attack the ball carrier and lets the defense win the numbers game in the tackle box.

Alignments and Formation Games

It’s important to remember the importance of formations to both the offensive and defensive game plans.

The alignment of the inside linebackers is determined by the location of the tight end. When there is no tight end on the field, the defense sets the strength to the pass strength of the formation.

As you watch the Seattle offense come out with different formations, you’ll note that the Seahawks flex out their starter Luke Wilson all alone as the single receiver in a 3×1 formation. This is in order to test New England’s commitment to setting their strength to tight end. Will New England still set the strength to the lone tight end side where there are more bodies to the other side of the formation? Seattle begins to understand that the answer is yes.

Identifying the Backfield Set

When breaking down an offense, analyzing the different backfield sets play a huge part in developing the game plan. Obviously when you’re playing a team like Seattle, stopping the run game is a big part of your preparation, but even just speaking in general without any specific reference to this offense, the location of the back in the gun in relation to the QB is a big indicator of what the defense to anticipate.

Most defensive coordinators coach up their linebackers to recognize the backfield sets and classify them in relation to where the tight end is lined up. There are plenty of different terms used depending on what coach you’re working for, but for our sake, we’ll use the terms “gun near” and “gun far.”

The backfield sets are referred to as "gun near" and "gun far," with the "near/far" indicating where the back is lined up in relation to the tight end.

The backfield sets are referred to as “gun near” and “gun far,” with the “near/far” indicating where the back is lined up in relation to the tight end.

It’s also worth noting that this is a big motivation for a lot of coaches to move to a pistol offense, because the alignment of the back doesn’t give anything away about the intentions of the offense, and it’s also one less thing the coaches have to worry about when putting together an offensive game plan.

Now that we’ve gone over the basics of how a coach will break down the offensive backfield, we can now talk about the specific defensive assignments as it pertains to each alignment, and more importantly, why.

Gun Near Alignment

Here’s the play drawn up from the offense’s perspective. You can see that the tight end’s wide release with the defensive end lined up across from him is designed to influence the defensive end and open up a large space in case of the cutback run. The play is intended to hit inside of the A gap, but since it’s a zone play, Lynch obviously has the ability to go where he fits best. A run up the middle in the A gap allows Lynch to pick up a lot of speed and momentum in a hurry, and that’s the last thing New England wants.

Zone read with the back set to the strong side.

Seattle’s zone read with the back set to the strong side.

Here’s the overhead view of the formation, and we can see that Luke Wilson the tight end is lined up to the right on his own side, and the three receivers on the field are lined up opposite on the left.

The offense lines up early in the game in a 3x1 formation with the tight end strength to the defense's left, so Hightower lines up to the left side.

The offense lines up early in the game in a 3×1 formation with the tight end strength to the defense’s left, so Hightower lines up to the left side.

As a result, Hightower lines up to the defensive left side, while Collins lines up to the right. Patrick Chung #23 lines up with outside leverage on the tight end, which you can see from the wide view. While Chung isn’t heavily involved in run support in the interior of the tackle box, he is responsible for staying outside of the tight end Luke Wilson to play the edge support and force the play back inside in the run game.

Hightower (#54) is lined up to the strong side, with Jamie Collins (#91) lined up to the weak side. Rob Ninkovich (#50) is aligned over the top of the tight end, and has put his hand on the ground in a three-point stance since he's got a tight end lined up across from him.

Hightower (#54) is lined up to the strong side, with Jamie Collins (#91) lined up to the weak side.

Wilson releases outward to the strong safety Patrick Chung (not pictured) which forces Ninkovich to release even wider than usual. By this point, Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell knows that Ninkovich will be playing up the field to box in Russell Wilson, but he’s using the tight end’s wide release to influence Ninkovich to release wide enough to open up space for Lynch to cutback inside of him. Ninkovich stays disciplined and keeps close enough to the backside edge of the play so he has the ability to collapse on any play coming back to him.

Hightower reads the play and flies downhill right away.

Test text caption

As the run play begins to develop in the backfield Hightower comes downhill into the A-gap, and Collins waits an extra count so that Hightower can get downhill and he’ll have a clear path to the opposite side.

As the play develops and Hightower comes downhill, Collins delays for a count so that he can wait until the path to the opposite side of the formation is clear. The center doesn’t get to Collins in time, and he watches as Collins moves to play the cutback. Speaking of the cutback, Lynch sees that the front side of the play is clogged up, so he begins to move side-to-side, cutting back to the offensive right side of the play- right into the paths of Collins and Ninkovich.

