This film review was conducted and written by PatriotMaven's Max McAuliffe, along with lead scout for Spartan Scouts, Arnav Sharma.
For weeks, many had been wondering when the New England Patriots would finally unleash their speedy, deep-threat wide receiver in Damiere Byrd.
Byrd grew accustomed to catching a great share of comebacks and hitches early on in the season as teams were respecting and shutting his deep game down. Now, it appears as if the offense has found new ways to scheme Byrd open and finally get him the targets he deserves.
With this new revelation comes our weekly television reference, as former New England Patriots’ offensive lineman Peter Griffin put it best: “Don’t you know about the word? Well everybody knows that the Byrd is the word”. It will become apparent to you in film study that with Jakobi Meyers now drawing more attention from defenses, openings in the defense deep down the field are there for Byrd’s taking. With defenses directing their time towards Meyers, Cam Newton is out there throwing like the “Byrd is the word”.
This revelation for Damiere Byrd was a part of an otherwise disappointing 27-20 loss for the Patriots to the Houston Texans last Sunday. From his very first reception it was obvious that Byrd was in the zone (quite literally, since his first reception was a deep in-route against Cover 3). However, it was not until a highlight-reel 42-yard touchdown reception, a play that will be used to reflect on this season, that everyone really started to know that “the Byrd was the word,” as we now say.
Play 1: (1st and 10) Q1 11:03 - New England came out in 21 personnel in an offset-I and play action outside zone. Byrd runs a 13-yard dig against Cover 3 and is immediately open. Newton actually misses the first window to pass to Byrd and has to hold the ball and wait for Byrd to get into the second passing window, behind linebacker Zach Cunningham in the intermediate zone, before he can make the throw. Newton could’ve made this read and thrown earlier, but overall this play-call and route are both done well enough to give the Patriots a spark on the drive.
Play 2: (3rd and Goal) Q3 10:13 - New England came out in 20 personnel (their “Pony” personnel) and lined up in shotgun with a 1x2 receiver split. Byrd is the Z receiver, Meyers the Y. Meyers had been getting special attention from the Texans' defense all game -- that’s huge for the Patriots moving forward as it seems like defenses are starting to double and triple cover him. This should allow other receivers, like Byrd, to free up more. That’s exactly what happens on this dagger concept here. Meyers runs a seam in the middle of the Tampa 2, which opens up the middle of the field for Byrd to run an in-route against the zone. Newton puts the ball on the money and Byrd is able to get a few yards after the catch as well.
Play 3: (3rd and 2) Q3 8:21 - New England came out in 11 personnel with a bunch formation to the right. All season, both of us here had been calling a Byrd touchdown on a switch release since Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks-- and that’s exactly what we see here. Meyers, the inside slot receiver, runs a post route that sucks in the single high safety. Harry (outer slot) and Byrd (outside) run a switch concept in which Byrd runs an inside-release post and Harry runs an outside-release wheel, while rubbing Byrd’s receiver and allowing Byrd an easy release.
Since Meyers is able to suck in the single high safety, Byrd is left with a 1-on-1 matchup against his man. Newton takes the deep shot and actually leads Byrd a bit too far up the field, yet no need to worry, as Byrd makes an incredible adjustment and unbelievable over-the-shoulder catch for the touchdown. Byrd is able to slow his body down to create contact, ensuring that he’s able to use his body to “box out” the defensive back from making a play on the ball. At the same time, Byrd is able to contort and twist while maintaining focus on the ball, leading to one of the best over-the-shoulder catches you will ever see.
Play 4: (2nd and 13) Q3 0:22 - The Patriots once again come out in their “Pony” look with the 1x2 receiver split, identical to Play 2. Just like the pre-snap look, the play itself actually develops identically as well, with Meyers (the slot) running the seam between the Cover 2 safeties and Byrd stemming upfield, presumably for a dagger. Byrd actually fakes inside and turns the route into a 20-yard out-route, which allows him to get wide open against the rotating defensive back. The defensive back strafes inside in part due to Byrd’s fake, but also because of Newton’s eye manipulation and pump fake. While the pre-throw play from Newton here is great, the throw itself is a bit too far outside. If Newton can put this right on Byrd halfway between the numbers and the sideline, Byrd likely gets a few more yards out of the play.
Play 5 (3rd and 8) Q4 13:34 - The Patriots are in a pass-friendly gun trips right formation. Josh McDaniels calls a screen pass here on 3rd-and-long. Unfortunately, Michael Onwenu isn’t able to get a clean bump off on linebacker Whitney Mercilus, causing Newton to hitch on the throw. This delay allows defenders to crowd the screen, leaving Byrd to likely be tackled a good five yards behind the first-down marker. However, Byrd somehow stays on his feet while leaping forward, seemingly floats above the ground, and is able to glide for an absurd first down. This was one of those plays that you see YAC monsters like Julian Edelman make, and honestly, in many ways, this was just as impressive as the touchdown grab earlier.
Play 6 (3rd and 8) Q4 11:52 - This play here for New England is virtually the same as Play 4, just flipped. Once again, Byrd and Meyers run a fake dagger concept in which Byrd pretends to initially cut inside but breaks outside. Newton puts this ball on the money with one of his best throws of the afternoon. Byrd again makes a great leverage catch and uses his whole body to hang onto the ball and absorb the hit.
Byrd appears to have officially put himself on the map here with the Patriots. The offense has finally concocted plays for him that get him open in space and work to his playing strengths. If McDaniels can build off this game, New England can build a formidable one-two punch between Byrd and Meyers until the return of Edelman.
With Edelman coming back ideally soon, look for the Patriots to march out in three receiver sets. Ideally with Byrd as the X receiver, Meyers at the Z, and Edelman in the slot, working off each other. With that, look for New England to also sprinkle in their servings of Harry and Isaiah Ford from there.
However, in the meantime, Meyers is starting to get more respect from NFL defenses, and that played a big role in Byrd’s ascension this game. The emergence of a second credible receiving threat is a great scene for this aerial attack in the weeks to come. Byrd’s on-field synergy with Meyers and Newton is looking promising. Newton's downfield passing game is starting to heat up as a result. All this with Damien Harris’ continued development and the pending Edelman return, the bottom line is that this offense could start to hit its stride in the coming weeks.
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