The Patriots drafted Aaron Dobson with the likely mindset of him being the guy that takes the top off the defense with speed and free up things underneath for Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and others. That plan hasn't quite happened yet, although the Patriots have been able to capture a Lombardi last season without that element. With Dion Lewis shelved for the year and Edelman basically shelved until the playoffs, someone has to step up and it doesn't have to be a Z receiver. Dobson isn't a Z by any means, due to the fact he's only effective on the outside, but Brandon LaFell's positional versatility could allow for the Patriots to play both guys in certain situations. Dobson's overall production for the year so far doesn't make you think he's an option, with a 12 catch, 124 yard, and 0 TD season.
Looking at past performances this year, the biggest single-game output came against the Buffalo Bills in Week 2. The Patriots will be playing the Bills on Monday Night Football this week, which gives them an extra day to adjust to life without Edelman in the game plan. In Week 2, Dobson caught 7 passes on 8 targets for 87 yards. Here a film breakdown of how he was able to be effective against the Bills.
Play #1: Dobson 7-Yard Stop Route
The Patriots were in their 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE), but in a 3 WR set with TE Rob Gronkowski serving as the 3rd receiver. The Bills countered with their nickel package, with a Cover 3 Zone and underneath coverage to the middle of the field. All 3 CBs for the Bills are at least 5 yards off their receiver, with Stephon Gilmore being 8.5 yards off of Dobson as a result of likely respecting his speed and height. The Patriots had the perfect call to beat that coverage, with their two outside receivers running hitch/stop routes against the Bills corners, who were backpedaling to cover their deep thirds. In addition, they had their two inside receivers run a High-Low cross to occupy the underneath defenders in case the early progression wasn't there. With Brady's first read (Dobson) open immediately, the pass comes out in about 1.5 seconds. When Dobson stops and looks for the ball, the cushion is still 5 yards between him and Gilmore. Dobson catches the ball at the 10 and falls forward to the 7 for a gain of 7 yards.
Play #2: Dobson 10-Yard Quick Out to Convert a 3rd Down
The Patriots have the same personnel on the field as the first play, but this time they line up in an empty set with Gronk as the outer slot receiver on the right side and Scott Chandler wide right. Dobson is lined up as the other split-end receiver on the offense's left with Lewis flexed wide left. The Bills counter with 6 players lined up across the line of scrimmage and 2 of them over the center, threatening to blitz. To counter that, the Patriots motion Gronk in to block Mario Williams and the play changes to a hot route in case a 7th man blitzes. The 7th guy winds up dropping into coverage. The Bills play an off-man coverage with a high-low bracket on Edelman from the right slot. The Patriots run a natural pick with Dobson and Lewis, with Lewis crossing behind Dobson to force Dobson's defender to go in behind him. That creates more than enough space for Dobson to catch the ball for first down yardage and turn upfield to get more. The play picks up 10 yards.
Play #3: Dobson Goes Up the Seam for 24
This is one of my favorite audibles in Madden, especially near the goal line. In Madden 13, this play is called Pats Seam. The Patriots again are in an empty backfield set, with the same alignment as the last play. The Patriots send both Gronk and Dobson up the seams on each side against a Cover 1 defense. The play calls for Edelman run a crossing route to occupy the underneath coverage so they can't jump into the passing lane intended for either Gronk or Dobson. The deep safety is shaded toward's Gronk's side of the formation, which essentially means single coverage for Dobson against Mario Butler. Dobson quickly eats up the cushion as Butler is backpedaling and jab-steps to the outside to sell a potential deep out. Butler takes a false step towards the outside, which gives Dobson room to the inside as he positions his body to box out the defender. Brady does a good job of leading Dobson away from Butler, even though it increases the difficulty of the catch. Dobson winds up making a lunging catch and bounced ahead to midfield before a Bill was able to touch him.
Play #4: Dobson Quick Slant for 11
Dobson was matched up against Nickell Robey, which is a complete mismatch in Dobson's favor. Dobson has 6" and 20 pounds on the nickel corner, which tells you how much the Bills cared about Dobson that day. The Patriots shifted into a Trey Formation (3 receivers on 1 side, only the tight end on the other side), with Edelman moving from the backfield to the inner slot on the left side. Brady also called for Lewis to step up to help in pass protection with the Bills threatening to blitz again. With the matchup on the outside, no need to force a hot throw. The play then changed for Edelman and Chandler to clear out space for Dobson on the slant route. Edelman takes on the deep and underneath coverage while Chandler takes his man out of the play with a flat route behind the slant. That leaves an open void for Dobson to run into and a lot of room to complete the pass. Robey is unable to close and Dobson has a very easy catch for 11.
Play #5: Dobson Slant Route for 14
The Patriots brought in their receivers tight to the formation in case of a blitz. Instead, the Bills wind up rushing 3 with one of their tackles dropping into coverage. The Bills thought they could confuse Brady, who had room to step up because the Bills rushed only 3. Both Brady and Dobson were both able to read the Bills playing a zone defense, and Dobson sat down his route in space between 3 zones around the 32 yard line. Brady sees Dobson as he's stepping up and throws a low and away pass to protect him from the underneath linebacker and safety over the top.
Play #6: Dobson Quick Out for 5
This is the exact same play as Play #2. The Patriots run an out underneath the Lewis in-cut, which creates a natural pick of the defenders, who have to go behind the pick. That once again creates separation for Dobson to make the catch. It's a beautiful play design, and something I would like to see the Patriots run more often since a defender can't run through the in-cut receiver without drawing a penalty.
Belichick on Aaron Dobson: "Big thing for him is he's been healthy...I know it doesn't always show up on Sundays, but he's had a good year."— Erik Frenz (@ErikFrenz) November 18, 2015
Even though Dobson has become more of a game plan player, there is no reason to believe he can't contribute for the team. With Edelman sidelined until the playoffs and Lewis out for the season, it's all hands on deck for the offense. Dobson, Martin, and others will have to pick up the slack for the time being. Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick certainly believes in Dobson moving forward, hopefully he rewards his head coach. The Week 2 game against the Bills showed that the Patriots can indeed design plays for him to succeed. Hopefully he has an encore performance against the Bills with the offensive line starting to get healthy this week.