The Patriots and the Beauty of Simplicity

A big part of the Patriots victory in Super Bowl LIII was the fact that they held one of the best scoring offenses in NFL history to 3 points.

Of course, it’s not like the Patriots offense was lighting up the scoreboard, either. With 8:50 left in the game, the Patriots and Rams were all knotted-up at 3-3. With three plays, the Patriots essentially won the game.

Play 1: 1st & 10, 8:50 remaining in the 4th quarter

The Patriots come out 5 wide, with 3 to the left. The outside man is running a curl, the slot man is running a go up the seam and the tight man is running a pivot route.

If you want, think of this as a smash concept between the outside and slot man, but with the slot man running a go instead of a corner. Then you run a pivot underneath. Call it a smash seam.

You’re looking for the man up the seam, but if he’s not open there are a couple other quick options. If outside coverage doesn’t fall back on the seam, there’s a one-on-one opportunity against a safety. If outside coverage falls back, there’s a chance to hit the quick curl. If coverage drops outside to pick up the curl, there should be a decent amount of room on the pivot route, provided the route is run well enough to pin the defender inside.

The Rams are in Quarters, with the outside defender falling back to pick up the seam route. The slot defender rotates off the seam to pick up the outside curl. So those options are gone.

But Julien Edelman runs a nice pivot route and finds some room to work with. Tom Brady gets the ball to Edelman out of the break and it picks up a cool 13 yards.

Play 2: 1st & 10, 8:16 remaining in the 4th quarter

The pivot route has been changed to a drag route from right-to-left, but everything else is the same. Both sides feature the outside man running a curl with the slot man running up the seam.

In fact, the only difference isn’t a huge difference. The idea is still the same, even if the alignment/route is different. Instead of running inside then pivoting outside, the route starts on the other side and is based on the receiver getting an inside angle and outrunning his man into the space provided from the other two routes. It’s different, but it’s not really different.

Rob Gronkowski gets chipped off the line from his left-slot position and never creates separation. Combine that with the outside defender retreating and looking to fall back under Gronkowski’s route and this makes a quick read for Brady: get the ball out for 7 yards and live to fight another play.

Play 3: 2nd & 3, 7:43 remaining in the 4th quarter

You know the song by now. Sing along with me.

The alignment looks the same as it did on the previous play, but this play resembles a flipped version of Play 1. Outside receivers running curls, slot receivers running up the seam and the tight man running a pivot route. Only, on this play, that pivot is on the right side.

We’ve seen Brady hit the pivot and the curl. We know what he does here.

Gronkowski gets a free release from his left-slot position and the single-high safety is rotating towards the middle of the field. Here’s how the defense looks against that seam route:

The inside defender is motioning towards Gronkowski at the snap, allowing Gronkowski a clean, outside release.

The safety is rotating away from Gronkowski.

The outside defender waits a beat before retreating.

Gronkowski doesn’t get much separation, but that’s secondary to Brady’s decision: he knows what Gronkowski can do and he also knows that all of these things have created a good situation to take a shot.

Brady hits him with his best throw of the night: over the top and slightly inside to where Gronkowski can make a nice adjustment, but before the safety can get there. It’s a thing of beauty.

The Patriots scored a touchdown on the next play to make it 10-3. The Rams turned the ball over on the next possession and the Patriots never threw the ball again on their way to a 13-3 Super Bowl win.

The Patriots basically ran the same play 3 straight times, moving down the field with relative ease in the final quarter, picking up 49 yards on these three plays.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the time or energy to chart every play of every game, but I would say that running essentially the same play 3 times in a row is highly unlikely. But the Patriots had a match-up and look that they liked, and they continued to go back to it until they were able to hit something down the field.

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