Welcome to the Play of the Game, a weekly breakdown of the last game’s top play as voted on by you. Today, we will take a closer look at the New England Patriots’ 35-30 loss against the Seattle Seahawks and a 49-yard pass that helped the team get some momentum back after falling behind by 11 points late in the third quarter.
The New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks were playing a close game in the first half of their prime time showdown, with the teams entering the locker rooms at intermission tied at 14. But while the visitors added a field goal to go up by three points early in the third period, the Seahawks were able to turn the game around on the next three drives: the team scored two touchdowns and also was able to register an interception off of Patriots quarterback Cam Newton.
When Newton and company got the ball back with 1:55 left in quarter number three, they needed to generate some momentum in order to get back into the contest. They did just that by driving 77 yards in six plays to cut New England’s deficit to five points. While a 1-yard touchdown pass to fullback Jakob Johnson was undoubtably a big play, the drive starter was equally important in that it quickly helped the Patriots get back into scoring range. Let’s therefore take a closer look at it.
1-10-NE 23 (1:55) (Shotgun) C.Newton pass deep middle to J.Edelman to SEA 28 for 49 yards (J.Adams).
Immediately following the Seahawks’ touchdown that put the Patriots in a 28-17 hole, the team came out in an 11 personnel formation with Newton (#1) in the shotgun. While New England’s first-year starting quarterback is a viable threat to just take off and advance the football himself as a runner, the unit’s intention was clear considering the personnel group and the game situation: the Patriots would turn to their passing game to cover the deficit.
In order to kickstart the drive, they came out in the following formation with two wide receivers — N’Keal Harry (#15) and Julian Edelman (#11) on the left field side — as well as tight end Ryan Izzo (#85) and wide receiver Damiere Byrd (#10) on the right boundary side:
Edelman originally aligned on the boundary side as well as part of a three-man bunch with Izzo and Byrd, but shifted across the formation before the snap — giving Newton an indication that the defense would be in a zone coverage as opposed to a man-to-man scheme: nobody followed Edelman during his pre-snap motion.
Based on that shift, New England now had three skill position players on the quarterback’s left aligned versus two linebackers and two defensive backs. This personnel split allowed the Patriots to create one-on-one situations down the field for both Harry and Edelman versus field cornerback Tre Flowers (#21) and safety Jamal Adams (#33), respectively. And as the result of the play showed, Edelman certainly took advantage of this alignment.
A look a the game film illustrates how the MVP of Super Bowl 53 was able to get open against one of the best safeties in the game today:
At the snap, Edelman began going up the seam which in turn led to Adams backpedaling from his original alignment. The defender stayed square with his hips through the early portions of the route, and did not commit one way or another until the receiver had reached the 35-yard line. At that point, Edelman started to break to the middle of the field as if running a post — which was all Adams needed to see to react and slightly open his hips.
With his back turned to the perimeter, however, he was out of position to effectively defend what was to follow.
Edelman did not cross over the middle of the field, but instead used Adams’ movements against him: he did not continue on his post pattern but drove downfield again to continue up the seam. This caught the Seahawks’ safety out of position and allowed the veteran wideout to create some separation between the two. While Adams did catch up to Edelman as he was adjusting to the arriving pass, he was unable to make anything more than a tackle on the play.
As impressive as Edelman’s route and ability to read the defender in front of him is, it is not the only part of the play that made it a success: the blocking up front and the quarterback’s pocket presence also contributed to New England gaining 49 yards and flipping field position with one deep pass.
Seattle decided to rush their four down-linemen on the play, with the Patriots using running back Rex Burkhead (#34) and the aforementioned Ryan Izzo to chip the edge rushers before releasing into their patterns. While the edge guys were then blocked one-on-one, the interior had a three-to-two advantage in New England’s favor. This, plus some outstanding work by left tackle Isaiah Wynn (#76) and left guard Joe Thuney (#62) allowed Newton to wait for the play to develop.
The end-zone view shows just how well the Patriots’ blockers worked despite five seconds passing between the snap and the release of the football:
As the blocking up front held up, Newton had time to survey the field and dissect how Seattle would cover his potential targets. He started off by looking to his right, but turned his head again once he saw cornerback Ugo Amadi (#28) close in on Izzo and Byrd being unable to get open. Wynn moving weak-side linebacker Bruce Irvin (#51) past the quarterback, then led him to climb to his left to buy himself more time and space to operate.
Newton’s platform may look a bit curious once he lets go of the football — his feet are almost parallel to the 15-yard line — but it still allowed him to get considerable air on the ball and deliver an on-target throw to where only Edelman was able to reach out and get it.
The play itself will not make too many highlight reels at the end of the season considering that it happened during a loss, but it is a good example of how the Patriots’ passing game found success versus Seattle: the offensive line gave Newton time to scan the field; the quarterback trusted his arm to attempt deep throws, and the wide receivers read their keys successfully to get open. As has been said before, this was an encouraging development.