By: Steve Balestrieri
In this week’s film study of the NFL’s Game Rewind and the All-22 Coach’s tape we’ll take a look at a few of the key plays in the New England Patriots last minute 27-26 comeback win over the Cleveland Browns.
Once again the Patriots were able to put up 27 second half points to eke out a close win. The Patriots offense once again struggled mightily in the first half to move the ball with QB Tom Brady only having 95 passing yards at half-time.
Brady was able to really get things going in the second half passing for 317 yards to end up with 412 on the day. That in itself is noteworthy because prior to Sunday, Cleveland hadn’t allowed a 300 yard passer all season.
There were plenty of big plays in this game, in this week’s film study we’ll take a look at a few of them.
First we’ll take a closer look at the Cleveland offense and in particular the 80 yard touchdown pass and run from Jason Campbell to Josh Gordon. Gordon has been on fire lately and on Sunday he was no different.
New England had finally just got on the scoreboard with a field goal to make the score 12-3 and Cleveland got the ball back at the 20 yard line.
On first down, the Patriots gambled and sent six rushers after Campbell, it was a play that not only Campbell but offensive coordinator Norv Turner had been waiting for. By having all the linebackers crashing into the line, it singled up coverage on Gordon by Aqib Talib. Safeties Steve Gregory and Devin McCourty slid up in coverage to cover a WR and TE respectively.
Campbell hits Gordon, who breaks the jam at the line of scrimmage on a simple slant that travels only a few yards. But the play design, and the Patriots scheme that has sent six pass rushers and LB Brandon Spikes up to the line shadowing RB Willis McGahee has left the middle of the field wide open.
Gordon unleashes a textbook stiff arm to Talib knocking him off balance just enough and then is off to the races. With his outstanding speed, no one on the Patriots defense is going to catch him, Talib is in total chase mode and Gordon flies for an easy 80 yard touchdown. McCourty is far too shallow to offer any kind of help for Talib and Gordon, with the middle of the field vacated won’t be challenged.
Later in the game, the Patriots have the ball on their own 28 yard line. Brady spreads out the offense forcing the Browns to commit their coverage. Getting single coverage on the outside split wide left is running back Shane Vereen who is singled up on a linebacker.
The two safeties are playing deep and in the middle of the field. Brady recognizes the mismatch immediately and locks in on Vereen who, despite having a seven yard cushion is going deep.
Vereen easily blows by his coverage outside and WRs Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman freeze the safeties in the middle of the field just long enough for Brady to toss a deep pass to Vereen that turns into a 50 yard gain.
Brady’s pass is on the money and Vereen has great separation in a mismatch that a linebacker can’t be expected to stick with. Again, great identification by Brady and he and Vereen take advantage of a mismatch. This is a play the Patriots have run often and look for it more and more as situations dictate.
Just after the on-side kick, Brady completed a 10 yard pass to Danny Amendola, and with the ball on the 30 yard line he threw deep to Josh Boyce down the right sideline into the corner of the end zone. The Patriots were given a pass interference penalty in the end zone with the ball placed at the 1 yard line.
The coverage was tight and having looked at this play about 4 different times from varying angles, it doesn’t look like Leon McFadden is doing enough in the endzone to warrant a pass interference penalty. While he didn’t have his head turned around, to me he just isn’t making enough contact to warrant a penalty.
A much better case can be made however for pass interference at the nine yard line, McFadden had a fistful of Boyce’s jersey and pulls him around slightly to the left as Boyce blew by his coverage using his own great burst. Had the officials thrown the flag (correctly) at the nine yard line… I don’t think anyone would have any issue with the penalty. But it was thrown in the endzone, and while the debate will rage on.
On the final scoring play of the game, Amendola goes in motion, stops and runs a short slant inside a rub by Edelman that holds up the defensive backs just long enough for Brady to hit Amendola for the winning touchdown.
The Patriots only needed one yard and Amendola got about a yard and a half but he just sneaked inside the pylon before McFadden can get there to stop him. Brady rolled out to the right and it was imperative that two OL seal off OLB Paul Kruger who had two sacks on the day already. They were able to hold off Kruger and Brady found Amendola (outside the picture frame) easily for the touchdown.
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