By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots and Tom Brady were able to put together a second half come-back on Sunday to defeat the Houston Texans 34-31 as Brady and the offense generated 27 second half points.
A look at the coach’s tape on the NFL Game Rewind’s All-22 showed that the Patriots made the necessary adjustments at halftime to take advantage of some plays on the field that were there for the taking.
Much of the Patriots offense is designed around short crossing routes that allow wide receivers room to roam underneath. Houston, however in the second half was playing a lot of off-coverage where the defenders were giving a large cushion of 8-10 yards that would negate the advantage of the crossing routes. And with the deep drop of the linebackers that simply was not going to work.
So on many plays, the New England wide receivers against this defense would simply run a medium depth slant which made the throws from Brady easy to identify and resulted in big plays in the passing game. We’ll look at three plays in particular now:
On this particular play, the Texans’ linebackers all took deep 10-12 yard drops, and both safeties were in deep coverage. Danny Amendola lined up in the slot on the left hand side ran a 7 yard slant between the hashmarks and was wide open underneath.
From a different angle, Amendola is cutting towards the middle of the field with plenty of separation between him and the linebacker. Brady has excellent protection and a clear lane to throw the ball to Amendola. The result was an easy pitch and catch for a 16-yard gain.
On this next play, also in the third quarter, the Texans’ linebackers were this time playing much tighter to the line of scrimmage. At the bottom of the screen they are in tight coverage with deep (15-20 yards) safety help. However, at the top of the screen, Amendola is again facing off-coverage.
Brady uses a play action fake to Brandon Bolden to freeze the linebackers momentarily, so that they can’t drop into the passing lane. Amendola runs another medium slant towards the hashmarks and it results in a big 19 yard gain.
The safety was too deep to help and the linebackers were still frozen close to the line of scrimmage. Brady had a clear passing lane to Amendola that was easy to identify and easier to throw to.
On Shane Vereen’s touchdown reception, Brady took advantage of a blitz and some miscommunication in the defense for an easy score. Shane Vereen was lined up in the backfield to Brady’s left. Rob Gronkowski, in tight against the line, ran a post route and drew three defenders to him in the middle of the field.
Vereen made a short wheel route out in the flat, in the spot vacated by the blitzing linebacker. The safety (#36) should have taken Vereen but he and the linebacker (#51) as well as the safety from the right side all converged on Gronkowski in the middle.
With three defenders around Gronkowski, Brady made the correct read and throw and Vereen was all alone at the 5 yard line when he catches the ball. No one is able to react in time and the result was an easy touchdown for the Patriots.
This was simply an exercise in the Patriots doing their normal half-time adjustments and that Brady was willing to take what was there. They got out of what they normally do and had to change their routes based on what the defense was presenting.
Players such as Amendola and Julian Edelman who excel at running after the catch made Houston pay after catching the ball. Combined, the two had 14 catches for over 150 yards.
Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels get high marks this week again for their second half changes. With 34 second half points against Denver, and 27 against Houston, these are the scenarios that can turn games in January in their favor.