Signature Plays: Gronk presence felt on flat-corner combo

Signature Plays: Gronk presence felt on flat-corner combo

We've already taken a look at a handful of go-to offensive concepts for the Patriots. There was the two-back stretch, the smash route, the post-wheel, the high-low crosser and the slip screen. Today, we'll focus on yet another key offensive play, one that works thanks to the physical gifts of their players. 

It's no secret: The Patriots offense benefits in a big way by being able to trot out arguably the greatest tight end in the history of the sport.

We illustrated Rob Gronkowski's importance to the operation when he attracted coverage in the Super Bowl, which helped to allow one of his teammates to score a touchdown. Yes, sometimes just having Gronkowski on one side of the field or another is enough to garner a defense's attention create a fatal opening.

Gronkowski's coaches know that. They know that even though he's a walking mismatch. If a defense overextends to stop him, they'll be opened up to damage elsewhere. 

That's exactly what happened in Week 11 last season, when the Patriots took on the Raiders in Mexico. The game was scoreless late in the first quarter until Josh McDaniels dialed up a route combination that used Oakland's respect for Gronkowski against them. 


THE CONCEPT: The flat-corner combination is one that works particularly well against certain types of zone coverages. In our example from the Raiders game, it appeared as though Oakland was in quarters coverage or Cover-4, with four defenders sharing the responsibilities of defending the deep portion of the field. But this would work against Cover-2 as well. The goal is to get a shifty running back into space, one-on-one with a slower linebacker underneath. When the talented inside receiver (in this case Gronkowski) runs his corner route, the cornerback goes with him, and the safety on his side of the field has to respect that Gronkowski's route could be a post. The result is oodles of open space on that side of the field for a back who thrives there.

THE PLAY: In the NFL's Mexico City showdown, the Patriots scored their first touchdown by goading the Raiders into paying attention to Gronkowski. Starting him in-line and sending him on a corner occupied both the middle safety and the outside corner. When Dion Lewis took off out of the backfield, he knew he had a juicy matchup. He darted into the flat, caught Tom Brady's pass, and cut back to the middle of the field. The linebacker chasing in pursuit was left hugging grass. Lewis finished the run hard, splitting two potential tackles to get into the end zone and open up the scoring in the game. On the opposite side of the field, the Patriots ran Brandin Cooks on a crossing route, Dwayne Allen on a corner to the opposite side of the field, and Danny Amendola ran a return route over the middle. 

THE PLAY IN 2018: This type of play is part of what makes Gronkowski so valuable. The fact that he's as good as he is earns him attention, and when the Patriots can use that attention to their advantage they do. Of course, they like Gronkowski for much more than his work as a decoy...but he's a good one. Especially when Gronkowski can open up space for a back with the agility to make the first tackler miss, this flat-corner combo is almost guaranteed to succeed against certain defenses. With Lewis gone, the Patriots might not have quite the same level of make-you-miss talent in their running back room, but James White, Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel could all potentially find themselves involved in this route combination, trying to embarrass a linebacker one-on-one. On the three-receiver side, the Patriots could use any combination of pass-catchers. Having Phillip Dorsett run the crosser, with Kenny Britt running the corner and Jordan Matthews on the return would give Brady some interesting options if things broke down on the flat-corner side.



Patriots ID, turn in beer-throwing fan

Patriots ID, turn in beer-throwing fan

The Patriots have identified the fan who threw a beer at Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill after his 75-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter Sunday night and Foxboro police reportedly will charge the 21-year-old man from Marshfield, Mass., with disorderly conduct.

Here’s the statement from the Patriots:

WBZ reported that the beer-tosser will be charged with disorderly conduct and throwing an object at a sporting event:

Here's a slow-motion look at the incident, via NFL Network’s Marc Istook:

Hill's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said they are talking to the NFL and the NFL Players Association about taking action against the fan, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported:

Hill’s touchdown and the ensuing extra-point tied the score at 40 in a game the Patriots would go on to win 43-40 on Stephen Gostkowski’s last-second field goal, handing the Chiefs their first loss.


Nice of the officials to stay out the way of Patriots-Chiefs classic

AP Photo

Nice of the officials to stay out the way of Patriots-Chiefs classic

There are a few items we highlighted in our "Game Within the Game" preview story that need some circling back this morning and the first one is officiating.

John Hussey’s crew was refreshingly out of the limelight in this one. Whether that’s thanks to the two teams playing really cleanly or the officials easing back a bit (the crew walked off 26 penalties in Week 1 and 20 in Week 5), the upshot was a game that had great flow.