Since Hightower and the rest of the defensive front plug up the front side of the play, the cutback lane begins to develop to the defense's left side, which is why Collins comes over the top, and Ninkovich starts pursuit as well since it's clear that Russell Wilson didn't keep the ball.

Since Hightower and the rest of the defensive front plug up the front side of the play, the cutback lane begins to develop to the defense’s left side, which is why Collins comes over the top, and Ninkovich starts pursuit as well since it’s clear that Russell Wilson didn’t keep the ball.

Not only has the defense forced Lynch to cut the play back to an unblocked defender, moving side-to-side means that he’s not able to build up the kind of downhill momentum that makes him even more dangerous. So when Collins and Ninkovich get to him and wrap him up, he’s not bringing as much force with him as he would’ve been if he had been able to hit the frontside A gap downhill right away.

Collins and Ninkovich combine to bring down Lynch as he cuts back to the backside of the zone play.

Collins and Ninkovich combine to bring down Lynch as he cuts back to the backside of the zone play.

As we can see, the defense is designed to not only force the cutback, but get two guys to the ball carrier once he changes direction and moves side-to-side before he can pick up momentum. New England accomplishes this by using their strong side inside linebacker to attack the center, acting almost like a nose tackle who is supposed to control the center, only coming from the second level. In this case, big Vince Wilfork controls the right guard and right tackle, and Collins is left unblocked as he plays the ball bouncing back to the opposite side.

Gun Far Alignment

Now we come to the opposite alignment, where the back lines up away from the strength of the formation. With the change up in the alignment comes a change up in the defensive assignments, as now the unblocked defensive end Chandler Jones closes down the line to chase the “give” and take out the back Robert Turbin on his path of the zone read, and the Will linebacker Jamie Collins scrapes to the QB (Wilson) and exchanges responsibilities in defending the run game.

This is another situation that we talk about in the book, because Seattle has under a minute left in the 1st half, and they want to create a big play, but don’t want to throw a long incomplete pass and leave the clock stopped. If they stop the clock but aren’t picking up yards, they run the risk of having to punt and give the ball back to New England. So Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has to manufacture a big play on the ground, and he’s got a pretty good idea of how to do it.

Keep in mind that the objective behind most of New England’s adjustments in the run game is to keep Jamie Collins free to chase the ball carrier, and Belichick wants to keep him away from the clutches of those guys playing in the middle of the offensive line as much as possible. As a result, you’ve got to switch up the responsibilities when the back is lined up to Collins’ side, because if you play the responsibilities the same way to both sides, what you’ll end up having is your speedy guy (Collins) attacking the A gap, and the slower of the two inside linebackers (Hightower) having to get over to the opposite side to play the cutback lane.

On the plus side, you’d keep things extremely simple for your defenders when you’re coaching them up during the two weeks of preparation leading up to the game. Unfortunately, you’d also put Hightower in a very bad position when the back is lined up away from him, and you’re asking him to do something that he doesn’t do very well.

Seattle's zone read play after adjusting the back to line up to the weak side.

Seattle’s zone read play after adjusting the back to line up to the weak side.

There’s no tight end on the field, so the defense will line set their strength to the pass strength of the formation, meaning Hightower lines up to the defensive left and Collins to the defensive right.


Seattle originally lines up the back to the three receiver side so that there won’t be any doubt as to where the strength of the formation is. There are four skill guys to the offense’s right side of the formation.

We’ll get even more in-depth in a moment, but just look at all that space in the alley at the bottom of the picture that is available to Russell Wilson if he can get free on the edge.

Test 3

As Russell Wilson comes off the mesh point, he knows he’s got one man to beat and then he’s into the open field.

Here’s the back (Turbin) aligned to the four receiver side of the formation, to the defense’s left, and Hightower calls out and sets New England’s strength to the left. As you can see, neither the offense or defense is set at this point, so it’s very early in the pre-snap process.

Test 4

The back starts off aligned to the pass strength and Hightower is pointing out the strength.

As the back #22 Robert Turbin flips sides, you can see the right defensive end #95 Chandler Jones and #91 Jamie Collins communicating now the back is lined up to their side, so now their assignments will change.

Test 5

Seattle then flips the back’s alignment to the weak side.

Now Turbin is aligned to the weak side, and Seattle knows exactly what’s coming, which is why they flipped the back and called this play, in order to get Russell Wilson out on the edge.

Test 6

Turbin gets set to the weak side, and Russell Wilson prepares to take the snap.

