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Ex-Patriots QB Zac Robinson explains how Tom Brady reads a defense in the red zone

This is a great podcast for football fans!

I’m always interested in hearing former Patriots players talk about the organization and former Patriots 2010 7th round pick QB Zac Robinson apparently hosts a weekly podcast with Pro Football Focus (PFF) senior analyst Steve Palazzolo where the two go in depth on quarterback play.

This year, PFF has Patriots QB Tom Brady is the most accurate quarterback under pressure in the NFL this season and the most accurate on passes 20+ yards down the field. Robinson reveals how the Patriots offense has evolved over the years as Brady has been able to remain atop the league in his advanced age.

“The guys in that building are so incredibly smart,” Robinson said about the Patriots. “[Brady’s] been in the same system since he showed up, when he got drafted. It’s been the same system, obviously, it’s evolved, they’re always constantly evolving with new concepts. They have their staple stuff, but they’re constantly looking ‘how can we attack this defense?’ Very game plan specific on how they think the defense is going to play them. But overall just his preparation, knowledge. The biggest thing was he’s been such a good zone quarterback. Probably the best to ever play, so good at identifying zones. And when they play man to man, they’ll formation you, get motion stacks, get free release.”

“Over the last two years, when the Patriots have used a motion or a shift, they use it more than any other team,” Palazzolo notes, “but when they’ve used it, Brady’s grade is through the roof. It’s so much better than when they don’t use a motion or a shift. I think that’s fascinating and speaks to his ability to diagnose coverage when he just gets that little bit of a tip.”

“They do such a good job of using that to just identify what the defense is in,” Robinson says. “You can put a receiver in a spot and if a guy is trailing him, it’s man-to-man, you put him in motion it gives him a little bit of relief and it can clear everything up for the QB. They do such a good job of that. Better than anyone in the NFL. Just really knowing how you use the motions, how you play shifts or stacks, and how our match-ups are going to work according to that.”

Palazzolo and Robinson talk about how Brady and the receivers get on the same page in the passing game with option routes, and how Brady waits to see if his receiver read the defense the same way as the quarterback before throwing the football.

“They work so much on all those different route combinations and it’s all based on leverage,” Robinson explains. This is the reason why less physically gifted receivers can see more time in the Patriots offense- if Brady can trust that the receiver will read the defense in the same way, then Brady will be a little faster at getting rid of the ball.

Robinson goes deep into discussing the Patriots red zone approach, and how the offense has used TE Rob Gronkowski and RB James White to open up passing lanes.

“They love that formation because they call it a formation indicator,” Robinson said about the above play formation drawn by Palazzolo. “So when we’ve got Gronk and White on the same side and trips on the other side, you can tell a lot about how the defense is playing. Because if the corner travels over with the receiver to the other side, they’re obviously in man. They just love that because they can isolate that running back on a linebacker and get the match-up they’re looking for.”

Here is the Patriots first touchdown against the Bengals out of the described formation.

The Patriots place their three wide receivers (trips) on the near side of the formation, with Gronkowski and White on the far side.

Based on the numbers game, the Bengals will have four players in coverage of the trips, including two cornerbacks, a linebacker, and a safety. This left three other players- a cornerback, a safety, and a linebacker- to cover Gronkowski and White and everyone knows that Gronkowski will be facing a double team.

It’s just a matter of which double team?

If the cornerback with outside leverage covers White in the flat, then Gronkowski will have the corner route open in front of the linebacker and safety and that’s an easy touchdown to Gronkowski. Gronkowski is reading the safety this whole play and fakes to the inside to try and gain additional space when he stems his route.

But since the cornerback brackets Gronkowski with the safety, that leaves White wide open in the flat against a linebacker, and White wins that match-up every single time.

If you love the Xs and Os of football, make sure you listen to the podcast in full.