Going into the season, a lot of the NFL world was asking the same question: how are the Patriots going to use Cam Newton's legs? Well, the question isn't so much how, it's how much. New England ran their quarterback 15 times on Sunday (including one kneeldown), and used just about every quarterback run scheme seen in college or the pros. We don't have time to cover every type of scheme the Pats ran Newton in, but we can take a look at the highlights and how the quarterback and New England's offensive line paved the way for a big day on the ground and a win.
This is power read where Newton is reading the end man of the line of scrimmage (Kyle Van Noy, 53). If he stays put or crashes down, Newton gives it to the back on a sweep. If the end drifts out, Newton keeps it and the Pats run QB power like what happens here. It's the right read by Newton and he does a great job dragging the edge player for 7 extra yards after contact, but what I want to talk about is this double-team.
Right guard Shaq Mason and right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor have a textbook combo block up to the backside linebacker (Kamu Grugier-Hill, 51). Mason's footwork is great and all that, but it's Eluemunor that makes the whole thing go. The key is that his landmark is the hip of the defender (Emmanuel Ogbah, 91). He doesn't get too high and mess around with the defender's upper body. He puts his far hand right on the defensive tackle's hip and launches him down across Mason's face. Too many guys get up too high on these double-teams, but when you attack the hip you create real movement. Joe Thomas used to be great at this.
Joe Thuney also does a nice job of pulling around and blocking the playside linebacker (Jerome Baker, 55) from his left guard position. This is a perfectly blocked play that honestly could've gone for an even bigger gain if the edge defender didn't do a good job of redirecting and chasing down Newton. Now, he still had to get him down once he caught him, and that was a 7-yard process, but this could've been worse with how well New England blocked it.
This is the same concept, except this time the end doesn't respect the sweep from the back so Newton gives it to Rex Burkhead. That's about as easy a 15-yard running play as you'll see in an NFL game. It's a good thing that the end played the quarterback too, because the Pats offensive line doesn't block the power nearly as well this time.
The biggest issue is that left tackle Isiah Wynn misidentifies the linebackers and works to the wrong guy. It can be tricky to sort out who you're working to on the backside once defensive backs start dropping into the box and linebackers start walking onto the linebackers. Wynn should be working to Elandon Roberts (44) here -- which means he wouldn't be able to help on the defensive tackle (Davon Godchaux, 56), but with the tackle aligned that far inside, it shouldn't be an issue. I will say, if you are going to needlessly help on a guy, that's how you do it. Again, look at the movement he generates by getting his hand on the defender's hip. The Patriots tackles did a good job on that a couple of different times throughout Sunday's game.
This is another gap scheme from New England. After they motion to empty they end up with five guys to block four. That's what the quarterback run game can give you, particularly from empty: a real numbers advantage.
Once again I want to focus on the double-team and Shaq Mason's (69) feet in particular. He takes that small step with his inside foot first for two reasons. First, you influence the defensive tackle a little with the possibility it's inside zone the other way, so he moves with you. It also allows you a gather step before you come forward with that second step, which is where you generate your power as an offensive lineman. This footwork is straight off the Crowther Sled.
The double-team gets good movement but it's not like they did on the first play I highlighted because this time Eluemunor (72) isn't attacking the hip as much -- probably because this is a straight double-team that's not working to anyone so they're being coached to get hip-to-hip and drive. It creates more surface area so it's harder for the defensive lineman to slip it, but it doesn't get as much dramatic movement as aiming for the hip can. Still, they certainly generate enough movement for a solid gain.
Thuney (62) also does a nice job on the pull again. I came into the season with high hopes for New England's guards and they certainly lived up to my expectations. I thought Thuney and Mason were both excellent all game.
That's a walk-in touchdown. This is just toss crack with the quarterback running it instead of pitching it to a back. The toss version has been one of the Saints' big run concepts for as long as Sean Payton has been there. New England gets a great block from a flexed-out Ryan Izzo (85) on the edge to seal the end inside. Eluemunor is good in space here, covering up the much quicker defender.
The interior offensive line is great again as well. Look at how quickly and thoroughly Mason hooks the 3-tech. Great footwork and quickness, no wasted movement to get to where he needs to be. And center David Andrews (60) throws a textbook cut block on the play-side linebacker. Just a perfectly executed goal-line running play.
First, I want to point out this is a bootleg, not a naked bootleg. It can't be a naked if anyone is blocking in the direction you're rolling like Mason is here. But whatever you call it, it was a heck of a play call.
This is a straight cross-blocking scheme on the right side that you don't see a lot of in the NFL. It works so well on this play because the Dolphins edge (Ogbah, 91) closes space with the down block. That lets Mason get outside of him easily. Mason doesn't get him down on the cut, but he throws at his outside leg and makes Ogbah stop his feet and jump over him. That's enough for Cam to get outside. Andrews also just barely slows down the linebacker (Baker, 55) enough too. This wasn't the best blocked play of the day, but getting just enough of a block is still by definition enough.
This was one of two times I can recall New England ran any traditional option with a pitch involved. This is speed option where the point of it is to get to the edge of the defense quickly, and the motion from James White (28) just makes it that much more sudden.
This went for 7 yards but could've been even bigger if Eluemunor (72) had made his block. I don't like him going for a cut here. He has the angle from the linebacker's alignment and could've stayed up and covered him up. The reason it goes for as much as it does is the nice read/pitch from the quarterback and Izzo making another great block. Look at how he releases outside like he's running a route, then shuttles down and gets into position to block at the right time before the defensive back sees it's a run. If the Patriots are going to continue with this much quarterback running, they're going to need to block well on the outside.
Here's the fourth-and-1 that essentially clinched the game for New England. This is true 11-on-11 football in short yardage and I love it so much. Look at that formation by New England. Miami has to account for so many gaps. On top of that, New England has seven offensive linemen out there! Of course they were going to convert.
The scheme is quarterback power again. I do want to tip my hat to Shaq Mason (69) once more. He doesn't make a devastating block, but I cannot emphasize enough how difficult it is to pull that far across so much trash on the goal line. The fact that he wades through it and gets a piece of somebody at the end of it is really special. Keeping his shoulders fairly square to the lne of scrimmage while shuffling behind all that and then having enough of a base to make any kind of block really is much more difficult than it looks. I can't get over how much balance that takes.
There were some other interesting things on Sunday. The Patriots get more creative, and risky, with how far they'll go to sell play-action with blocking schemes than just about anyone in the league. Andrews gave up a sack early in the game on this type of play where the scheme asked him to make an unrealistic block because it would help sell the run. Their under-center traditional running game looked good too. But it's a long year and for at least a week, the story of their offense was the quarterback running game.