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Pats Playbook: The James Develin series — goal line and short yardage

How James Develin helps the Patriots at the goal line and in short-yardage situations.

We’ve looked at how the New England Patriots utilize fullback James Develin to lead the way on running plays up the gut and off-tackle. And in the next edition, we’ll look at how Develin helps the Patriots score at the goal line and convert first downs in short-yardage situations, both by leading the way and by carrying it himself.

The Patriots don’t give Develin many carries. However, of the Patriots’ 18 rushing touchdowns during the 2018 season, 13 of them came on plays in which Develin was either leading the way for a runner or taking it in himself.

Goal-Line Lead Iso ‘BOB’

First off, let’s look at how the Patriots punch it in with Develin leading the way. The most common way they do this is with their lead-iso “BOB” run, where the Patriots isolate the back on a ‘backer.

This is a C-gap insert play for the Patriots, which works well against this common goal-line front where there is a bubble (a gap that isn’t occupied by a defensive lineman) in the C-gap. They’ll shift the tight end to get the safety following him out of position off the ball, since he will be left unblocked.

The hope is that the strong-side guard and tackle will wash down the nose tackle and defensive tackle, while the tight end blocks out on the defensive end, creating the hole for Develin to lead onto the linebacker. It’s a straight-ahead run that doesn’t really gain more than a yard or two, but that’s all the Patriots need with this play.

Here are two extra lead-iso “BOB” plays at the goal line in which Develin helped the Patriots punch it in for six. The first clip shows Develin leading through the A-gap rather than the C-gap, due to the front and cross-dog blitz the Tennessee Titans showed and the second clip is against the Los Angeles Chargers in the AFC divisional round in 2018 where the defense only came out with 10 men on the field.

Goal-Line ‘BOSS’

Another way the Patriots use Develin to punch it in is more of a stretch play than a straight-ahead iso run. It’s called “BOSS,” which stands for “back on strong safety.” Like the wide-zone strong play, the Patriots will zone-block this play with cut blocks on the back side. New England will get a double-team at the point of attack which again opens up the hole for Develin to lead through, usually onto the strong safety.

Although the Patriots have different variations of this play, here’s a basic diagram:

Overall for the Patriots, these goal-line and short-yardage runs are all about creating a bubble on the defensive line and sending Develin through that bubble to lead the way for a touchdown or first down.

Fullback Dive

When the Patriots don’t use Develin as the lead blocker on lead iso and “BOSS,” they’ll hand it to him on a fullback dive, both at the goal line and in short-yardage situations. To get a stronger push up front, New England will leave the back side of the defense unblocked and swing the running back out wide, hoping to take a few defenders with him due to the threat of a toss to him. The Patriots also don’t really block linebackers on this play. Instead, they prioritize getting double-teams up front because they only need a yard or two on the quick fullback handoff.

Here’s all four touchdowns and a few short-yardage conversions from Develin during the 2018 campaign. You’ll see Develin here going up the gut behind double-teams while the running back takes the back side of the defense away.

And here’s the one time where the Patriots actually faked the fullback dive and pitched it to the 2018 first-round pick Sony Michel out wide, outflanking the unblocked back-side defenders.

Although the fullback position is a dying one in the NFL, the position can still be very impactful. As things trend more and more in the direction of the spread, it’s important to appreciate the old- school football the Patriots put on display with Develin as the hammer. He can help the offense move the chains up the gut, off-tackle and now at the goal line and in short-yardage situations. So, when you watch New England this season and see No. 46 on the field, keep an eye out for these plays. They’re beautiful to watch.