One of the keys to New England’s 28-21 Week 1 win over the Steelers was their red zone success, where they were 4/4 with 4 TD’s. Three of the touchdowns came from a unique formation: Four Tight Ends and One Back– or “Aces.” Using a four Tight End set in this manner is difficult because it requires all four Tight Ends to be capable run blockers, and at least two of the tight ends to be above average receiving threats. The Patriots personnel fits; #47 Michael Hoomanawanui is a solid run blocker and #85 Michael Williams played Tackle for the Lions but Tight End at Alabama. Meanwhile, #88 Scott Chandler is an average run blocker and a massive target at 6’7 260. And of course, there’s all-world Tight End Rob Gronkowski. Let’s further analyze how the four Tight End set was used in Week 1 and how it will be used by New England going forward.
Shane Vereen Sets Up Rob Gronkowski’s 2nd Quarter TD
The Patriots Super Bowl 49 game plan began as expected, with New England lining up Tight End Rob Gronkowski extremely far out wide in order to see how Seattle would respond. The Patriots then motioned Julian Edelman across to the slot. This first play would give New England a ton of coverage information for a Touchdown later in the game:
By now everyone knows the story: With under 30 seconds to go and the Patriots about to lose in heartbreaking fashion, Malcolm Butler jumped the 2nd & Goal route, and made an impressive interception to win the Super Bowl for the Patriots. The Seahawks were in a Stack formation and ran a pick play with a slant route coming underneath the pick. The Patriots were in man-to-man coverage and had Brandon Browner jam front Seahawk Wideout Jermaine Kearse:
Super Bowl 49 features the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks, two teams with very contrasting styles from an X’s and O’s perspective: one team is very simple, and the other is constantly changing. Seattle’s defense plays a 4-3 under and either Cover 1 or Cover 3 for over 90% of its snaps. The Seahawks have a fierce pass rush and the best secondary in recent memory. On the other side, New England could become the first team to win the Super Bowl without recording a sack in the playoffs. The Patriots use their athleticism, position versatility, and lockdown man to man corner Darrelle Revis to change their defensive scheme nearly every game. On the offensive side of the ball, Seattle loves to run inside and outsize zone with bruising Marshawn Lynch, play action off of it, and some Zone Read with ultra mobile Quarterback Russell Wilson. As for New England, they may throw the ball 50+ times and not run the ball at all (Divisional Round), or run the ball 30+ times for 3 TD’s (AFC Championship) depending on the defense. Let’s take a further look at the X’s and O’s of Super Bowl 49: Continue reading →
Like the NFC Championship, the AFC Championship features a regular season rematch, with the Colts visiting the Patriots. The Patriots won the regular season game 42-20, but the Colts now have a different set of key players. New England will have to deal with a whole host of new players and schemes:
WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL
The Colts are almost a new team on the offensive side of the ball; since the 42-20 loss to New England, Boom Herron (#36) has replaced Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw at Running Back, Donte Moncrief (#10) has emerged as a go to Wide Receiver, Tight End Dwayne Allen (#83) is healthy, and future Hall of Fame WR Reggie Wayne (#87) has become severely hampered with a torn triceps and hobbled groin. Additionally, the Colts have swapped and replaced two new offensive lineman into the mix.
The Colts did an excellent job last week of protecting Andrew Luck against Von Miller and Demarcus Ware, while the Patriots pass rush was abysmal against the Ravens, recording 0 sacks on 45 pass attempts. The Colts do not have a strong running game, so look for them to spread it out in Empty formations and use QB Andrew Luck as a run threat. Continue reading →
The 2015 NFC Championship features a rematch from Week 1, with the Green Bay Packers visiting the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks won handily in September, but the NFC championship will have different key players, schemes, and match ups:
WHEN GREEN BAY HAS THE BALL:
Green Bay cut the field in half when they chose not to attack the right side of the field to avoid Richard Sherman Week 1; Green Bay aligned #11 Jarrett Boykin to the right on the vast majority of snaps. The Packers must attack all parts of the field in order to be successful this week. While the Packers will almost certainly line up #87 Jordy Nelson to the right more often, the emergence of rookie #17 Davonte Adams gives Green Bay a viable threat even when Jordy Nelson is on the left side of the field. However, attacking the right side of the field doesn’t necessarily mean attacking Sherman 1 on 1. Look for Green Bay to manipulate formations to move Sherman away from the outside most Receiver. Dallas was able to do this from a Trips tight formation, with the TE as the lone eligible receiver to the left, and 3 Wideouts to the right:
Week 13 features a cross-conference matchup between the two hottest teams in the NFL, the Packers v. Patriots. Let’s take a further look at what to expect in this potential Superbowl 49 showdown:
WHEN GREEN BAY HAS THE BALL
In their last two games against some of the NFL’s most prolific passing offenses (Colts & Broncos), the Patriots shut down the opponent’s run game early and forced obvious passing situations with New England in the lead during the 2nd half. (Broncos under 40 yards rushing, Colts under 20 yards rushing). This plays right into Belichick’s hands, as he wants to primarily stay in either Nickel, Dime, Big Nickel (3 S), or Penny (4 CB 1 S) personnel. Expect New England to be in some kind of sub-package (More than 4 DB’s) for most of the game. With that, Green Bay should try to establish some kind of run game in the 1st half to make the Patriots Safeties downhill players. However, Vince Wilfork and recent acquisition Alan Branch have done a good job against the run, and the Packers have had struggles of their own in the run game. While Eddie Lacy was able to seal the game late last week, Minnesota was able to effectively stop the run in the 1st half multiple times with Nickel Personnel (2 LB 5 DB), even when Green Bay played with a Tight End or Fullback (seen below). Overall, the success or failure of the Packers run game will likely be essential for how the Patriots use their defensive personnel.
