Pre-snap motion key to Patriots' success

ESPN Stats & Information

The Steelers must account for Wes Welker, wherever he lines up.

This edition of Chalkboard Stats previews Sunday's matchup between the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers by breaking down a pivotal play from the Patriots season-opener on Monday Night Football against the Miami Dolphins. Click the “podcast” buttons to hear Stats & Info’s John Parolin provide play commentary and Next Level statistical analysis. After analyzing the play, watch it unfold in real time.

Play Commentary

The Patriots offense is one of the best units in the league at utilizing and learning from pre-snap motion. Prior to the snap, Tom Brady sends running back Danny Woodhead split wide to the left. When Woodhead motions out, Brady reads the reaction of the Dolphins’ defense to determine coverages.

Miami’s linebackers stay in the box, and cornerback Sean Smith moves wide to cover Woodhead while strong safety Yeremiah Bell moves up to cover Rob Gronkowski in the slot. Brady sees four defensive backs lined up in apparent man-to-man coverage with only safety Reshad Jones in deep zone support.

Brady then moves Aaron Hernandez into the line to help block, equaling Miami’s six defenders in the box with six pass protectors. At the snap, all six of Miami’s defenders in the box go after Brady, but the pass defense had already been stretched too thin.

With only one safety giving help deep, Brady throws to Wes Welker and Jones can’t get over to help quickly enough. Jones gambles on the route he takes to support cornerback Benny Sapp and misses, and Welker does the rest.

Welker can line up anywhere and hurt defenses. His quick cuts and precise route running make him a danger lined up wide or in the slot. Welker leads NFL wide receivers with 24 catches outside the numbers, and ranks second among wide receivers with 27 catches over the middle.

While Welker has never been regarded as a traditional deep threat, he is fourth among wide receivers with five catches of at least 30 yards, one behind Calvin Johnson, Mike Wallace, and Carolina’s Steve Smith.

However, while that trio excels downfield, Welker stays close to Tom Brady and does his damage after the catch. Welker has 120 more yards after the catch this season then the next-closest wide receiver, Pierre Garcon, and is just one yard behind Matt Forte for the overall league lead.