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Monday, November 5, 2012
Xs & Os: Interceptions & play-action

By Mike Reiss

For those with an interest in Xs and Os, Bill Belichick’s weekly breakdown of plays after victories is often informative. This week’s breakdown was included in the Patriots All-Access program (LINK HERE, scroll to 30-minute mark), and here is a summary:

1. Alfonzo Dennard’s fourth-quarter interception. The Patriots were leading the Rams 45-7 in the fourth quarter when Dennard intercepted quarterback Sam Bradford. “I thought this was a real good play by Dennard,” Belichick says, explaining that the Rams were trying to run a double move with receiver Brian Quick (a.k.a. “Sluggo” – a slant turned into a go). Belichick notes Dennard’s solid work going up to get the ball, and keeping his vision back to the quarterback. He also points out that the pass rush from rookies Chandler Jones and Justin Francis helps, as they hit Bradford as he was throwing. At the end of breaking down the play, Belichick counts five rookie defenders on the field for the Patriots, drawing a “5” in the middle of his “Belistrator.”

2. Play-action opens up Gronkowski. Belichick calls up a 25-yard play-action pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski (2:51 remaining in the first quarter), illustrating how the threat of the run creates a major opening down the field. “One of the things that really helped us in this game was the combination of our running game and the play-action,” he says. Brady is under center on the play, he fakes to running back Stevan Ridley as left guard Donald Thomas pulls to simulate an off-tackle play, and then Brady has the easy pass to Gronkowski. “All the defense gets drawn up into the line, and there’s a receiver wide open,” Belichick says. “It’s almost impossible to get receivers open like this when you just drop back and throw.” Later, Belichick shows Gronkowski’s 14-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, also on play-action.

3. Cut blocking on the back side and strong running. Belichick focuses on a 16-yard run by Stevan Ridley with 9:23 remaining in the third quarter, highlighting strong blocking up front (e.g. Nate Solder on Robert Quinn), especially with some backside cut blocks which “eliminates the pursuit and cuts off the defense.” This gives Ridley options to go inside or outside, and Ridley finishes strong by lowering his pads.