The New England Patriots have had their fair share of disappointments when it comes to drafting wide receivers. Chad Jackson, Bethel Johnson and Aaron Dobson all failed to return the investment the team has made in them. However, the team has also found some success stories via the draft: Deion Branch, David Givens and Julian Edelman have all been (or still are) key cogs in the Patriots’ offensive machinery.
Where will Malcolm Mitchell end up? It obviously is too early to tell. After all, the Georgia product’s NFL career is only 10 games old. Still, the first signs have been encouraging – especially when looking at the last two games. Against the San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets, Mitchell has caught a combined nine passes for 140 yards and three scores.
Two of those three scores came on Sunday in New York. Let’s take a look at the tape to dissect them.
1) 2-4-NYJ 4 (6:35) (Shotgun) T.Brady to NYJ 9 for -5 yards. FUMBLES, and recovers at NYJ 10. T.Brady pass short right to M.Mitchell for 4 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
The Patriots started the game slowly and found themselves in a 10-0 hole early in the second quarter. The team was able to score its first points of the day on a 28-yard field goal and thanks to a Malcolm Butler fumble recovery found itself on the verge of tying the game on its next series.
On 2nd-and-goal from the 4-yard line, New England used an 11-personnel package, which saw Malcolm Mitchell (#19) line up on the left side of the formation:
New York countered with a man-to-man cover 0 look, which allowed them to show and potentially bring pressure with more players than just their four down-linemen. The Jets did indeed attack the pocket with six players but the Patriots’ play design limited its impact.
Prior to the snap, Julian Edelman (#11) motioned inwards from his original spot on the far-right of the formation. However, the motion would soon change into a jet sweep – at least by the looks of it as Edelman and the offensive line were both moving to the left to sell the fake:
As a result, strong safety Calvin Pryor (#25) backed out of his initial blitz to concentrate on Edelman. This, in turn, granted the lone receiver on the formation’s left – Mitchell – an unobstructed path into the end zone as the cornerback covering him one-on-one, Darrelle Revis (#24), played with a 5-yard cushion.
At the snap, Mitchell went straight on the slant route and immediately had inside position due to Revis playing him off-man:
All Mitchell had to do next was get past fellow crossing receiver Chris Hogan (#15) and defensive backs Darryl Roberts (#27) and Buster Skrine (#41), who was originally in coverage of Edelman and fell hard for the fake jet sweep. Mitchell did just that without slowing down and as a result was open enough near the right corner of the end zone for Tom Brady (#12) to trust him with the football:
Brady delivered a perfect pass to where only the receiver could catch it and the Patriots were an extra point away from tying the game.
But while Mitchell and the rest of the offense executed the play almost perfectly, the result in terms of who catches the football would likely have been different had Brady not fumbled the snap after faking the hand-off. The quarterback quickly picked up the loose football but the play’s timing was already thrown off at that point. Consequently, the first receiving option, running back James White (#28) was double-covered in the right-side flat:
With White out of the equation, Brady had to go through his progressions and decided to go to the rookie receiver matched up with the former All-Pro cornerback. Brady displayed a lot of trust in Mitchell by doing that instead of going to veteran tight end Martellus Bennett (#88) who was just getting open near the goal-line.
Despite the play not going the way it was drawn up, it was a success for the Patriots. Mitchell winning his one-on-one matchup and giving Brady a second target was a key to that
2) 1-8-NYJ 8 (2:00) (Shotgun) T.Brady pass short left to M.Mitchell for 8 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Mitchell was targeted seven times on the day and finished with five catches for 42 yards and two scores. The second of which, his last catch of the day, turned out to be the eventual game winner for New England.
After a long completion to Chris Hogan, the Patriots found themselves in a 1st-and-goal from the 8-yard line. The team used the same personnel as on the first touchdown of the day but lined them up differently:
Mitchell aligned in the left-side slot covered up by motion-man Julian Edelman, who was originally flanked out wide. When Edelman moved further inside, the defensive back covering him – Darrelle Revis – moved with him. Revis and teammate Buster Skrine switched assignments because of the motion: Skrine took over Edelman, Revis took over Mitchell:
Due to the change in matchups, both Mitchell and Edelman were granted a free release at the snap. The duo ran the same route – an out – only differing in depth as Mitchell broke towards the boundary two yards deeper than Edelman did:
At that point, a) Tom Brady delivered the pass to Mitchell and b) Revis had already lost. The cornerback, who played eight yards off the line of scrimmage, was put in a difficult spot by the Jets’ cover 0 defense: He had to respect the in-cutting routes due to the middle of the field being left uncovered (both safeties were blitzing). This caused Revis to hesitate just enough for Mitchell and Brady to take advantage. The quarterback threw another pin-point pass and the rookie did a nice job of getting his feet into the end zone to give his team the lead.
Mitchell being able to quickly get open near the goal-line allowed Brady to deliver the touchdown pass. Given the situation, this smooth and quick execution was imperative. After all, the Jets rushed seven players which gave them a numbers advantage at the point of attack. While the offensive line and running back James White (#28) did a great job of picking up the pressure, safety Rontez Miles (#45) was still left unblocked:
Had Mitchell (and Edelman as well) not been able to gain enough separation for Brady to feel comfortable to throw the ball, or had Brady been forced to hesitate, the play might have resulted in a sack. However, it did not as the offense – with the rookie wideout an integral part of it – once again executed it well.
On both touchdowns against the Jets, Brady trusted his wide receiver to make a play. Granted, the quarterback delivered perfect passes each time, but the gist remains: Malcolm Mitchell looks comfortable in an offense that has caused multiple young receivers trouble. Brady has recognized that this is not the case with the rookie at this point in his young career. A very good sign moving forward.