Mark Schofield’s RSP NFL Lens: Helping Tom Brady

Mark Schofield demonstrates how Josh McDaniels scheme deserves a healthy assist for the success of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

It almost sounds absurd.

Arguably the greatest quarterback of all time. A player who is in his 20th NFL season. That’s how we can describe Tom Brady. One might think that given everything he has shown over his career, he does not need much help when it comes to playing the quarterback position. 

Yet that is exactly what Josh McDaniels, the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator, does on almost every single one of Brady’s passing attempts. Looking at two touchdown passes from Brady against the New York Jets last week highlights just how McDaniels puts his veteran passer in such a position to succeed.

In the first quarter, the Patriots are in the red zone, and McDaniels will turn to the play-action passing game. The Patriots break the huddle and using 11 offensive personnel, put Brady (#12) under center with Sony Michel (#26) behind him. Tight end Ryan Izzo (#85) flexes out wide to the right. Here is the route concept the Patriots will use:

Izzo slides inside pre-snap into a wing alignment, and the Patriots show counteraction in the running game. Brady will take the snap and open up to his left as Michel’s initial steps take him to the left side of the line. But then Michel bends back to the right and angles for the right edge. Right tackle Marcus Cannon (#61) executes a down block, helping to sell the run action.

In addition, both Izzo and wide receiver Julian Edelman (#11) show run blocking as well.

But all of this action is designed to sell the Jets on the run fake. Edelman, after faking his block, runs a pivot route towards the right sideline. Meanwhile from the left slot Phillip Dorsett (#13) runs a crossing route behind the second-level defenders. So when Brady comes out of his fake, this is what he sees:

The run action collapses the linebackers, and the only defender left in any position to try and defend these two routes is the play-side cornerback. He has Edelman in front of him, and he has no idea Dorsett is going to sneak behind him in a second. The CB breaks on Edelman’s route, and Brady has an easy throw for the touchdown:

Here is the end zone angle of this play coming together. Pay particular attention to how Edelman sells his block before breaking to the outside:

Brady’s second touchdown pass of the day provides an example of how McDaniels uses alignment, shifting, and personnel to create mismatches in the secondary and give Brady a chance to succeed. The Patriots are down in the red zone again and line up using their 20, or “pony”, personnel package. One of the two running backs on the field, Brandon Bolden (#38), aligns to the right of Brady in the shotgun. The other, Rex Burkhead (#34) aligns in the slot. He will then shift back into the backfield before the play:

This subtle pre-snap alignment and shift give Brady some pre-snap indicators. He sees that when Burkhead is in the slot, he has a linebacker across from him in Blake Cashman (#53). When Burkhead shifts into the backfield, Cashman follows. This tells Brady that in all likelihood the Jets are in man coverage. In addition, that means Burkhead will be running his option route against a rookie linebacker.

But McDaniels does not stop there. If Brady will be looking to the running back on his left first, he needs a second progression read to that side of the field, and that will be Edelman’s route. The WR starts inside but then breaks back towards the sideline. Should Burkhead be covered, Brady has a clear second option right in his line of sight.

The veteran QB looks to the RB first, but Cashman locks him down. That just means Brady has to get to his second option, Edelman on the circle route, and they connect for the touchdown:

Again, Brady is arguably the greatest quarterback of all time. But his offensive coordinator does so much schematically to give Brady help once the ball is snapped.

Other offensive coordinators around the league—especially those with younger quarterbacks—would be wise to pay attention to how McDaniels handles Brady, and try to do the same.

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