Since Bill Belichick took over as the Patriots head coach, the screen game has been one of the strong suits of the Pats’ offense.
A combination of terrific play designs, execution and talented screen backs such as Kevin Faulk and now James White make a challenging play look easy for the Patriots.
Earlier this week, Belichick gave a 314-word answer on the keys to perfect execution in the screen game, and the head coach preached as he so often does the team aspect of the play:
“Well, the screen is a team play, so there’s a lot of people involved with the screen. Obviously, it’s a deceptive play. There’s some acting in it, trying to make it look like one thing when it’s really something else. That’s the quarterback, it’s the line, it’s the receivers, it’s the screen back. Sometimes the idea is to draw the rushers to the screen and throw it over them. Sometimes it’s to create some kind of action away from the play and then screen back to the opposite side. There are various wide receiver screens, so exterior screens, kind of middle screens, if you will, kind of around the numbers area. There are screens that are closer to the line of scrimmage. Again, misdirection screens that go to the other side of the ball. There are a lot of different ways of doing that, but basically, they’re all deceptive plays that you want to try to, again, make the defense think it’s one thing when it’s something else. No one guy can do that. If one guy doesn’t do it then a lot of times a defender will read that and even though the other ten guys could be doing it well, if one guy doesn’t then you’ve got a bad play.”
The importance of deception was something that Patriots running back James White, who’s often on the receiving end of the Patriots’ screen passes, echoed as well.
When asked what the key to a successful screen pass, White said, “Not giving it away, I think that’s the most important thing.”
Offensive lineman Joe Thuney agreed with Belichick’s analysis that the screen is a team play, “it takes all 11, it’s not just the lineman blocking out there,” Thuney said as he credited tight end Jacob Hollister with the final block on James White’s touchdown in the team’s second preseason game against Philadelphia.
Belichick, White and Thuney’s assessments of what makes a great screen pass were all on display on White’s 18-yard gain against the Eagles last Thursday night.
On this play, you see the teamwork and deceptiveness that goes into a perfectly executed screen pass, and a terrific design by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. The Patriots motion Julian Edelman towards Brady pre-snap and then Brady fakes a quick pass out to the wide receiver as Hogan and Hollister release downfield as blockers in front of Edelman to sell the fake. Brady then finds White who squeaks out of the backfield after stepping up in the pocket giving the impression that he’s making a block before sneaking out into the passing play. White has both Shaq Mason and David Andrews out in front to spring the Pats’ running back for a huge gain.
“It was a great play call,” White said when asked about the play, “I just found my way through the trash. Find a throwing lane for Tom. Then I just followed Shaq (Mason). Shaq is great at getting down the field and making blocks. Just follow Shaq’s lead and got a big play out of it.”
In true Patriots fashion, nobody wanted to take credit for the success of the team’s screen passes against the Eagles, with James White crediting his blocking and Thuney crediting White, “Oh, well he’s a really good runner so he makes us look good a lot of the time,” Thuney said of the crafty running back.
The running backs will likely be a significant factor in the passing game this season, as they typically are in New England.
But the Patriots’ screen passes don’t always go to running backs as wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson has learned in his short time in New England.
“Whenever my number is called I just want to go out there and make a play,” Patterson said of his role in the screen game.
The Patriots wide receiver replied with an, “oh, man” and a smile when asked about his near-touchdown against the Eagles when he stepped out of bounds on the left sideline.
“It was a great ball by Tom. Big Trent (Brown) over there he did a heck of a job of getting out and getting the guy down, and I just tried to score. Every time I get the ball in my hands I try to make a play and score,” Patterson said reflecting on the 23-yard gain.
Whether it’s the wide receivers, running backs or tight ends, the Patriots try to incorporate all of the pass catchers at their disposal into the screen game, and it has become one of their most effective avenues to move the football up and down the field.
And through two preseason games, the timing and execution from all 11 players on the field has led to a number of big plays for the Patriots offense.