This week’s “X’s and O’s” takes a closer look at Randy Moss’s first touchdown against the Buffalo Bills. The play came on New England’s first offensive possession and gave the team its first lead of the day after Buffalo kicked a field goal on its opening drive. The play is as good an illustration of play-action as you’re going to get because it came out of a three-tight end set, and every bit of the opening seconds of the play looked like a run. In fact, Brady only had two options to throw the ball, and one was on a delay. The defense moved with the offense as if it was a run, allowing Moss to get behind them for an easy score. Plays like these occur only when the offense has balance and the threat of a running game. This balance and diversity on the offense is key to the Pats being able to put up points and keep the defense off the field, as I discuss in my upcoming NFL.com Blog Blitz article later this week (stay tuned for the link).
Now let’s take a closer look at Moss’s touchdown:
The picture above is the offensive and defensive look just as the ball is about to be snapped. The Pats are in a three-tight end set with a single back and Randy Moss split out right. Fred Taylor is in the backfield. From the top left to the bottom right, we have TE Aaron Hernandez off the line of scrimmage, then TE Rob Gronkowski, LT Matt Light, LG Dan Connolly, C Dan Koppen, RG Stephen Neal, RT Sebastian Vollmer, and TE Alge Crumpler off the line. The Bills are in a 4-4-3 defense (4 defensive linemen, 4 linebackers, 3 defensive backs). Below is a diagram of the play, along with some of the movement of the defensive players so that you can see how the play worked and how it was blocked. Keep in mind when comparing it with the picture above, the icons in the play diagram are larger than the field, so the safety appears to be deep in the end zone when you can clearly see in the picture above that he is right on the goal line.
In the diagram, the O’s represent offensive players with the center being the triangle and the X’s are the defensive players. The orange dotted lines represent the movement of some of the defensive players. Taylor in the backfield moves right as if running off tackle while Brady rides him with the fake. As QB and RB move right, so does the offensive line. Everyone, including the TE Hernandez who eventually runs and out and Moss who runs a slant, initially run-blocks to the right. The defensive line moves right with the offensive line. Hernandez moves up and seemingly blocks the outside linebacker, while Gronk blocks and passes the DE along to Light, who blocks and passes along the DT to Connolly. Koppen takes on the DT to his right, while Vollmer blocks the DE and Crumpler blocks the outside linebacker on his side. Neal splits the DT and DE and blocks the inside linebacker who is coming downhill to the right, biting on the fake. After the initial blocks, the offensive line goes into their pass blocks, while Hernandez releases and runs an out on the left. Moss releases from his block and runs a slant. What allows Moss to get open is that the safety to his side bites on the fake and moves up, allowing Moss to get behind him and catch the ball in the end zone. Touchdown.
You can see video of this play by going here and clicking the video titled, Brady Hits Moss for 7-Yard TD. Everything came together perfectly for this play to work, thanks to the running game. The Pats ran the ball 4 times on this drive out of a total of 8 plays, including a reverse to Aaron Hernandez. A balanced attack allows the Patriot offense to do special things.
Just in case you missed previous installments of “X’s and O’s”: