The Patriots ran a large number of one-back power running plays featuring a pulling backside offensive lineman. Typically, the Patriots used a guard to run across the formation immediately after the snap, but they also used their backside offensive tackle as well to lead block for the lone back.
In this running play, the backside blockers (offensive lineman and tight end) reach block their assigned men, while the frontside offensive lineman down block their men and the playside tight end kicks out to block in the second level.
Play 1 – In this play (diagrammed above) the Patriots using their left tackle #77 Nate Solder as the lead blocker across the entire formation to set the block at the edge of the play. Lewis does a fantastic job of reading the block, and avoiding the outstretched arms of the defender to get into the secondary.
Pay particularly close attention to wide receiver #80 Danny Amendola. This is terrible blocking form. One arm at the defender while not even looking at his blocker? This is the type of blocking that infuriates coaches and makes them take you out of called running plays. Compare this with wide receiver #17 Aaron Dobson who is at the very least ATTEMPTING to set up a block for his running back. The teams that have the best blocking from their wide receivers and tight ends outside of the tackle box typically correlate to having the largest number of running plays that go for a big gain especially around the edge.
Play 2 – The Patriots are in singleback twin TE and motion wide receiver #11 Julian Edleman across the formation. Steelers’ cornerback #41 Blake follows Edleman showing Tom Brady and the offensive line man-to-man coverage on the slot receiver. The Steelers’ are showing four defensive lineman on the line of scrimmage with three linebackers lining up directly behind the defensive lineman in the box with SS20 Allen on the line of scrimmage. I highlighted #90 McLendon and the play of the right guard and the right tackle. McLendon, who typically lines up as a nose tackle is lining up as the Steelers’ rush defensive tackle in 3-technique.
Watch McLendon get an initial push through the B-gap which interferes directly with the right tackle pulling across the formation who is now late on the play. After the snap, Lewis reads the inside blocking on the one-back power run and decides to bounce the ball outside. Lewis hopes to find a seam outside the box.
The edge is covered by linebackers #98 Williams and #50 Shazier who play “force” and funnel Lewis back inside.
Lewis follows his blocks up the B-gap between the left guard and the left tackle for a gain of 8 yards. Excellent vision and patience to set up his blockers on this play.
Play 3 – The Patriots continued to use this running play to set up blocking lanes. This time the Patriots pull the right guard #63 Tre’ Jackson to lead block for Lewis after pretending to run a zone run to the right with the rest of their offensive line. The misdirection as well as having the pulled guard creates the space needed for the gain on the play.
Play 4 – To start the game the Patriots ran a quick passing pattern to their outside wide receivers against against the Steelers’ Cover 3 defense. They run this play THREE times in a row to the left outmost receiver taking advantage of the overflow of the wide receivers into the underneath zones for first downs. The first play was to Julian Edleman and the next two plays were to Dion Lewis on the sideline.
Play 5 – Later in the game the Steelers switched from their Cover 3 looks to the Cover 1 Robber look as seen in this play with their free safety playing lone back in the endzone. The Steelers did an excellent job of covering all three of the Patriots’ wide receivers plus Gronkowski running up the right sideline. Brady looking to get rid of the ball quickly after feeling the pocket start to collapse finds Dion Lewis running a quick crossing route from the backfield as Brady’s checkdown receiver. Lewis makes the first man (an inside linebacker) miss and then accelerates up the field closing in on the endzone. Lewis gets tackled, and stripped and thankfully Gronkowki is able to grab the ball and save it for the Patriots’ offense.
The play was initially ruled a touchdown due to Gronkowski’s final position after recovering the football, but it was eventually overturned since he was down by contact. As far as Lewis, this is something coaches hate to see. The first job of any running back is NOT lose the football and Lewis loses it while fighting for extra yards.
One area of needed improvement is in Dion Lewis’ pass protection skills. For the vast majority of the time, Lewis was sent out as a checkdown receiver in the flat for Brady fall back on, but it’s clear that Lewis’ size at 5’8″ and 195 lbs does him no favors in this category. Overall, Lewis seems like a good fit for Patriots offense and the one-back power running play. His versatility out of the backfield and ability to patiently follow his blockers up the holes should allow him to be used as an asset even once Blount returns to the field in Week 2.
Follow Samuel Gold on Twitter: @SamuelRGold.