New England Patriots
Wes Welker remains the heart and soul of the Patriots offense. Tom Brady distributes the ball to a dozen different targets, and the power running game has reemerged after a few years of spread-offense fascination, but when the Patriots want 8-to-10 reliable yards, Brady looks to Welker. While Welker is famous for catching quick screens, this season he has been running more traditional routes, and the Patriots have had to scheme to isolate Welker now that Randy Moss isn’t around to occupy the opponent’s attention.
The Branch-Welker route combination is designed to keep the cornerback and safety on their heels. Notice that the two receivers are almost stacked at the line of scrimmage. Welker releases inside, so he is running behind Branch for a few steps, and Branch veers across the face of the linebacker, who freezes while figuring out who is going where. When defenders face stacked receivers, they often assign coverage based on the patterns; the cornerback is not covering Branch or Welker, but whoever cuts to the outside. Both Welker and Branch run crossing routes, and while the linebacker does a good job of diagnosing the play and chasing Welker, he’s not fast enough to stay with the receiver, who gains 15 yards.
The Jets want to play man-to-man coverage so they can unleash their blitzes, but Brady excels at finding and exploiting the weak links in man coverage. Darrelle Revis isn’t the answer for the Jets — Welker often hides in the slot or in stack formations and works the middle of the field, out of Revis’ range. If the Patriots can peck the Jets to death with plays like these, they can win easily.
New York Jets
The Jets' running game can sometimes get a little too fancy. Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is infatuated with Wildcat and Pistol formations, and while trick-play specialist Brad Smith has had his moments this year, the offense often grinds to a halt when he enters the game to take a direct snap. The Jets are a very effective rushing team when they keep things simple, and they proved against the Colts that they can generate yardage by running the ball when opponents are thinking pass.
The Jets catch the defense blitzing on this run: as shown in blue lines, the cornerback over Cotchery charges straight into the backfield, while the defensive end runs a stunt that pulls him away from Tomlinson. It’s another advantage of running on a passing down: the blitzing defenders are in no position to stop Tomlinson, and Ferguson has no one to block until he (and Tomlinson) are 10 yards downfield. A great block by Braylon Edwards (19) on his cornerback nets a few extra yards for Tomlinson.
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