This week’s X’s and O’s takes a look a Deion Branch’s 4th quarter touchdown catch, his first since returning to the Patriots. Branch’s catch brought the Patriots to within 3 points of tying the Ravens late in the game. What makes this play unique, as well as critical at that juncture of the game, is that it highlighted the chemistry between Branch and Tom Brady despite not playing together for 4 years. The original play started to break down and Tom Brady had to move some in the pocket, and Branch adjusted his route to spring free from the defense. Brady and Branch were on the same wavelength and Brady hit Branch near the back of the end zone for the score. Let’s take a look at the play:
The Patriots were on about the 5-yard line and came out in a shotgun formation with an empty backfield and trips to the left. Brandon Tate (19) was split wide left with Wes Welker (83) and Rob Gronkowski (87) off the line of scrimmage. On the right side, Branch (84) was split wide with Danny Woodhead (39) in the slot. The Ravens lined up with three down linemen, three linebackers, and 5 defensive backs. Lets take a look at the routes the receivers ran.
The diagram above shows the alignment and the routes. I placed the numbers of the players next to their spots on the field so that you can see who ran what route. Looking from left to right, Tate ran a drag route across the back of the end zone, a route normally run by Randy Moss. Brady frequently hit Moss as he crossed the goal posts in the back of the end zone for 6. Welker ran a hitch and was double covered by two corners. Gronkowski ran a shorter drag across the goal line and was doubled by two linebackers, one being Ray Lewis. Woodhead ran a hitch and was doubled by a linebacker and I believe a safety. Branch ran a drag or an in from his side across the back of the end zone. Both Tate and Branch were in single coverage. The Ravens only rushed the three down linemen with everyone else falling back into the coverages mentioned above. Initially, nobody was open and Brady had to hold onto the ball and move in the pocket, sliding to his left. At that point, Branch stopped his route and headed back towards the right corner of the end zone, which is represented by the dotted line in the diagram. Brady then stepped up to his right and hit Branch for the score. It is possible that Branch had a designed in-and-out route, but judging by the depth of the in he ran, I don’t think that was the case. That means that he made a route adjustment based on the coverage and Brady also made the read, which allowed the pair to hook up for an important score.
Just in case you missed previous installments of “X’s and O’s”: