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.


What’s your favorite trick play?

It’s Monday, which means it’s time for another question of the week.

A lot of people really seemed to like last week’s topic, where I asked coaches what their best play on the call sheet is for 4th and goal from the 1.  For that reason, I decided to ask another X’s and O’s question this week:

What’s your favorite trick play?”

It could be a play you’ve called in a game, one you’ve seen run on TV or in person, or maybe it’s one you’ve got hidden away in the playbook that you just haven’t decided to pull the trigger on (As always, you can choose to remain anonymous when answering this question so you don’t tip off opponents on your schedule and give them extra information).

If you’re already a subscriber, check your inbox and reply to the email to submit your answer.

If you’re not, you can sign up below for free. Just enter your information, confirm your email address, and you’ll be able to enter to win a free copy of any of my books, including my latest Ebook, which breaks down the National Championship Game between Oregon and Ohio State.

I can’t wait to see what you guys come up with!

14 Coaches give their best plays for 4th and Goal at the 1

Each week, I ask my subscribers, most of them coaches, a football-related question.

This past Monday, I wanted to know what play they would call if they were facing 4th and goal at the 1 yard line. One play left, one yard away from a score. In that situation coaches usually go back to what they know best, or at least that’s what I thought. I was surprised by how many coaches had a special call up their sleeve for just such a situation.

As always, I picked my favorite response to feature here on the blog, and the winner receives their choice of my latest book Every Play Revealed: Breaking Down Oregon and Ohio State in College Football’s Biggest Game or my next one coming soon, a similar book that breaks down the Super Bowl.

This week’s winner was Everett Adams, offensive coordinator at St. Thomas Moore in Canada. He shared two of his favorite plays for just this situation, both built off of the jet sweep package.

You can get all of the best responses to the question by scrolling down and signing up at the form at the bottom of the page.

Jet Spacing Zone Cut

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Check out the Winning Answer to the Question of the Week

I’ve started a new segment here at Life After Football, and it’s something you can get involved with. Each Monday I’ll be sending out an email to subscribers that will be asking them a football-related question and look for their response. The best answer will win a prize, but all the top responses will be sent out the following Friday so that everyone can have a chance to learn something new.

This past Monday, I asked subscribers what some of their favorite drills are, and why. The winning answer came from Coach Ben Osborne.

For submitting the winning answer this week, Ben won a free copy of my latest book, Every Play Revealed: Breaking Down Oregon and Ohio State in College Football’s Biggest Game.

If you want to be eligible to receive the weekly question and win, you can sign up by clicking here.

Ben Osborne

Assistant Head Coach, Offensive Coordinator, Offensive Line Coach

New Richmond HS

New Richmond, OH


My favorite drill to do with my offensive linemen is one that focuses on combo-blocks, calling the combo, eyes and hands placement, how to communicate who is coming off, and when it is ok to come off to the next level. We are a heavy zone concept team which translates to a lot of combo blocks. The number one killer of a good combo block is penetration. In order to prevent the potential for play-killing penetration, we have to work combo blocks each and every day.

We work this drill in a few different ways. When I first teach the drill, I do it on air. My main focus is identifying the combo call, who they would be working to and keeping hips tightly together. In order to emphasis the hips together piece, I use a blocking shield. I put the shield between the two players and have them squeeze the shield between their hips. We work low, heads and hands up, and duck walk straight ahead. Really get on them about that inside leg being up and driving off back leg. The focus is staying square and not letting the shield slip. In order to do this it’s like Forrest Gump stuff: “I’m gonna lean up against you, you just lean right back against me. This way, we don’t have to sleep with our heads in the mud.”

The next step is to add in who is coming off to the LB. Again, for this early part, there are no defensive players across for the linemen. They will still have the blocking shield between their hips and make the combo call. A coach will stand about 5 yards in front of them and give the direction to start the drill. After about 3 yards or working together, the coach will point to a direction to come off (I usually yell “Climb.” This will help with the next drill). The direction given is the guy that climbs to the LB. The guy that is still on the down man will swing his hips hard in the direction of the guy that came off. If he does it right, the shield will follow the guy that came off to the LB. The communication piece is up to your discretion. I’ve used a “You/Me” call. I’ve used an “Off” call. My guys will mix and match. Biggest thing is the communication! Never assume your partner sees the same thing you are.

The 3rd part of this drill is to add a wave to the mix. They will still have the blocking shield between their hips and make the combo call. A coach will stand in the same spot as the come off drill, but will point one direction, then the opposite, and then back to the original direction. This simulates the guy that is moving all over the place to get off the combo, but the LB is not filling right away. To finish this drill, I will give them a direction and yell “Climb” like the previous drill. Same expectations for the finish carry over to this drill as all the others.

The 4th part of this drill is when you add a defensive lineman to the mix. Just like other 3, they will still have the blocking shield between their hips and make the combo call. They will work from the locked-in, fit position on the down lineman. The coach will stand at 5 yards and give the command to start the drill. The d-lineman is asked to give some resistance, but not attempt to get off of block. Just like part 2, a “Climb” command will be given, but this time the guy staying on has an actual person to turn. Really stress not to hold, keep hands inside the chest plate, etc.

The 5th part is to add a LB to the mix. They will still have the blocking shield between their hips and make the combo call. This time I will stand behind the offensive linemen so I can give a direction that I want to LB to go after about 3 yards. The coach will give the start command and that is it. I leave it up to the guys working the combo on when they should come off. I will ask them why they came off when they did and if the guy left blocking felt he had a good handle on the down man when his guy came off. I want to hear the communication and see the shield chase.

The 6th and final piece that I work is to have them complete drill #5 without the shield between them. All the same coaching points need to be in place, and after a few times through, you can have the d-lineman attempt to split the combo.

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Why Paul Johnson Refuses To Change

I’ve never made any secret of my opinion that Paul Johnson is the best play caller in America, and that his offense is much more complex than people realize or give him credit for. Georgia Tech took it to the defending champs in the ACC Championship Game, nearly pulling off the upset, and proceeded to demolish heavily-favored Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl using an offense that most people believe belongs in a museum.

The next time you watch a Tech game, take a close look at the sideline shots the camera shows of Coach Johnson. Do you see any call sheet in his hand? Not likely, since he calls the game off the top of his head.


If anyone can do it, Johnson can. He’s been running this offense for the past three decades, and during that time has seen just about every possible wrinkle defensive coordinators can throw at him. It’s a big reason why I was really eager to dive into the DVD that you can get here titled simply “Paul Johnson: Triple Option Offense.”

I’ve never coached in Johnson’s system or any similar offense, and have no plans to return to coaching anytime soon, so it was pure curiosity which got me to purchase the DVD. Here are a couple of things that stood out to me. » Read more

Come Up With a List of Stupid Questions (And Start Asking Them)

Let me tell you about one of the shortest jobs I ever had.

A while back I was hired to work in a warehouse stacked to the ceiling with boxes, and the company had a very inefficient way of counting inventory and making sure everything was in the right spot. I quickly found out that it wasn’t uncommon for employees to work six days a week to get orders filled, and all because they wasted so much time counting everything by hand. By the third day I was making a habit of asking a stupid question that got on the nerves of my boss.


I was asked not to come back for a fourth day.

Thankfully the coaching business is exactly the opposite. Every offseason coaches spends lots of time and money asking and answering questions on all kinds of topics. Often times however, consciously or unconsciously, we hold back from asking basic, foundational questions about the game out of a fear of looking like an amateur.

Want to be a successful coach? You first have to identify your strengths, but more importantly, your weaknesses.

The quickest way to do that is to ask “stupid” questions. » Read more

What I’m Reading This Week: Stiff-Arming Football Myths

The past week I’ve been going over some of the new football books on my bookshelf, and I wanted to start with this one. Stiff-Arming Football Myths.

If you’re looking for something fun to read and that makes you think about football a little beyond the kind of analysis you hear on the major networks, this is a pretty good read. Emory Hunt and the rest of the guys working on this compilation together do a great job of looking at some of the most common misconceptions about the game.


Click the picture to buy the book.


In case you’re not familiar with his work, Emory is the head of, where he and his group of guys put out a lot of great content, including videos on football schemes and breaking down draft prospects.

The book is available here in paperback and PDF versions, so you can get a copy right away in your inbox.

Without giving too much away, I wanted to go over a few of my favorite things from the book. Below are three of the most interesting football myths in the book

Myth #22 – “Wonderlic Scores Determine Performance”

With as much talk about the Wonderlic test we usually hear this time of year, it’s important to remember that it’s completely hit or miss with this statistic. Every year we hear of some QB prospect scoring high on the test, which is supposed to translate well to the football field. The latest example is Jameis Winston, who is said to have scored just below Peyton Manning on the scale (For some reason people are surprised that a very successful college QB has a good amount of intelligence). The book makes a successful case that the Wonderlic is nothing more than another empty talking point used to fill up time on ESPN in between highlights. » Read more

Seven Ways to Run Your Favorite Play Over and Over

One of the benefits of the West Coast Offense was the many ways in which play callers could line up an offense and run the same scheme 50 times without ever doing the exact same thing with regards to formation and alignment. It’s a facet of the offense that is often under appreciated or misunderstood, but the good news is that you don’t have to have a 300-page playbook in order to have the same ability to keep your opponent on edge while consistently putting your players in comfortable situations.

For demonstration’s sake, we’re going to take a look at two of the most common plays in football, the power play, and the flanker drive concept. Almost every team in professional and college football runs some form of these two plays, and using a pass and a run play allows us to explore both sides of the coin and use specific, tangible examples.

Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady are masters of creating deception using a recurring series of plays in the Patriots offense.

Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady are masters of creating deception using a recurring series of plays in the Patriots offense.

Of course, the more specific you get with your examples and the more specialized your offensive scheme is, the more ways you could come up with to add to this list. This is neither a comprehensive list, nor is anything on the list considered ‘groundbreaking,’ but it’s always good to have a starting point for discussion when it comes to keeping things simple.

The emphasis isn’t on the details of the individual plays themselves, but instead how they fit together. It should also go without saying that sometimes all seven of these may not fit your game plan. It can sometimes be advantageous to avoid certain formations and motions, and if you’re fortunate enough to be overwhelmingly more talented than your opponent, you probably don’t need more than one way to run the ball up the middle.

1. Run The Play

The first and most obvious way to run any given play on the call sheet is to, well, call it. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. In this first section we’ll go through some of the specifics of the play, then follow that up in each subsequent section with ways to complement the original play. » Read more

Now on Using Blitz Keys to Sniff Out Pressure

When putting together my latest breakdown of the National Championship Game, I became interested in some of the ways that both teams, particularly Oregon, picked up on whether the defense was really going to bring pressure. The book is all about the details coaches look for when they’re making adjustments over the course of an entire game, so it was important to look at the subtle changes in the defensive alignment when they’ve decided to bring pressure.

The post deals with running and passing against the blitz, as well as the structure of the blitz and the responsibilities of the players away from the pressure.

For Ohio State, the odd front look (above) has been a red flag to the offense that pressure is coming, because it allows the defensive linemen to line up head up over offensive linemen, then slant across their faces and cause disruption in the backfield. The biggest blitz indicator, however, is the alignment of the two linemen to the offense’s left side that we just talked about. Since they’re in position to funnel everything back the other way, it’s safe to assume that the defense has something planned coming from the opposite direction, and that all eleven players on defense are part of it in some way.

You can read the whole thing here.

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How Oregon Uses Packaged Plays

“Stretching the field” is a phrase offensive coordinators everywhere are fond of using, but few teams commit to it like Oregon. If there’s one thing we know about Oregon’s offense, it’s that the Ducks never seem to run out of ways to move the football around and utilize all 53 1/3 yards of the width of the field. Offensive Coordinator Scott Frost and this Oregon staff may not have invented the idea of the packaged play, sometimes referred to as a run-pass option, but they definitely make good use out of it on a regular basis, and today we’re going to take a closer look at one way to use it.

In this article, we’re going to go in-depth in one particular concept, an inverted zone read packaged with a pass play, and take a look at two different examples, one run to the perimeter, and one pass to the opposite side of the formation. » Read more

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