So after last week's gloomy post about the Patriots giving up too many big plays against the Ravens, I wanted to showcase the New England offense setting off their own fireworks. Unfortunately- or maybe fortunately- when re-watching the game, none of the Patriots three big passing plays were much to look at. Rob Gronkowski made a monster grab to open the game, but that wasn't too much fun to analyze. The other two were Gronk's touchdown up the seam and Brandon Lloyd's smiling touchdown. Fun to watch, both were just clean, easy plays.
Well, not that easy. Gronkowski's 41 yarder and Lloyd's touchdown were the result of perfect ball placement by Tom Brady. He had ages in the pocket and the interior line was excellent and allowed him to step up into his throws. He dropped them where only the fully extended arms of his receivers could grab the ball. Beautiful to watch, but the analysis was pretty boring; Brady had time and dropped a dime to the receivers who had a step on their defender.
Gronk's touchdown was a little more interesting because it was the result of a set-up over the course of the prior few plays- and perhaps messing with the Bills' minds a little. At the end of the third quarter, the Patriots ran two runs and two passes- all with Gronk or Daniel Fells as inline blockers. The touchdown was the first play of the fourth quarter and Gronk was lined up with a running back in the backfield. Keep in mind that this is a 21-21 game at this point; there's no running out the clock. Brady executes a beautiful playaction and Gronk tears up the seam as the linebacker in coverage expected Gronk to stay as a blocker.
Didn't happen. Touchdown.
But detailing the progression through pictures isn't as effective as just watching the offense do its job. So I decided to look at the Patriots running game, where they added two 20+ yard plays of their own- both by Brandon Bolden. Let's take a look at one of those runs after the jump.
Let's look at the All-22 shot to set the stage (sorry it's grainy; it is what it is):
The Patriots have the following personnel on the field:
WR: Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker
Line: Nate Solder, Donald Thomas, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, Sebastian Vollmer, TE Daniel Fells
TE: Rob Gronkowski
RB: Brandon Bolden
The red lines display how the Patriots blockers react on this play, while the blue lines show which Bills player engaged with which blocker.
You'll notice that Daniel Fells engages with Mario Williams in this play, while Sebastian Vollmer takes on Kyle Wiliams. Wendell and Connolly break to the second level to engage the linebackers, while Thomas has to angle his defender to seal a lane for Bolden. Gronkowski pulls to the gap and is expected to clean up any crashing linebacker in order to keep the lane free. Solder is the other wall of the lane.
So Bolden gets the ball and you can see him heading towards the gap. Immediately, you can see a few things:
1) Vollmer has pulled backwards and has dropped Kyle Williams to the ground (pink arrow). He used Williams momentum to remove him from the play and add a little space between Bolden and a potentially dangerous Mario Williams.
2) Fells and Williams (orange arrow) are engaged with Williams on the ground. Fells dominates the point of attack.
3) Connolly and Wendell (purple line) are already engaged with the linebackers three to four yards beyond the line of scrimmage- basically, if Bolden can get through the hole, he has 4 yards already guaranteed.
4) Solder, Gronkowski, and Thomas (red line) have opened up a lane for Bolden to break through- and it's wide open.
But just how open is his lane?
Pretty darn open. You can see Bolden has broken through the first level (the line of scrimmage) and is attacking the second level (linebackers). He's already picked up four yards without being touched due to the massive amount of space his blockers have provided.
Connolly has slung his linebacker out of the way, while Wendell keeps his man occupied to allow Bolden to hit the third level (secondary).
The yellow lines represent the running lane that Bolden has open in front of him. It looks like a pretty tight squeeze and Bolden will have to get by the corner and safety who look to be in fairly good position.
Actually, wait- let's change the angle:
That's a lot more space than the first picture- and it's a clear testament to how excellent the Patriots were at blocking on this play. The blocking alone allowed for Bolden to reach the third level and were responsible for the first eight yards he gained on this play, before he engaged in any contact.
Unfortunately for Bolden, the secondary was able to get a hold on him just at the first down marker. The line could only do so much, and it was up to Bolden to try and kick into a different gear to gain yards after contact on his own.
The line deserves all of the credit for the first down gained on this play as Bolden really wasn't challenged until he was taken down beyond the marker...oh what's that you say? That wasn't the end of the play?
Oh yeah. Note the guy with the arrow who Bolden shook off and left in the dust. Bolden engaged in contact at the 46 yard line. He kept moving until the 35. That's ridiculous and the entire second half of this play is purely Bolden and his churning legs.
So you can see in this play how important and effective each player's role was in getting Bolden down the field.
The tackles, tight ends, and Thomas were responsible for the first level and ensuring that Bolden had an open lane to get to the second level.
Connolly and Wendell cleaned up the second level to remove any potential tacklers from the linebackers.
Lloyd and Welker not only engaged the corners, they sealed them out of the play to make sure they couldn't cut through and take Bolden down before the play developed.
And all of those pieces came together to let Bolden hit the third level without being touched. While the Patriots can't expect to win their match-ups across the board as they did in this play, they can look forward to plenty more success while running the ball if they can work together as well as they do here.
This is the epitome of a team play and a note to Bolden: you are a ridiculous human being.