In the fourth of our ‘How to…’ looks at Sunday’s Super Bowl we focus on the Patriots’ unusual offense.
The New England Patriots are something of an anomaly in terms of the modern NFL. Conventional wisdom says that you have to have at least one speedy receiver who can stretch the field if you want to be successful. Yet New England haven’t really had that since the days of Randy Moss. Instead, under Josh McDaniels, they have focussed more on pass-catching tight ends and shifty, often undersized, receivers who might not go deep but who excel at getting separation from blockers and markers.
Atlanta will, of course, be relieved that they don’t have to deal with Rob Gronkowski, but New England has more weapons than just that. Key to defeating them, though, is to appreciate that this is a team which thrives on short yardage pass plays rather than hurling the ball into the secondary or indeed pounding the ball between the tackles. Indeed, of the five running backs on their active roster, only LeGarrette Blount could be called a classic ‘up the guts’ running back and whilst Dion Lewis is shifty out of the backfield his real forte is catching those passes. The trick, therefore, is to take away those short passing routes whilst not allowing the likes of Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola to get away from your secondary.
Disguised blitzes are also key. Although the Patriots’ offensive line has been much better this year, since they tempted veteran line coach Dante Scarnecchia, they still have fallabilities and one of those is to get separated from one another when they perceive an edge rush – something that they will regard as a real threat with the likes of Vic Beasley Jr on the other side of the ball. That leaves them vulnerable to A-gap rushes, a vulnerability which they share with Atlanta’s last opponents, Green Bay, and which the Falcons ruthlessly exploited.
Finally, a vital element of taking on the Patriots’ offense is to play what is actually before you. The legend that they never really run the same offense twice certainly has some basis, but it doesn’t mean that you can assume that, just because Hogan had a big game last time and Blount a relatively quiet one, that the roles will be reversed this time around. Indeed, the offensive concept often remains pretty much the same, with just the personnel executing it changing.