Scenario: The New England Patriots are trailing 28-12 and started a drive with 8:24 left in regular time, with the ball on the Atlanta Falcons 25 yard line. After barely converting a 3rd and 11, thanks to Patriots rookie WR Malcolm Mitchell, New England now has the ball on the Falcons 14 yard line and need to score quickly.
What do you do?
Well, if you’re Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, you dial up literally the exact same play two time in a row, with the exact same result on both plays- receptions by WR Danny Amendola.
For both of these plays, WR Malcolm Mitchell is on the near side sideline with WR Danny Amendola in the slot. On the far side, WR Julian Edelman is in close to the line, WR Chris Hogan is in the slot, and RB James White is on the sideline.
Q4 1-10-ATL 14 (6:34) (Shotgun) T.Brady pass short left to D.Amendola to ATL 6 for 8 yards (R.Allen).
The Falcons are playing off-coverage with seven yard cushions, while also playing in zone, which means the Patriots are going to look for quick stemming routes to get away from the defenders. The far side Patriots receivers are supposed to occupy the Falcons defenders with route combinations that draw attention of the free safety, keeping four defenders away from the play.
On the near side, the Patriots get lanky 6’1 CB Jalen Collins in the slot with inside leverage, which makes him the ideal target. He’s slower to change direction, so Amendola has an easy time using the cushion and inside leverage against the cornerback by running a quick out pattern. Mitchell’s role is simply to take sideline CB C.J. Goodwin out of the play, opening up yards after the catch for Amendola, and possibly distract the strong safety.
Mitchell actually does an outstanding job of taking away all three defensive backs. The outside cornerback drops backwards because Mitchell had been running comeback routes all game, but Mitchell’s feint at a post route freezes the safety and slot cornerback, who is supposed to cover Mitchell in his zone.
Amendola makes an easy grab for eight yards as the Patriots marched towards the goal line.
Q4 2-2-ATL 6 (6:00) (Shotgun) T.Brady pass short left to D.Amendola for 6 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Literally the exact same thing. The sideline receivers tweak their routes a little bit to account for the goal line, but the concepts remain the same. Instead of Mitchell trying to take away the safety and slot corner, he’s trying to clear out the sideline cornerback so Amendola can catch the ball and fall into the end zone without a cornerback in his face; there’s less of a need for yards after the catch.
It’s interesting that the Patriots paired their two “lesser” receiving options on the same side of the field, with Edelman, Hogan, and White (ranks #1, #3, and #4 on the team in receiving yards, with TE Martellus Bennett ranking #2) on the far side. This draws the Falcons attention and forces them to place their best coverage players on the far side, opening up better match-ups on the near side.
Collins and Goodwin are young cornerbacks, with Collins the 4th cornerback on the depth chart (bumped up to #3 after Desmond Trufant was lost for the season with an injury) and Goodwin playing his first year at cornerback after converting from wide receiver. The Patriots win this match-up every time.
And it turns out that the Falcons were willing to give the Patriots this match-up two plays in a row, and New England left with the touchdown en route to the greatest comeback in NFL history.