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Previewing the Patriots’ motion heavy offense through the words of Bill Belichick

NFL: Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Belichick gave a precise and detailed answer during Thursday’s press conference. He expounded on the advantages and disadvantages of pre-snap motion. That seemed like a good framework for a tape preview of the Patriot’s new offense. Let’s look at New England’s motion-heavy and run-heavy offense, using quotes from him as categories.

I decided to use gifs this week, as it seemed silly for me to worker harder for less out of stubbornness.


“... if you’re trying to gain an advantage in your alignment to crackblock [or] block a secondary support player …”

And improve your run force, your outside running game … block a force player[.]”

2ND & 10 AT NE 25(03:50)

(3:50) J.Taylor up the middle to NE 29 for 4 yards (C.Wilkins, J.Baker).

N’Keal Harry, who is if nothing else quite large, motions inside pre-snap. This isn’t a crackback block, and he isn’t blocking a force player either, but safety Brandon Jones certainly qualifies as a “secondary support player.”

Harry doesn’t block well. After he staggers Jones momentarily, Jones pushes him back and then drags him forward using Harry’s momentum to send him tumbling ass over tea kettle. But the play is long over by then. Harry’s is a hat-on-a-hat block. Remember that euphemism from the Jimmy Graham days?

However New England does block well. At the critical moment, J.J. Taylor has a nice set of serrated creases up the middle. Only he trips on fullback Jakob Johnson’s legs, and that’s all she wrote.

1ST & 10 AT NE 25(10:31)

(10:31) J.Edelman right end pushed ob at NE 48 for 23 yards (J.Baker). PENALTY on MIA-J.Baker, Unnecessary Roughness, 15 yards, enforced at NE 48.

Once again Harry is tasked with blocking. Once again, he doesn’t achieve the task. And, once again, it doesn’t matter!

This time he’s attempting a crackback block. He manages to draw the corner in enough to fully clear the edge. Edelman does this so well. Miami defends this so poorly.

“[O]r whether you’re trying to gain an advantage to run a route or get a player on the move so he can get to an area faster … ”

2ND & 11 AT MIA 30(00:38)

(:38) (Shotgun) C.Newton pass short left to N.Harry pushed ob at MIA 24 for 6 yards (J.Perry).

This one requires little elaboration. The Dolphins seemed ill prepared for New England’s offense. Which is understandable, in a way. The Patriots repeatedly used motion to spring players free in the flats.

1ST & 10 AT NE 44(00:31)

(:31) (Shotgun) C.Newton pass short left to J.White to MIA 47 for 9 yards (Br.Jones, By.Jones).

“[I]t can also be to some level of deception or forcing a defensive adjustment.”

“[Not knowing what they are gonna do] but eliminate some things they are not gonna do.”

1ST & 10 AT NE 31(02:31)

(2:31) C.Newton pass short left to R.Izzo to MIA 44 for 25 yards (B.McCain).

This play is such a cluster of confusion, it’s gonna take two gifs to explain what happens.

First, through motion, New England is able to eliminate some things they are not gonna do.

Better said, pre-snap motion helps confirm that Miami is running man coverage. If you watch Cam Newton’s eyes, it also helps him to understand who is covering whom. Specifically, that Jerome Baker (#55) is covering Ryan Izzo. Newton loves that matchup, sees it pre-snap, and fixates on it until Izzo shakes Baker.

I do not know if Baker is regularly bad in coverage. But he’s bad here, very bad.

This also counts as successful deception. At the tail end of the above gif, you can see three Dolphins in coverage (though not at all covering) two Patriots receivers running outside the right hash marks. Motion combined with play action, and the corresponding run-style blocking, creates mass confusion.

This next gif is somewhat gratuitous, but if I do not show you how the play resolves, I feel like I haven’t actually proven that the Patriots created confusion and an advantageous matchup. Beside, this one’s kind of fun.

Oh, good. It’s inexplicably blurry.

“The downside of motion is you start to declare something about your formation.”

“That … makes it more difficult for certain things to happen.”

“You don’t know exactly how the defense is gonna react. … If they do something different, if they have more than one to adjust, … [it can] cause a later communication on the play.”


Given the week Bill’s having, I decided to show the disadvantages by instead showing the advantage of not using motion. Also, apart from some passes tipped at the line of scrimmage, and a Harry fumble into the end zone, New England was ... perfect’s not the right word. The Patriots set their sites low and achieved that goal, almost totally.

“[When players are in a stationary formation] It’s easier for the quarterback to see what’s going on in the passing game, and the running game for that matter, and kind of force the defense to declare.”

“[C]oach Marchibroda … wanted players to be stationary so that the quarterback could read the defense, and the defense even by just the slightest movement would … tip the kind of coverage they were in.”

1ST & 10 AT NE 25(15:00)

(15:00) (Shotgun) C.Newton pass short middle to J.Edelman to NE 35 for 10 yards (B.McCain, X.Howard).

Miami runs a zero blitz. There are lots of tells: the 15 kajillion pass rushers all champing at the bit, edging forward and otherwise showing poor impulse control; both DBs on the left bailing just before the snap. Or I guess just two. Yeah.

By not using motion, Newton and Julian Edelman are able to exploit the lack of underneath coverage and safety help. Anything which would’ve complicated this play, or slowed it at all, probably would have led to a very different outcome. Rush that many guys and pressure comes fast.

Pete Carroll noted during his press conference that just because New England ran a run-heavy, station-to-station offense against Miami (my words), that in no way guarantees it will do the same against Seattle. Certainly the Seahawks pose a bigger threat on offense. Could that mean the Patriots open up their offense? Maybe.

The Seahawks are modest favorites. A common underdog strategy is to minimize total possessions, depending on the ability of small samples to deviate from the truth—from what we might call each team’s “true talent level.”

If that’s Bill’s plan, I would expect heavy use of motion. Motion plays are sorta trickeration lite, to construct a sentence out of nonsense words. Success through deception may allow the Patriots to build an early lead. Alternatively, if Belichick evaluates Seattle’s defense as being disciplined but lacking pass rush, he may scrap extensive use of motion and depend on Newton’s ability to see the field and target weaknesses.

Bill’s an all time great heel because, however he does it, he’s exceptionally good. Heading into Sunday, as respectfully as I can say this, I hope the Seahawks wipe the floor with his team.