Sunday afternoon had an energy that was immediately distinct from the doldrums that plagued the New England Patriots offense late in their matchup against the Dallas Cowboys.
The opening script found tremendous success on the ground, especially with the New York Jets' depleted linebacker core. It took just two minutes for the offense to find itself in scoring position; after some strong runs to open the drive, Josh McDaniels dialed up a 28-yard pass play to Jonnu Smith on a clever play design involving a play-action screen pass.
With the offense at the 25-yard line and threatening the red zone, McDaniels once more called an incredible play -- one that some may describe as a "trick" play, but McDaniels seems to consider part of the 2021 Patriots offense's identity.
McDaniels opened up a bit to reporters Tuesday on the preparation it takes to execute these trick plays at a high level.
The offense came out in a conventional looking 11-personnel shotgun formation with Kendrick Bourne as the X receiver towards the boundary side of the field, Hunter Henry as the tight end on the boundary side, Jakobi Meyers as the field-side slot, and Nelson Agholor as the field-side Z receiver.
The Jets defense aligned against this look and personnel with a one-high shell (middle-of-field closed) out of a nickel package. The initial alignment seemed to indicate potential man coverage towards the near side of the field and zone towards the far side of the field (the field-side corner immediately flips his hips, usually delineating a Cover 3 assignment).
When Bourne runs his half orbit motion into the backfield, the boundary-side safety rotates up as the single-high and the field-side safety comes down, flipping the defense and suspecting a pass out of the backfield.
As the play starts, Jones does a great job of getting the ball out quick, and Bourne does a great job of not getting the ball out quick. Bourne's choppy steps allow him to quickly find his balance, align himself to pass, and continue to draw the defense towards him. With Agholor doing a great job of selling the run and Bourne delaying the throw just enough, Agholor finds himself wide open on the 9-route for the touchdown.
However, the unsung hero of this play (and, honestly, the whole game) is the offense' new right tackle, Mike Onwenu. After weeks of turnstiles at the position, Bill Belichick finally decided to put the young star offensive lineman at right tackle, and the decision paid dividends throughout the game. Onwenu's cut block was critical in allowing Jones to not only get the initial pass off, but also for Bourne to be able to delay his throw. As a whole, the offensive line alignment used in this game may be the blueprint for the team till starter Trent Brown makes a return.
The play was well-executed and forceful, setting the tone for an afternoon full of offensive firepower, defensive discipline, and sound fundamental football. After countless flashes of New England's potential as a playoff contender, the team was finally able to catch fire for the duration of a game.
With a strong performance on both sides of the ball, this game could prove to be the morale boost and turning point this team so desperately needed.