But we told you how much better the Patriots were at playing within the rules than Kansas City and that was borne out. The Patriots didn’t have any accepted penalties last night. The Chiefs had five for 58 yards including a 37-yard defensive pass interference on Josh Gordon that set up a Sony Michel touchdown.

The Patriots are now at the top of the league in accepted penalties against (still 26) while the Chiefs are the second-most penalized team . The Chiefs have 50 penalties for 430 yards.

Even more impressive is that the Patriots just have 18 accepted penalties combined on offense and defense. The other eight are against their special teams. The Chiefs have 47 non-special teams penalties against them.

Second, we hit on Tyreek Hill’s speed and the fact that he can run 22 mph with a football under his arm. He hit the gas a couple of times Sunday night and opened up space between himself and the very fast Devin McCourty.

Hill scored three times. McCourty was in coverage twice. One came on a 1-yard touchdown flip when McCourty had a minor collision with teammate Jonathan Jones allowing Hill to scoot free. The other was on a 14-yard throw where McCourty got caught in a trail position and couldn’t make up the gap Hill created.

“Hill’s a guy who – if you play him outside and he runs all the way to the other pylon – those are plays where you try to run it down and try to make a play late but it’s hard to catch back up to him,” McCourty explained.  “The longer the play goes on, you hope the ball will be in the air long enough to catch up but on that first one I went from inside the left hash to 2 yards inside the right pylon. It’s just tough trying to know which way he’s going initially but I just need to try and stay closer and make a play at the end.”

Hill’s speed led directly to 21 points. The arm strength of Patrick Mahomes was directly attributable to the seven Kansas City got on the 67-yard touchdown pass he threw to Kareem Hunt in the third quarter.

Mahomes got outside the pocket but had few options and bought time by drifting. With that, Jason McCourty slowed his pursuit and curled toward the middle of the field, while Hunt kept going straight down the sideline.

Recalling that play, Devin McCourty said, “The hard thing with (Mahomes) was, if you do get after him and get some pressure, is how well he throws the ball outside the pocket. That’s the hardest time to cover fast guys. You cover the initial route but once he gets outside the pocket and the guy just goes one way or goes the other way, you just have to try to catch him. On the Hunt touchdown, he did what you wanted him to do. (Mahomes) bubbled (rolled right on an arc away from the line of scrimmage) but the guy has a great arm that even if he bubbles, he can still get it deep.”

Bill Belichick was not enthused about that play.

“It's not a mystery,” he said on the Monday morning conference call. “Almost every quarterback we've played has been a scrambling quarterback, so it's not like we haven’t seen one before or it hasn’t come up before. We just had a couple of breakdowns last night. It was more than one play, but there were a couple of breakdowns that just ended up in bad plays which we've got to do a better job. We've got to coach it better and we've got to play it better.”

As for the long Hill touchdown in the fourth quarter, Belichick panned that too.

“I'd just say that was just bad defense, bad coaching, bad playing, bad everything.”

Finally, a very busy game for Stephen Gostkowski who went 9-for-9 on his kicks. He was 5-for-5 on field goals including a very clutch 50-yarder with 3:15 to go that pushed the Patriots lead to seven. If he’d missed, would have put the Chiefs first-and-10 at their own 40 driving for the win and not the tie.

He was right down the middle on virtually every kick as well.

“Sometimes you take a guy like Steve for granted,” Bill Belichick said on the conference call. “Just goes out there and bangs them through.”

“I felt in a groove on field goals tonight,” said Gostkowski. “Games like this where you get a lot of opportunities you feel very involved in the game, to me it makes the job easier. Sometimes the hardest games are when you’re sitting around and you don’t know when you’re going to go out there. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen very often. We have a great offense and we score a lot of points. But when you hit the first one and it goes right where you aimed, it’s easy to get on a roll when stuff like that happens.”
The kicking game wasn’t without its curiosities though.

Late in the first quarter, Gostkowski tried what appeared to be a half-squib that was easily fielded by Kansas City’s Spencer Ware at the 35 and returned nearly to midfield. It didn’t have a prayer of being recovered by the Patriots so why did New England just hand over 20 yards of field position to an explosive offense?

“It was a bad kick,” said Gostkowski. “I’m not gonna get into it. It just wasn’t very well executed and put that one on me.”
As for the high-arcing kickoff that the Chiefs returned 97 yards in the fourth quarter, I asked Gostkowski if he can just kick it through the end zone whenever he wants.

“I wish,” he said.  

Gostkowski’s kickoffs going to the lighthouse end were as follows: 3 yards deep in the end zone, squib fielded at the Kansas City 35, moonshot fielded at the 3, touchback, touchback.

As outstanding as Gostkowski was on field goals, the plan hatched by Belichick and special teams coach Joe Judge for Gostkowski’s kickoffs is harder to discern.