Tweaks and Twists

While the breadth of what the Patriots do offensively is far too big to cover completely in a single piece, one of the other major takeaways worth noting from what the Patriots have done under McDaniels is the way they are able to disguise and mix around what they do to be able to run very similar concepts and plays while mixing it up enough to prevent the defense from being able to key in to what they’re doing.

Let’s quickly look at these two plays as an example of this:


In both cases, the Patriots motion a receiver into the backfield, fake a handoff to him and then throw a screen – but in one case, they throw it to the receiver whereas in the other instance, they throw it to the running back. While in the second case, the pass ultimately falls incomplete, had they been able to connect, the receiver had an awful lot of running room to canter into.

In fact, when you look at the play as a whole, these plays are in fact almost completely identical, with one key twist:

In both cases, on the side of the play where the ball doesn’t go to, there are two receivers running vertically to clear space for the potential screen, with the receiver on the side of the play where the ball is actually thrown to, there is a player close to the line running a crossing route to drag the coverage away from the screen. The motion is from the other side of the play, and so the designed receiver is different, but this is essentially the same play run ever so slightly differently to make it harder for the defense to pick up what is going on.

This isn’t unique to the Patriots and running a screen of this type isn’t unheard of either, but while this concept is hard to convey in a couple of plays, one of the biggest selling points with McDaniels as a potential coach is his ability to do very different things each week, with the same core concepts at the heart of the offense throughout.

If he is hired, McDaniels is unlikely to come in with a core philosophy of how he wants to play and look to find the talent to fit that – but rather he’ll focus on the talent available to him and work out how to design his offense in order to maximize that talent. For the Panthers, that means I would expect to see an awful lot of McCaffrey as a receiver in particular – a turbocharged version of James White in effect – with Curtis Samuel being primarily deployed to add a vertical element to the offense while the likes of Ian Thomas and DJ Moore look to work the intermediate areas of the field with the plan being to get the ball out quickly to both take pressure off the offensive line and to maximize the impact of the Panthers’ receivers’ abilities after the catch.

There are questions about McDaniels as a head coach going back to his days in Denver and not helped by him pulling out of the Colts job a couple of years ago, but of all the coaches to come out of the Patriots school under Belichick, McDaniels is the one whose approach seems closest to that of his mentor – with the right surrounding coaches to complement what he does best, what he has been able to do with the Patriots’ offense goes a long way to explaining why he has been so in-demand over the past few years.


Vincent Richardson on Twitter
Vincent Richardson
Analyst at Riot Report
Astrochemist, bartender and jazz drummer; I also watch a lot of football. Areas of interest include play design, player evaluation and data-driven analytics. Twitter: @vrichardson444