Just like he’s been coached up to do, and just like Seattle expects, Chandler Jones closes down the line to chase Turbin whether he has the football or not, and Collins comes downhill on a wide angle in an attempt to box in Wilson and keep him from getting to the edge. This scheme allows Collins, the faster of the two inside linebackers, to still play out in space, instead of wasting his speed by coaching him up to stick his nose in the interior of the offensive line and letting Hightower try to come from the other side and run to take away the cutback.

Test 7

As Seattle expects, Chandler Jones closes down the line, and Collins scrapes to the QB (Wilson). Collins takes a wide angle to cut off the path of Wilson as he’s coming off the mesh point.

Now it’s nothing but a one-on-one matchup out on the edge, athlete vs athlete, and Russell Wilson is a quicker player than Collins. All he has to do is make Collins hesitate for a half-second in order to get the edge, and that’s exactly what he does.

Test 8

Now it’s a one-on-one match up on the edge between Wilson and Collins, and Wilson makes him hesitate with a nice stutter step which holds Collins in place and gives him just enough room to get the edge.

Now, the advantage that Collins originally had at the start of the play by coming at a proper angle is gone. Russell Wilson gets the edge on him, and after that it’s no contest. Collins dives at him but he’s not touching him after that.

Test 9

Wilson escapes the grasp of Collins, and gets around the edge where there’s a lot of green grass in front of him.

Now Wilson has all that green grass in front of him that you can see in the photo below, and he has the ability to get out of bounds to stop the clock before any defender can put a good hit on him.

Test 10

Thanks to the vertical release of the X receiver to the defensive right side, there are no other defenders out to the edge.

He’s able to pick up the first down by using his legs before finally being forced out by the free safety Devin McCourty. It goes without saying, but anytime your free safety is making tackles, it’s never a good thing.

Test 11

He’s eventually forced out of bounds by the free safety McCourty after a first down.


One of the great things about the way Belichick approaches defense is that his scheme doesn’t require, and doesn’t set out to, shut everything down completely. He’s betting that your offense isn’t good enough to beat him with your 4th or 5th option.

Sometimes, that’s gotten him into trouble. There are a couple of memorable (some in Boston would call them lucky) catches in the pair of Super Bowl losses to the Giants that ultimately ended up costing the Patriots the game, but Belichick’s win percentage speaks for itself. More often than not, his well-coached defense is going to take away the things you do best, and leave you with a few things that you’re either not very good at, or just haven’t practiced that much. Now you have to go out on the field and beat him.

This is what the Super Bowl ultimately came down to. Belichick played an aggressive defensive front that focused on stopping the run first, and locked up Seattle’s receivers in man-to-man coverage that forced Russell Wilson into some uncomfortable throws. Some of those throws connect, like the incredible catch Jermaine Kearse made on Seattle’s final drive. Most of the others however, like the final pass intended for Ricardo Lockette that found its way into Malcolm Butler’s hands, don’t.

This is exactly the kind of in-depth analysis you can expect from my latest book Every Play Revealed Volume II: New England vs Seattle.

With over 200 pages of diagrams and analysis on not only the plays themselves, but the adjustments in between drives and at halftime, it’s the closest you can possibly get to sitting in coaches meetings and putting on the headset to listen in on the conversations Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll have with their assistants during the game.



Click below and have it sent to your inbox instantly!

11 Trick Plays You Should Put in the Playbook this Fall

This past week I asked my subscribers to give me their favorite trick plays, with the best submission winning a copy of my newest book Every Play Revealed: Breaking Down Oregon and Ohio State in College Football’s Biggest Game.

(If you’d like to see the PDF with all 11 trick plays listed and drawn up, scroll down and sign up below and you’ll have it sent directly to your inbox in moments.)

I did something I haven’t done before, I picked two winners, because they sent me two unusual plays that I’d never seen before, and both of them happen to involve getting the football to the offensive guard.

Bruce Eien – Left Guard Special

Guard Handoff

This is one of the most interesting plays I’ve ever seen, it’s almost like a version of the fumblerooski where the whole offense runs one way and one person runs the other way.  There are a lot of things I could add, but I’ll just let the video that Coach Eien has posted on YouTube do the explaining.

Rusty Pixon – 41 Jailbreak Special

This is a very interesting twist on a play that a lot of people are running these days. This is what he had to say:

I’m an OL coach for a Tony Franklin System team in eastern Washington. We have this trick play that I’m pretty proud of. 
Bring a TFS team we run a ton of screens. They account for nearly 35% of our offense. Our most successful has always been the jailbreak screen. 
The OL invites the DL up field with a vertical set, releases and gets out into space. Our BSG has the peel block looking for and DL retracing their steps. The blocking scheme is simple and more importantly works. 
After teams see us run this a few times the entire defense starts to sit. To counter this we had  the BSG carry his peel block all the way to the sideline and behind our receiver. The receiver caught the ball and lateraled to our BSG who went streaking down the sideline in all his fat boy glory. 
It’s some school yard stuff, but out of the three times we ran it one went for an 80 yard touchdown, one went for a 40 yard touchdown and the last was a 2 yard loss. 
My lineman love it. They get to celebrate a fat guy touchdown and it’s the last thing anyone would expect. Doesn’t get much trickier than that. 

Jail Break Special - Rusty Pixon

Two is better than one: How Tom Brady gets New England in the right play so often

Tom Brady’s name is all over the news right now, and not for a good reason. Regardless of your opinion of “Deflate gate,” however, he put together an impressive performance in the Super Bowl against one of the best defenses the NFL has seen in a long time.

You can deflate all the footballs you want, but you still need a sound gameplan, a backup plan in case your first idea doesn’t work, and a quarterback like Tom Brady who is smart enough to know what he’s looking at and also good enough to get the ball where it’s supposed to be.

Last month I released my latest book Every Play Revealed: Breaking Down Oregon and Ohio State in College Football’s Biggest Game, and I’m almost ready to release the next one. The title Every Play Revealed means what it says, the book is literally a breakdown of every single play of the National Championship game, along with analysis of each drive and the overall gameplan. I took the same idea and applied it to the Super Bowl, and I’m really excited to share it with you.

Before it’s made available, I wanted to give you a look at the kind of analysis offered in the book, so I took a play from the opening drive of the game, and looked at all the different perspectives on what happened and why. You may be surprised at how much goes on before and after the snap.josh-mcdaniels-8042c28649cfa58f

The Patriots have a way to basically call two plays at the line, and almost always end up in the right one. Of course, Tom Brady has a lot of leeway at the line of scrimmage, but there are certain plays that are packaged with specific formations, where there is a Plan A and a Plan B, depending on how the defense lines up. New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels gives Brady very simple rules in these situations, which takes the pressure off of him and allows he and the rest of the offense to just play.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, we’re going to take a close look at just one play. I chose this particular play not because it resulted in a big gain, but instead because it exemplifies the amount of detail and precision involved in the New England offense, and it gives you an idea of the kind of things offensive coordinators are looking at in the opening drive of a game.

Drive #1 / Play #6 / 3rd & 6 / -35 yard line / Middle / 12:20 / 1st quarter

The Patriots line up with a tight split from the X receiver, and on this play they send the lone back beside Brady, Shane Vereen #34, in motion out wide to the left. This is one of the many ways that New England has to get a read on the opposing defense.

New England begins to line up in a 3x1 set with a tight split by the backside receiver.

New England begins to line up in a 3×1 set with a tight split by the single receiver on the left.

The corner Byron Maxwell (#41) who is originally lined up across from Edelman, now widens with Vereen as he motions out to the left. The safety Earl Thomas (#29) comes down to press Edelman and replace Wright, and the linebacker in the box Bobby Wagner (#54) ends up exactly where he started.

Vereen brings Maxwell with him and Thomas adjusts for the Seahawk defense.

Vereen brings Maxwell with him and Thomas adjusts for the Seahawk defense.

The goal behind sending Vereen in motion out of the backfield to a wide alignment is not only to see who the defense sends with him, but also to find out whether or not, by removing the only real run threat from the backfield, whether or not Seattle will remove the linebacker from the middle of the formation, which would leave the short zones underneath in the middle undefended.

You may ask, “Who cares as long as the defense drops to take away the deep ball? It’s 3rd down, so isn’t the goal of the defense to force a short throw by Brady and then rally to the receiver to make the tackle?”

There are many cases where this would be a valid strategy, but in the biggest game of them all, knowing your opponent is the difference between hoisting that Lombardi Trophy in front of the entire world and watching from behind the ropes as the confetti rains down on the other team.

New England makes a living attacking the defense with the shallow cross concept, which is specifically designed to get the football to the receiver right about where the middle linebacker is standing in the picture below. In reality, the offense is trying to get the ball to the receiver once he crosses the formation and reaches the opposite hash mark which will let him turn up field to pick up the first down.

Wagner doesn't leave the middle of the field when Vereen goes in motion out of the backfield, so now Brady has to go to Plan B.

Wagner doesn’t leave the middle of the field when Vereen goes in motion out of the backfield, so now Brady has to go to Plan B.

Once you understand what New England is looking for on this play, it makes perfect sense why Seattle leaves Wagner in the box. Patriot offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels wants to find out as early as possible whether or not he can get the defense to vacate the middle of the field and make room for the shallow cross and other concepts which attack the middle.