Alabama pulled out an exciting OT victory against LSU in Death Valley Saturday night. LSU rarely loses in Death Valley, and it appeared LSU was headed for a sure victory, leading with less than a minute remaining in regulation. Alabama got the ball to start OT, and Bama Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin called the perfect play to essentially guarentee an Alabama TD drive. The play involved deception, shifting, and a quick count. Alabama sprinted to the line and came out in an odd formation: Unbalanced. #74, who traditionally plays Tackle, was split out wide and ineligible. On the other side of the formation, a Tight End lined up traditionally where the Tackle would have and actually eligible. Alabama then quickly shifted into an “Empty” formation, where the Quarterback is in the backfield by himself:
Note that #74 is not actually an eligible Receiver on the play, because the Receiver outside of him, #2, is on the line of scrimmage. #2 is “covering” #74, and #74 therefore cannot be illegally down field at the time of the pass. (He is ineligible) However, the Tight End noted in the picture IS eligible, although he is lined up traditionally where a Tackle would be. He is eligible because he is the first “uncovered” player on the line of scrimmage. This means no player outside of him is on the line of scrimmage. Alabama then shifts, with the Running Back moving from the backfield to the outside Receiver spot, and All-American Wide Receiver Amari Cooper moving a few steps toward the sideline. This seems to cause a bit of confusion in the LSU secondary, as they are unsure how to handle the formation:
This weekend’s prime time college football game featured #5 Notre Dame visiting #2 Florida State. With seconds to play, Notre Dame appeared to score the game winning TD on 4th and Goal, only to be called back for Offensive Pass Interference. But what made it Offensive Pass Interference?
The play is a common goal line pass play for many college and NFL coaches: a Slant route and a Shoot or Flat route with the hopes of a natural “pick” to make it difficult to cover in Man to Man coverage. Notre Dame ran the play from a “Bunch” formation, which is 3 Wide Receivers aligned in a triangle close together. The Apex, point man, (Middle WR) runs to the goal line and attempts to make himself a big target and box out any defender. The outside Wide Receiver runs a Slant route, and the inside most Receiver runs a Flat route. Florida State matches this with straight Cover 0: FSU is in all Man to Man with no Safety help anywhere, with everybody else blitzing. Notice the backside Tight End and Running Back do not go out for pass patterns, and the pre-snap assignments are shown below:
Week 6’s Jets vs. Broncos match-up featured another two Julius Thomas Touchdowns, his 8th and 9th of the season. The second TD came from a formation and play the Broncos have fallen in love with in the Red Zone, a simple backside slant from the “Dakota” formation (also known as X-Iso). The Broncos have clearly revealed a tendency from this formation; the question is whether anybody can stop it. The Dakota formation features 3 Wide Receivers split wide to one side, with a Tight End split out alone as the backside Receiver. Given the Broncos personnel, the defenses must make tough decisions. Multiple defenses have decided to cover backside Tight End Julius Thomas with a Safety with no other defensive back to the lone Receiver side. The Broncos have repeatedly attacked this defense with a basic slant route. Here is a freeze frame of last year’s Chiefs v. Broncos game using a Dakota formation:
Via Bleacher Report
This play resulted in a Touchdown via a Julius Thomas backside slant route. Fast forward to week 1 of the 2014 season. The Colts see the Dakota formation and decide to play Safety LaRon Landry in Man-to-Man coverage. Julius Thomas runs a slant again: