How Tom Brady gets New England in the right play so often

Alex Kirby
Jul 28, 2015 · 8 min read

Tom Brady’s name is all over the news right now, and not for a good reason. Regardless of your opinion of “Deflate gate,” however, he put together an impressive performance in the Super Bowl against one of the best defenses the NFL has seen in a long time.

You can deflate all the footballs you want, but you still need a sound gameplan, a backup plan in case your first idea doesn’t work, and a quarterback like Tom Brady who is smart enough to know what he’s looking at and also good enough to get the ball where it’s supposed to be.

A few months back I released a book about the College Football National Championship, Every Play Revealed: Breaking Down Oregon and Ohio State in College Football’s Biggest Game, and I’m almost ready to release the next one.

The title Every Play Revealed means what it says, the book is literally a breakdown of every single play of the National Championship game, along with analysis of each drive and the overall gameplan. I took the same idea and applied it to the Super Bowl, and the result is a book I’m really excited to share with you: Every Play Revealed Volume II: New England vs Seattle.

You can get a copy by clicking here.

For those of you unsure of what you’ll be getting, I wanted to give you a look at the kind of analysis offered in the book, so I took a play from the opening drive of the game, and looked at all the different perspectives on what happened and why. You may be surprised at how much goes on before and after the snap.

The Patriots have a way to basically call two plays at the line, and almost always end up in the right one. Of course, Tom Brady has a lot of leeway at the line of scrimmage, but there are certain plays that are packaged with specific formations, where there is a Plan A and a Plan B, depending on how the defense lines up. New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels gives Brady very simple rules in these situations, which takes the pressure off of him and allows he and the rest of the offense to just play.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, we’re going to take a close look at just one play.

I chose this particular play not because it resulted in a big gain, but instead because it exemplifies the amount of detail and precision involved in the New England offense, and it gives you an idea of the kind of things offensive coordinators are looking at in the opening drive of a game.

Drive #1 / Play #6 / 3rd & 6 / -35 yard line / Middle / 12:20 / 1st quarter

The Patriots line up with a tight split from the X receiver, and on this play they send the lone back beside Brady, Shane Vereen #34, in motion out wide to the left. This is one of the many ways that New England has to get a read on the opposing defense.

New England begins to line up in a 3×1 set with a tight split by the single receiver on the left.

The corner Byron Maxwell (#41) who is originally lined up across from Edelman, now widens with Vereen as he motions out to the left. The safety Earl Thomas (#29) comes down to press Edelman and replace Wright, and the linebacker in the box Bobby Wagner (#54) ends up exactly where he started.

Vereen brings Maxwell with him and Thomas adjusts for the Seahawk defense.

The goal behind sending Vereen in motion out of the backfield to a wide alignment is not only to see who the defense sends with him, but also to find out whether or not, by removing the only real run threat from the backfield, whether or not Seattle will remove the linebacker from the middle of the formation, which would leave the short zones underneath in the middle undefended.

You may ask, “Who cares as long as the defense drops to take away the deep ball? It’s 3rd down, so isn’t the goal of the defense to force a short throw by Brady and then rally to the receiver to make the tackle?”

There are many cases where this would be a valid strategy, but in the biggest game of them all, knowing your opponent is the difference between hoisting that Lombardi Trophy in front of the entire world and watching from behind the ropes as the confetti rains down on the other team.

New England makes a living attacking the defense with the shallow cross concept, which is specifically designed to get the football to the receiver right about where the middle linebacker is standing in the picture below. In reality, the offense is trying to get the ball to the receiver once he crosses the formation and reaches the opposite hash mark which will let him turn up field to pick up the first down.

Wagner doesn’t leave the middle of the field when Vereen goes in motion out of the backfield, so now Brady has to go to Plan B.

Once you understand what New England is looking for on this play, it makes perfect sense why Seattle leaves Wagner in the box. Patriot offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels wants to find out as early as possible whether or not he can get the defense to vacate the middle of the field and make room for the shallow cross and other concepts which attack the middle.

On this play, he and Brady get their answer, which brings us to what happens next.

Brady points out Wagner, the middle linebacker, and makes his call based on that.

Once the defense has finished making adjustments and all players have “declared” who they’ll be lining up across from, it’s now time for Brady to make sure the offense is in the best possible position to succeed. He’s not going set himself up for failure by running a receiver on a shallow crossing route, only to be beaten up by Wagner who is sitting there waiting for the receiver to come underneath. Instead, after surveying the look of the land, Brady makes a check at the line to go to the alternate play that New England has in this situation.

Just like a lot of passing plays have a particular read, usually a specific defender, the Patriots also have a specific package of calls where they will line up a certain way, and sometimes send a man in motion, observe how a specific defender reacts, and then adjust the call based on that. What it basically means is that the Patriots call two plays, one being the default play call, the other being “Plan B.”

Brady signals to Vereen and Edelman that the offense is switching to play #2.

What was the original play call? The offense had planned to send a receiver, either Edelman or Vereen, underneath on a shallow crossing route, with another man coming from the opposite side to run a dig route at ten yards to stretch the middle of the defense.

Obviously it’s impossible to know for a fact what the Patriots had planned at first, but it’s safe to assume that the original play was designed to attack the middle of the field underneath as well as a defensive structure that kept both guys deep in a two-deep look. The diagram below should give you some idea about the kinds of things the offense was looking to do on this play.

Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola go vertical on the right side to clear out space for Edelman once he makes the catch and turns up the field for the first down.

In this scenario, the defense has sent Wagner out to follow Vereen in motion, leaving the middle wide open for Edelman to come underneath and make some good yardage after the catch, especially since Amendola (#80) and LaFell (#19) take their defenders with them and leave nothing but green grass and room to run on the right side of the field for Edelman.

Now that the call has changed, however, the offense is now attacking the areas outside of the hash marks, since the middle of the field looks to be crowded once the ball is snapped.

Still, to keep up appearances and give the impression that the shallow cross is still coming just like Seattle expects, Brady brings Vereen in short motion back inside where he is extremely close to Edelman and the two of them are almost “stacked” like the Patriots often do.

The corner (Maxwell) follows Vereen back inside and starts to give depth as well.

At the snap, Vereen comes underneath the vertical release of Edelman, and takes a few steps toward the hash as if he’s going to run the shallow crossing route, but once he gets to the hash he pivots back out to all that wide open space underneath to the outside. The corner (Maxwell) is disciplined and doesn’t allow himself to be out-flanked, staying with his man.

Vereen is actually Brady’s final read on the play, since his eyes are moving right to left while in the pocket. Once the ball is snapped he peeks over at the wheel route by Amendola, who is trying to gain leverage on the defensive back over him, but is unable to do so. Next he looks for Gronkowski, who should just be making his break to the outside once Amendola’s wheel route starts to turn vertical, and LaFell’s post route gets Richard Sherman out of the way, but K.J. Wright (#50) is playing with outside leverage and Gronkowski can’t break free.

Edelman gets a good release inside, and ends up on the same level as Gronk, coming in and replacing him over the middle, but Wagner has dropped into the passing window and it’s an easy interception if Brady tries to jam it in the tight window. So finally, Vereen is breaking to the outside and looks to have some room even though Maxwell has kept great leverage on him.

Because of how close the two receivers are, the corner has to give ground, which opens up space underneath to the outside.

Maxwell does a great job of recovering and getting to Vereen so that Brady has to put it low and away from the defender, and Vereen can’t bring it in. The pass falls incomplete and New England has to punt the ball to Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense. You can see the actual play diagrammed below.

New England found space outside but Maxwell does a great job of staying with his man and forcing an incompletion.

The Patriots get a lot of valuable information on their first drive of the game, but they still come up empty.


Even though it wasn’t a successful play, all the decision-making that went into putting the Patriots in position to get an open man on 3rd and 6 is still an interesting study for coaches and fans alike.

To go even further in-depth into both New England and Seattle’s game plans, click here to get your copy of Every Play Revealed Volume II: New England vs Seattle.

If you like what you just read, please hit the ‘Recommend’ button below to make it easier for others to find this story.

Follow Pro Football Strategy on Medium.

Pro Football Strategy

Uncovering the how (and why) of NFL strategy

Alex Kirby

Written by

Former high school and college football assistant and author. I once had a dream where I did nothing but diagram the Power play on a chalkboard.

Pro Football Strategy

Uncovering the how (and why) of NFL strategy

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade