X's & O's: Running backs in space

For those with an interest in X’s and O’s, Bill Belichick’s weekly breakdown on Patriots.com, after victories, is a worthy time investment. This week’s breakdown from the win over the Texans is posted (link here) and it highlights strong run blocking with a pulling left tackle, the usage of running backs split out wide, and how Tom Brady effectively reads coverage.

1. When a left tackle pulls. It is rare to see a left tackle pull on a running play, but Belichick highlights how Nate Solder does just that on a Stevan Ridley run with 4:29 remaining in the first quarter. Solder’s block on a filling linebacker, coupled with some strong work by tight end Michael Hoomanawanui and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, open the hole for running back Stevan Ridley. “Our running game helped set up some of our play-action passes,” Belichick notes.

2. Running backs split out wide. The Patriots’ running backs can be weapons when split out wide in the passing game, and Belichick highlights this with Shane Vereen (first quarter, 2:38 remaining). There is a lot of space wide to the right side where Vereen is lined up as linebacker Bradie James is giving a large cushion. “The key really on this play is the formation and Tom [Brady] seeing the mismatch, or kind of the space out there, to get the ball to Shane. And Shane does a good job of running with the ball once it was in his hands, breaking a couple tackle and picking up some extra yards,” Belichick says.

3. More running backs in space – this time setting it up for others. Belichick then calls up another play with Vereen split wide to the right, later on that same drive. “This time the matchup is a little bit different [on Vereen], with a little bit tighter coverage – the safety cheated over a little bit further,” Belichick notes, pointing out that Brady decides to work the “slot side part of the combination” on the other side – with tight end Aaron Hernandez coming out of the backfield and going outside, and Wes Welker going underneath. Hernandez gets a step on a linebacker and advances the ball to the 1. Belichick credits Brady with recognizing coverage and getting the ball to the right player. Also a nice block by center Ryan Wendell creates a nice throwing lane.