The New England Patriots faced the Houston Texans in the second week of the preseason after a week of joint practices and head coach Bill Belichick said those practices were not a time to draw up plays because both sides were simply working on fundamentals.
“It’s not what the middle of August is about,” Belichick said about the joint practices. “It’s about building your team’s conditioning, building your team’s fundamentals, building your team’s awareness, having them learn to play together with each other against good competition. That’s what we’re going to do this week.”
Those practices were simply an opportunity for the Patriots to face a different team and to work on their base skills. Nothing tricky at all.
In Belichick’s breakdown of the Patriots game against the Texans, he lays out how a play from the preseason led offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the coaching staff to create a new play design and a touchdown for the Patriots. Watch the whole video here because this might be the best Belichick Breakdown of all time, but this is the gist of the play for those without video at work.
Tom Brady throws a near-interception to safety Andre Hal on this play from the preseason. The Patriots have two inline tight ends, two wide receivers, and a running back on the field and the Texans counter by running a cover 4 coverage.
In order to sell the playaction and potentially draw in the safeties, both tight ends remain on the line of scrimmage to block, leaving both safeties free to either crash the line of scrimmage or do something else.
Belichick noticed that when the Patriots tight ends stay on the line of scrimmage, these safeties go towards the sidelines to help with the cornerbacks in coverage of the wide receivers.
Chris Hogan, on the near side of the field, sees the cornerback flip his hips to the inside, which lets Hogan run towards the sideline and away from the cornerback. Unfortunately for the Patriots, Hogan doesn’t know where Hal is, and the safety reads Hogan’s route and undercuts the pass, breaking it up and nearly intercepting it.
“The point was that we noticed the way that they were really driving outside to really try to play these outside routes,” Belichick explains, “so based on that we put in a play that was similar to that, but had the inside route.”
The Regular Season
The Patriots used a similar two tight end and two wide receiver set and had Rob Gronkowski run in motion across the formation. While it was slightly different from what the Patriots ran in the preseason, the read was the same for the Texans defense: both tight ends are staying in to block, so the safeties should drop into coverage on the sidelines.
But instead of breaking outside like they did in the preseason, the Patriots receivers ran two different routes. Chris Hogan ran a post route, while Brandin Cooks ran an in cut to cross over the safety that was moving to assist the inside coverage.
Hogan draws two defensive backs away from the open field where Cooks was running and with the other cornerback on the outside of Cooks and the other safety running in the wrong direction towards the sideline, Cooks was able to use the momentum of all four Texans defensive backs to break free and away from the entire secondary for a touchdown.
“Cooks is just able to run away from the safety,” Belichick says. “Good job by Josh and the offensive staff of game planning and taking one situation and complimenting it with a play from the previous game.”
Belichick also breaks down how Chris Hogan scored his huge touchdown based off an in-game adjustment. Josh McDaniels saw a communication between the safety and cornerback in the middle of the game and drew up a brand new play in the sand to take advantage of what the Texans defenders were going to try and do if the Patriots ran the same route combination again.