New England Patriots RB James White gained 96 yards against the New Orleans Saints, with 85 coming through the air. His biggest gain was a 24-yard catch-and-run after he easily beat the linebacker in coverage and moved down the field.
“You know that play right there, we talked about earlier in the game, Jim, we talked about copycat league,” color commentator Tony Romo said during the CBS broadcast. “That last play right out of the backfield, guess who they stole that play from?”
“Tell me,” CBS’s play-by-play man Jim Nantz replied.
“Kansas City last week ran it against New England,” Romo said. “Got a big play on the same thing.”
The Chiefs found RB Kareem Hunt in the middle of the field with Patriots EDGE Cassius Marsh a few steps behind in coverage and Hunt ran almost the whole distance of the field for a score.
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was clearly taking notes because the Patriots incorporated that play into their book for the next week. QB Tom Brady trusted James White to get open and to make the big play and the two connected for a great play just one week after it hurt their own defense.
"We have a big plan at the start of the week, and we kind of narrow it down over the course of the week, and then by the time we get to game day we’re really confident in the things that we’re calling," Brady said on WEEI, as transcribed by CSNNE. "Like the play I threw to James, the Chiefs did run that, that was the touchdown play that they had to Kareem Hunt, that long one where they got behind the defense.
"But you see different things over the course of the league. Our coaches do a great job studying -- things that are working, things that are confusing. It was a little different variation of what the Chiefs did, but similar action, and we got some confusion on the defense and they really missed James coming out of the backfield.”
The Chiefs used Tyreek Hill in motion to force the Patriots to make multiple adjustments. Eric Rowe dropped to free safety and Duron Harmon had to run to the line of scrimmage to cover Hill. The Chiefs overloaded the same side of the field with Hill, Travis Kelce, and Kareem Hunt, forcing the linebackers and safeties to communicate who was responsible for covering which player. Hunt easily beat his coverage- Marsh- who was still learning the Patriots defense.
In the Patriots version, they used Dion Lewis to muddle the Saints defensive responsibilities. Tom Brady put Lewis in the near slot and no Saints defender followed and the Patriots could have easily made a quick play for a gain if Lewis ran an out route.
The Saints eventually moved a defensive back into coverage of Lewis in the slot, leading Brady to motion Lewis into the backfield. The confusion and eventual defensive back moving into coverage of Lewis told Brady that a linebacker was responsible for guarding James White out of the backfield, with potential for a far more lucrative gain.
With Lewis in the backfield, the defensive back seemed confused of his responsibility and eventually decided to help cover the tight end (Dwayne Allen) in the middle of the field, who was already covered by a safety Vonn Bell. This left two linebackers to cover each White and Lewis one-on-one, with both targets easy wins for the offense.
White got behind LB A.J. Klein with a lot of space in the open field and the offense easily moved down the field.
“Had I not thrown it to James, I had Dion Lewis over near the sideline and no one was on him either,” Brady noted. “It’s just a really good play and perfect call at the perfect time."
Brady decided to go with White, but both White and Lewis were wide open with easy first downs.
This play reveals so much about the Patriots offense. How second-and-short opens up the playbook for the offense to further confuse the defense; How the offense leaned upon the running backs to supplement the passing attack with all of the injuries to the top receivers; and how two running back sets look to be a productive part of the Patriots playbook.
And it also shows how Josh McDaniels and the Patriots offense are looking in all corners for plays that could help move the chains- including teams that find ways to gash the Patriots defense.