Dallas Cowboys Next Opponent: Scouting New England Patriots Offensive Formations

It's a bye week for the Dallas Cowboys, which means it is a bye week for the BTB staff as well. I normally do a video review of the next opponent's last game. The bye week means I have two games to look at. I decided to really go into some extra detail looking at the New England Patriots game at the Oakland Raiders.

While trying to find some video that might illustrate something, I stumbled across a couple of YouTube videos that I decided to incorporate. Unfortunately, they appear to be products of a Raiders fan, so it is a bit of a one shot deal, but at least I can use them this week. The fan has put together still shots showing the formation used on every single play except kicks. This week I have the sequence that shows all the New England offensive sets.

The whole video only lasts a little over six minutes, and it has a caption that tells you the outcome of each play. I want to use it to highlight one New England formation that I feel captures the dynamic nature of the Patriots attack that Rob Ryan and his Agents of Chaos have to stop.

I don't know the term for this formation, but it's one that the Patriots used six times during the game with Tom Brady under center, and two more times with Brady in the shotgun. It also happens to be the first play they run from scrimmage, so if you go to the video, it comes up at about the 0:07 point.

The Pats line this up with a single back and three receivers in a triangular or delta formation on one side, with a wide receiver split out or a tight end on the opposite side of the formation. The interesting part to me is how they make up the delta. They seem to use a tight end in the spot closest to the quarterback, with Wes Welker usually in one of the other spots. The part that makes this a bit challenging is that they can run or throw effectively from this set. In the Raiders game there were five running plays and three passes out of the variants of this set. With weapons like Brady and Welker, the Pats are usually thought of as a passing team, but against Oakland they ran for 183 yards. With 226 accounted for through the air, they had a very balanced attack.

When they decide to run, the tight end can cut across the formation to the point of attack, giving them six blockers to open a lane, or go out and find a linebacker, which seems to happen when the back is running into the area just cleared by the tight end.  When they pass, they use the three receivers coming out of the bunch formation to manipulate the coverage and get someone into a void in the secondary. This is something they are very good at no matter what formation they start in, but this one offers some extra possibilities, since the defensive backs have to figure out who to cover when they are in man and then avoid the traffic if the receivers cross paths, which New England does to throw the defenders off. If they go zone, the obvious danger is getting the receivers to overload one area, leaving Brady to choose the open target.

This formation I've discussed shows up at 0:07, 0:33, 0:43 (as a shotgun variant), 1:52, 4:20 (shotgun again), 5:14, 5:23 and 5:49. I expect we'll see it several times after the bye.

You can also see all the New England offensive sets if you want. They run a variety of sets, and present a very different challenge than the Lions did last week.

Week 04 vs Patriots Raiders Defensive Formations (via NiceNinjaX)

I'll be looking at the defensive formations in a future post.


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