Yet, it was the Patriots special teams unit that stole the show with their motion usage.
With under four minutes remaining in the third quarter and the Patriots trailing 17-3, Miami was set to attempt a 49-yard field goal to extend their lead. That was until Brenden Schooler came flying off the edge to block the kick.
It wasn't the typical field goal block, however, as Schooler was lined up out wide and ran in towards the ball before it was snapped. It was a motion similar to what McDaniel has used with Hill to give him a running start, giving Schooler a similar advantage.
“Just had the right opportunity,” Schooler said. “Count out my steps properly and just time it up well. Everybody else on the field did there job well so I could go execute mine.”
According to Next Gen Stats, Schooler was moving at 12.70 mph when the ball was snapped and 13.19 mph when the kick was blocked. He knew he was about to make the play the moment he took off.
“As soon as the ball was snapped, I felt myself and the momentum carrying I knew I was going to get there,” he said. “Just wanted to make sure I got a hand on the ball - or something where I could stop the ball — and hopefully one of us would pick it up.”
The play was something new for New England, as Schooler explained he and several of his teammates had ever seen anything like it. He credited the Patriots’ special teams staff who installed the play this week to take advantage of a weakness they saw in Miami’s operation.
“[Joe] Judge, [Joe] Houston, and Cam [Achord] they dialed up a really good scheme for that block and saw a weak point on their field goal operation. We worked it during the week and felt pretty confident about it going into the game,” Schooler explained.
The design perhaps affected a later field goal attempt by Miami. With Jason Sanders looking to ice the game with 2:19 remaining, Schooler took a similar position out wide on the block unit. While his timing did not resolve in a block, the look may have played a role in Sanders pushing the kick wide left.
“Talking with our specialists, they feel when there's pressure at their feet,” Schooler explained. “Once you get a block like that, it's hard for anybody to kind of dial in and stay focus. So, once you get pressure on a kicker like that it’s a little bit easier to get him rattled. Once we had that block, I didn't want to be offsides but I wanted to definitely have him feel pressure coming off the edge again.”
After finishing last in the league in special teams DVOA last season, New England invested plenty of resources this offseason to shore up their special teams. The early dividends are paying off with impact plays, which was highlighted by Schooler’s block Sunday night.
“I feel we’re making strides in the right direction right now,” Schooler said. “There's a lot to improve on, but we've done a lot and we've come a long way. Proud of those guys and proud of the coaching staff and how hard they are on us. They expect a lot out of us and I expect a lot out of us as well. We’re taking strides in the right direction, it's awesome to see.”