On this play, he and Brady get their answer, which brings us to what happens next.

Brady points out Wagner, the middle linebacker, and makes his call based on that.

Brady points out Wagner, the middle linebacker, and makes his call based on that.

Once the defense has finished making adjustments and all players have “declared” who they’ll be lining up across from, it’s now time for Brady to make sure the offense is in the best possible position to succeed. He’s not going set himself up for failure by running a receiver on a shallow crossing route, only to be beaten up by Wagner who is sitting there waiting for the receiver to come underneath. Instead, after surveying the look of the land, Brady makes a check at the line to go to the alternate play that New England has in this situation.

Just like a lot of passing plays have a particular read, usually a specific defender, the Patriots also have a specific package of calls where they will line up a certain way, and sometimes send a man in motion, observe how a specific defender reacts, and then adjust the call based on that. What it basically means is that the Patriots call two plays, one being the default play call, the other being “Plan B.”

Brady signals to Vereen and Edelman that the offense is switching to play #2.

Brady signals to Vereen and Edelman that the offense is switching to play #2.

What was the original play call? The offense had planned to send a receiver, either Edelman or Vereen, underneath on a shallow crossing route, with another man coming from the opposite side to run a dig route at ten yards to stretch the middle of the defense.

Obviously it’s impossible to know for a fact what the Patriots had planned at first, but it’s safe to assume that the original play was designed to attack the middle of the field underneath as well as a defensive structure that kept both guys deep in a two-deep look. The diagram below should give you some idea about the kinds of things the offense was looking to do on this play.

Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola go vertical on the right side to clear out space for Edelman once he makes the catch and turns up the field for the first down.

Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola go vertical on the right side to clear out space for Edelman once he makes the catch and turns up the field for the first down.

In this scenario, the defense has sent Wagner out to follow Vereen in motion, leaving the middle wide open for Edelman to come underneath and make some good yardage after the catch, especially since Amendola (#80) and LaFell (#19) take their defenders with them and leave nothing but green grass and room to run on the right side of the field for Edelman.

Now that the call has changed, however, the offense is now attacking the areas outside of the hash marks, since the middle of the field looks to be crowded once the ball is snapped.

Still, to keep up appearances and give the impression that the shallow cross is still coming just like Seattle expects, Brady brings Vereen in short motion back inside where he is extremely close to Edelman and the two of them are almost “stacked” like the Patriots often do.

The corner (Maxwell) follows Vereen back inside and starts to give depth as well.

The corner (Maxwell) follows Vereen back inside and starts to give depth as well.

At the snap, Vereen comes underneath the vertical release of Edelman, and takes a few steps toward the hash as if he’s going to run the shallow crossing route, but once he gets to the hash he pivots back out to all that wide open space underneath to the outside. The corner (Maxwell) is disciplined and doesn’t allow himself to be out-flanked, staying with his man.

Vereen is actually Brady’s final read on the play, since his eyes are moving right to left while in the pocket. Once the ball is snapped he peeks over at the wheel route by Amendola, who is trying to gain leverage on the defensive back over him, but is unable to do so. Next he looks for Gronkowski, who should just be making his break to the outside once Amendola’s wheel route starts to turn vertical, and LaFell’s post route gets Richard Sherman out of the way, but K.J. Wright (#50) is playing with outside leverage and Gronkowski can’t break free.

Edelman gets a good release inside, and ends up on the same level as Gronk, coming in and replacing him over the middle, but Wagner has dropped into the passing window and it’s an easy interception if Brady tries to jam it in the tight window. So finally, Vereen is breaking to the outside and looks to have some room even though Maxwell has kept great leverage on him.

Because of how close the two receivers are, the corner has to give ground, which opens up space underneath to the outside.

Because of how close the two receivers are, the corner has to give ground, which opens up space underneath to the outside.

Maxwell does a great job of recovering and getting to Vereen so that Brady has to put it low and away from the defender, and Vereen can’t bring it in. The pass falls incomplete and New England has to punt the ball to Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense. You can see the actual play diagrammed below.

New England found space outside but Maxwell does a great job of staying with his man and forcing an incompletion.

New England found space outside but Maxwell does a great job of staying with his man and forcing an incompletion.

The Patriots get a lot of valuable information on their first drive of the game, but they still come up empty.


Even though it wasn’t a successful play, all the decision-making that went into putting the Patriots in position to get an open man on 3rd and 6 is still an interesting study for coaches and fans alike.

If you want to know when the book will be ready, just sign up below and you’ll receive a notification when it goes live on the site. You can also check out the original book that broke down the National Championship Game by clicking here.


1 2