I'm still shaking from that game. What a tremendous effort all around by everyone involved. After a weird start of the game by the Patriots coaches, opting to play more soft zone on defense and falling behind quickly, New England settled down and dug deep in their play book to take on the Ravens.
While the double pass that ultimately resulted in a touchdown pass from Julian Edelman to Danny Amendola will rightly draw most of the attention, it's worth noting how fantastic of a job the Patriots did to compensate for losing starting center Bryan Stork.
First, remember how head coach Bill Belichick is close friends with Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. In Kelly's opening week as a coach, back in 2013, he sent out an interesting formation, where both offensive tackles aligned on the same side of the ball. This meant that their center was snapping the ball with just the right guard and a tight end to his right, while three linemen were to his left.
It was smart, it was effective, and it caught Washington off guard. Belichick decided to not just borrow that tactic, but improve upon it.
Off-balance line by New England, because why not pic.twitter.com/1dNKYtNmDc— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) January 10, 2015
The Patriots are super crafty, use only 4 linemen. http://t.co/rvkW80ICKf pic.twitter.com/V0spbcILrB— Next Impulse Sports (@NextImpulse) January 11, 2015
Instead of moving a fifth offensive lineman to the other side of the line, Belichick only player four linemen with Stork on the sideline. In the first image, the left tackle is actually tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, and he's an eligible receiver.
How did the Patriots pull that off? Here's the official rule:
Here're the rules on the Patriots 4 OL Play. pic.twitter.com/uRDcS7AukW— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) January 11, 2015
The rule states that seven players need to be on the line of scrimmage (Hooman, Nate Solder, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, Sebastian Vollmer, Shane Vereen, and Julian Edelman). It's important to note that Rob Gronkowski is not on the line of scrimmage, which means that he's an eligible receiver, even though Vereen is checked into the field as an ineligible receiver.
It takes a real understanding of the rulebook to make that distinction. By setting Gronk back off the line, it means that he's still an eligible receiver. This also means that, with Vereen as an ineligible receiver, that Hooman can go up the field as a receiver.
There's no rule stating that the snapper has to be in the middle of the players on the line of scrimmage. There's no rule saying that the seven players on the line of scrimmage have to be in any order. Just that there have to be seven on the line, and the middle five of those on the line are ineligible.
Bravo by the Patriots coaches for creating such an incredible play, and using it at such an important juncture in the season.