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’ 36-20 win over the Las Vegas Raiders and a strip-sack-turned-touchdown that helped the team ice the contest late in the fourth quarter and capped an impressive victory in style.
Up 23-13 late early in the fourth quarter of their Week 3 matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders, the New England Patriots displayed some perfect complementary football. It started with the team’s offense going on a time-consuming 10-play series that covered 86 yards and ended with a Rex Burkhead touchdown run. What followed was the Raiders returning the ensuing kickoff to just their 12-yard line thanks to some good ball-placement by Jake Bailey and a terrific coverage play by Justin Bethel.
That’s not all, though. Las Vegas was flagged for an illegal block to put the ball at its own 6 instead of the 12 — setting up a Patriots defense that already registered two takeaways in prime field position. The unit was able to take advantage when Shilique Calhoun and Deatrich Wise Jr. teamed up to take down quarterback Derek Carr in the end zone for what appeared to be a safety. The review process, however, revealed that the ball had actually been knocked loose.
With that said, let’s take a closer look at the play.
1-10-LV 6 (5:13) (Shotgun) D.Carr sacked at LV -1 for -7 yards (sack split by S.Calhoun and D.Wise). FUMBLES (S.Calhoun), RECOVERED by NED.Wise at LV -1. TOUCHDOWN.
Backup up deep inside their own territory with only five minutes left in the game and down 16 points, the Raiders were in do-or-die territory. Accordingly, they did not try to hide their intentions: they approached the play in an 11-personnel passing formation with Derek Carr (#4) in shotgun and flanked by running back Josh Jacobs (#28) to his right. The team also used a three-man bunch on the left side of the formation with wideout Zay Jones (#12) isolated and split out wide to the right.
New England’s defense, meanwhile, countered with a seven-defensive back look — Adrian Phillips (#21) was filling the middle linebacker role — aligned in a two-deep shell. All in all, the defense and offense aligned as follows before the snap:
At the snap, the Raiders tried to attack the Patriots’ zone coverage by overloading the deep right side of the defense’s formation: the players aligned in the three-man bunch all ran vertical routes while Zay Jones went across the formation through the underneath zones. The plan might have been a good one in theory, but it was undone by a pass rush that did not give the quarterback enough time to either hit a deep shot or check down to either Jones or Jacobs on a shallow crosser or in the flat, respectively.
While New England rushed only four and had Phillips drop back into coverage, the pressure was able to get to Derek Carr:
It all started on the left side of the Patriots’ defensive formation, where Chase Winovich (#50) was aligning in a 9-technique spot. Being able to build up speed around the edge, the second-year defender was able to show some outstanding bend to get around offensive tackle Denzelle Good (#71). Good tried to shove Winovich out of the way, but the linebacker was simply too fast for him to have success.
This, in turn, prompted Derek Carr to climb the pocket just enough to give the right-side rushers — defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. (#91) and strong side linebacker Shilique Calhoun (#90) — space to take him down for a sack. Wise Jr. described the play as follows during a media conference call this week.
“I looked at Shilique and told Shilique, ‘Hey, let’s run a game.’ He nodded,” said the fourth-year defender. “As we put our hands down on the ground, we both could hear the heartbeats thumping, knowing that this was a big moment. As the ball was snapped, we proceed to follow the stunt. And next thing I know, Shilique and I are both at the quarterback at the same time.
“Chase is pulling his guy, and so was Adam [Butler]. And the way that we all enclosed the pocket, and Shilique and I just came together and hit the quarterback.”
Wise Jr. was originally aligning in a 3-technique spot on the outside shoulder of left guard John Simpson (#76), with Calhoun further out as a wide-9 rusher just like Winovich on the opposite side. But while Winovich attacked around the edge, Calhoun and Wise Jr. ran a stunt: Wise Jr. pushed up the field through the B-gap, with Calhoun faking an outside rush before moving back towards the middle of the field to attack the A-gap.
Normally, Simpson would try to get off his block to close the gap inside but he failed to do so with Wise Jr. using his long arms to keep him engaged. This in combination with Carr stepping up in the pocket to avoid Winovich created a perfect storm for a sack: Calhoun was able to burst through the gap to get to the quarterback, with Wise Jr. joining the former Raider by disengaging from Simpson through sheer power. At that point, the Raiders’ quarterback and the play as a whole were doomed.
Calhoun knocked the ball free when he engaged Carr, with Wise Jr. reacting quickly to scoop it up in the end zone for a Patriots touchdown.
The play call itself was a risky one for the Raiders given their field position and how long the primary reads down the field needed to develop. It is hard to blame them, though, given that they were down by two touchdowns plus a pair of two-point conversions. They needed to push their luck in order to keep themselves in the game, but failed to do so — in large part because of the Patriots’ pass rush winning its one-on-ones across the board.