Highlighting Audible Usage by the NFL's Best QBs
What's in an audible?
There are many factors that go into a quarterback's audible, and there are many ways to audible. An audible can consist of completely changing the initial play-call, altering it by changing a player's route or sending a player in motion to clear space, all of which are dependent on the look given from the defense.
Each quarterback has a run-pass option in what's likely a modified version of a "Check With Me" system, which gives the quarterback multiple plays in the huddle that he can choose from and check to or from once the offense has gotten to the line of scrimmage.
The two plays received in the huddle can vary from having a run and a run call to a run and a pass or a pass and run. The first play would be the original call, while the second one is the play that could potentially be called when an audible is made.
As noted earlier, there's also the option of altering a route or a player's alignment to clear space for another player, which can still be considered an audible. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is a mastermind when it comes to this, and for the sake of consistency, he will be used as the primary example in this article.
In an astonishing 45-3 thrashing of the New York Jets a couple years ago, Brady made a lot of adjustments before the snap to figure out the Jets' complex defense, and one of them came with nearly five minutes left in the third quarter.
The Patriots lined up in "11" personnel, which consists of one running back and tight end. Brady was in shotgun with running back Danny Woodhead to his left before the snap. He noticed safety Eric Smith was to his left and was potentially disrupting a passing lane. This led him to calling an audible and altering the alignment of Woodhead from left to right.
When Woodhead shifted from left to the right of Brady, he brought Jets safety Eric Smith along with him. Because of the audible and shift, Smith went to the opposite side and was no longer an issue.
Because Brady was going to the left the entire time, Smith was a non-factor on the right side and was reduced to spying on Woodhead, who never left the backfield. This meant that on the left side of the play, Brady could easily throw the ball to Welker without any worry of a defensive back undercutting the route, which is what he did once Welker ran an out route.
This play has long stuck out in my mind because it was a simple, yet detailed adjustment made before the play started, and it proved to be very effective.
However, it's not the only way audibles are made. Quarterbacks play calling at the line of scrimmage are not only influenced by how a defender is aligned, but also how many defenders are lined up in the box.
Typically, there is some form of a seven or eight-man (or six, depending on sub-packages) front posed by a defense before the snap. If there is a seven-man front, the chances of having a successful run play are higher than that of a pass play because there are less defenders to defend the run and more players in coverage.
Conversely, if there are eight players in a box, which is usually the typical seven-man front and a safety that has walked down, the chances of passing successfully are higher than running because there are less defenders in coverage and more playing the run.
That's what Tom Brady noticed before the snap against the Washington Redskins in Week 14 when he and the offense were in the red zone. The Patriots were in "12" spread personnel, with a lone running back once again and two tight ends, one of which was aligned in the slot.
Brady was under center and saw two deep safeties, which meant there was a six-man box.
This signals that the play is likely a run by the offense, but the Redskins end up walking down two safeties right before Brady goes to snap the ball, which forces him to make an adjustment.
Once Brady takes multiple steps back and lines up in shotgun, one of the Redskins safeties goes back to the middle of the field while the other stays in the box, effectively creating a seven-man box.
The Patriots could still run the ball despite the seven-man box because they have one more gap than the defense can account for, but there's a greater chance of them having success by passing the ball, which is what they decide to do.
Brady dropped back and delivered a high arching pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski, who hauled it in for the touchdown.
Quarterback Tom Brady is a master at recognizing defensive fronts and coverages, which is why he excels at calling audibles to get to the right play when necessary. However, he's not alone, as the likes of Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and, most notably, Peyton Manning, have had great success in recent years of doing the same.
All four quarterbacks have control of the line of scrimmage at all times and are given the freedom to do so (not all quarterbacks are allowed to audible). They can alter routes, shift players or change plays entirely in the process of calling audibles before the snap.
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