The buildup to Super Bowl 53 provided some of the best scheme discussions in recent Super Bowl history. How would the New England Patriots offensive line handle Aaron Donald? How would Tom Brady fare against the Wade Phillips defense? What about the chess match between Bill Belichick and Sean McVay?
Underlying that third question was this: How would the venerable head coach approach Jared Goff?
By now we know the answer. The Patriots played a lot of Quarters coverage against the Los Angeles Rams offense (Cover 4 with the “middle-of-the-field open”) and used two separate play-calls in the defensive huddle, shifting into the second after the radio in Goff’s helmet cut out, thereby preventing McVay to communicate any adjustments to his quarterback.
But there was something else.
They exploited the hesitation.
Like every other football writer under the sun I found ways to write about the game. In studying Goff, hesitation was the biggest word that came to mind that year. As I wrote in this extensive piece, Goff’s tendency to hesitate when making reads and throws from the pocket had cost him during the regular season, and it could potentially cost him in the Super Bowl.
Take just one example from that article, this interception from the Los Angeles Chargers:
This hesitation continued into the Super Bowl — as we will see in a moment — and beyond. During this season, Goff has continued to show this trait of his, often against those “middle-of-the-field open” coverages like the Patriots employed during the Super Bowl. In this video you will see Goff struggling against those coverages in 2020, and how it can be traced back to that fateful February night in 2019:
Prior to their Week 13 win over the Arizona Cardinals, McVay challenged his quarterback to perform better and take care of the football. In large part, Goff responded, posting one of his best games of the season in a win. But even in that success, the hesitation is still present. See if you can notice it during this film breakdown:
Three throws from Jared Goff in a bit of a redemptive performance.— Mark Schofield (@MarkSchofield) December 8, 2020
*Working progressions out of empty and staying on-time
*Crosser variations and throwing on the move
*Placement against tight coverage pic.twitter.com/rc9iBftAtw
For the Patriots defense on Thursday night their task remains the same as it did back in February of 2019: Exploit the hesitation.