I’m doing my film review of the New England Patriots 31-24 victory over the Miami Dolphins and there’s a lot to like in the first half of play from the Patriots. In particular, I’d like to draw your attention to QB Jimmy Garoppolo’s third touchdown pass, and his second to WR Danny Amendola because I think it shows how Garoppolo understands the complexities of the NFL game.
There are a few key moments in this play, so I think it’s important to watch it from when the Patriots break the huddle.
First, the Patriots are in 11-personnel, with RB James White and TE Martellus Bennett joining WR Julian Edelman, WR Danny Amendola, and WR Chris Hogan. The Dolphins counter with a single-high safety in a 4-3 front, with the weakside linebacker on the line of scrimmage.
Garoppolo flexes White out to the far left sideline and the Dolphins, after an apparent bit of confusion, sends their single high safety to cover White. This is an important moment because if a linebacker trailed White, then the running back would be the ideal target due to the match-up.
But with the safety no longer in the middle of the field, well, the Dolphins no longer had a second line of defense. Garoppolo was going to lob it to whichever receiver got behind their defender.
Garoppolo also identifies that Bennett will be covered by the strongside linebacker since the safety was no longer in the area. A common concept in man coverage is for a linebacker to watch their man- usually a running back or tight end- and if they don’t release, the linebacker will crash the pocket. By keeping Bennett in the backfield, the linebacker rushes the pocket and leaves the entire middle of the field wide open for Amendola.
There is always the risk that the linebackers would drop into zone coverage, which is why Edelman and White offer a coverage beater on the far side of the field. White clears out the far side coverage, while Edelman cuts outside. If Garoppolo saw a zone defense, Edelman would’ve been the target.
But instead, Amendola has a wide open middle of the field to operate and Garoppolo delivers a perfect pass for a touchdown.
Garoppolo’s ability to dissect a defense is enhanced by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ ability to draw up an excellent play in the red zone. But Garoppolo made all the correct reads on this play and the Patriots converted a key four-point play on third down for a touchdown.