Patriot Games: New England's Top Five Plays of 2008
Without Tom Brady in ‘08, Josh McDaniels opened up the playbook to cater to Matt Cassel’s strengths as a quarterback.
From early in the season, it was clear Cassel lacked the touch via the deep ball that Brady had with Moss; Cassel would look for, and often miss, Moss deep.
But Cassel made up for with his legs what he lacked in his arm, running for first downs Brady could only dream about.
As the season progressed, Cassel commanded the offense with such efficiency that Patriots fans got over Brady and started thinking playoffs.
Although the Patriots were poised for the playoffs, a divisional tiebreaker broke off the engagement.
Still, the Patriots ranked fifth in the NFL in total offense with 365.4 ypg and led the league in total plays from scrimmage at 1,095, primarily because of two prime time playmakers.
Patriots fans, I present the top five plays from 2008.
Play-Action Pass to Moss
At the same moment Tom Brady threw a play-action pass to Randy Moss, Kansas City Chief Bernard Pollard buried himself into Tom Brady’s knee, ending Brady’s season in week one.
In stepped Matt Cassel.
With :20 seconds remaining in the first quarter and the Pats pinned to their own end zone on 3rd and 11, Cassel dialed up a 51-yard play-action pass to Randy Moss.
The play is simple, yet difficult for defensive backs to defend.
Randy streaks down the sideline, throws his arm up in the air to indicate the ideal time to receive the ball, and either leaps out or outruns the defender, depending the placement of the ball.
The play-action fake gives the play enough time to develop.
The play will likely remain an option for 2009.
Screen Pass to Welker
Brady once said of Welker "I guess it's easy (for defenders) to miss him.
“He can hide in the grass.”
For Welker in ‘08, no Brady, no problem.
Aside from touchdowns, the difference in Welker’s performance between 2007 and 2008 was one reception and 10 yards.
The Patriots offense runs through Wes Welker. The Patriots pass to set up the run.
The screen pass to Welker is an effective play to throw off the defense.
The players line up with Welker at wide receiver and another receiver to his side. Cassel sits back in shotgun, and when the ball is snapped, Welker takes a step back and catches it.
The inside receiver cracks the cornerback, the guard and tackle pull, and Welker finds a lane and turns up the field for a first down.
I-Formation Power Run
Whether it was Sammy Morris or BenJarvus Green-Ellis running the ball, the power run is employed to score in the red zone.
Tight end David Thomas motions from one side to the other, Cassel hands off the ball, and the runner splits his way between the tackle and guard to plunge for a score.
Cassel has the option to play-action pass from the formation, but the play is normally run without alteration even if the defense knows it’s coming.
Without a doubt, it’s the Patriots’ favorite run play.
Shotgun Five-Receiver Spread
The formation paid off hugely toward season’s end. Thanks to it, Matt Cassel became the first Patriot to throw for back-to-back 400-yard games.
With the receivers running various routes in an attempt to spread out the defense, Cassel has numerous options.
This formation works so well because Cassel is mobile enough to tuck the ball and run if no one is open, and by rolling out of the pocket, Cassel bides time for receivers to break off from defenders.
With Kevin Faulk in the mix, linebackers are forced to cover him one-on-one in pass coverage.
Wes Welker’s season-high 12 receptions against Seattle arose because of the formation.
With no running backs in the formation, it comes as no surprise that Cassel began throwing 40 or more passes under a five-receiver set.
3 Receiver Overload, Ace Back, Isolation
Whether Welker or Moss was isolated, this formation gave the defense fits.
Besides creating obvious mismatches for defenders, the ace back is able to leak out into the flats and become an option with the defense rushing the quarterback.
Moss often used the isolation in red zone situations to create jump ball opportunities. Or Moss could break off into a hook pattern, as a defenders dropped back for fear of being beat deep.
In the formation, Welker often slips under defenders, and runs a slant for a catch.
The formation is key for creating mismatches and finding holes in zone defenses.