Like many of you, I have been struggling to figure out exactly what went wrong on Aaron Dobson's touchdown for New England, the only touchdown the Patriots scored Thursday. Due to the nature of what went wrong (many things), it is going to be difficult for anybody but the Jets' players and coaches to know exactly what the malfunctions were on this play. After taking a look at it, though, I think I can piece together some of the key problems.
Here's how the teams lined up.
On this third and two play, the Patriots come out in a formation known at the flexbone. There is one receiver wide at the top of the picture. Two other receivers are in for New England, Dobson and Julian Edelman. They are both bunched tight with the formation. For the sake of terminology, Edelman would be called the slotback since he's on the weak side of the formation and Dobson the wingback since he's on the strong side (side with the tight end).
The Patriots are selling run here because their tight end isn't really a tight end. It's an extra tackle, Nate Solder. This along with the way the receivers are crowded inside and the fact it's third and two make it look like the Pats are going to run.
This play turned out to be such a mess that is a tad difficult to figure out exactly what the Jets were trying to do. There are some hints off the snap, though.
From this vantage point, it appears the Jets are playing man coverage. Antonio Cromartie is one on one at the top with Kenbrell Thompkins in the red circle. Dee Milliner's first step is in, and he seems focused on Edelman if you follow the blue line. Nobody is on Dobson, and the yellow circle appears to be totally uncovered. It would be difficult to imagine a defense where it was designed that somebody be uncovered so this suggests the Jets lined up incorrectly on the play. Milliner would probably be suspect number one.
The Jets only have two cornerbacks in on this play. Cromartie is clearly the right cornerback. Milliner would figure to have been the left cornerback. He might have missed Dobson and thought Edelman was the second receiver. With a third receiver, Milliner's responsibility might have been to go left and leave Edelman to one of the safeties on the play. In this case Dawan Landry lined up deep so that would have been left to Antonio Allen, who was lined up on the side with Edelman.
Does that make Milliner the only culprit on this play if our working theory is correct? I don't think so. Dawan Landry also has to take some heat here. Landry is supposed to be the "quarterback of the defense," but it doesn't seem like he even recognizes Dobson. If the team is lined up incorrectly, he needs to call a timeout. No, you don't want to burn an early timeout, but that is better than letting a wide receiver run uncovered.
That isn't the only issue with Landry, though. Just based on the way the Jets are lined up and react to this play, it seems like Landry is responsible to cover for anything deep.
Landry bites really hard on the fake handoff, taking a very sharp angle (red line) that runs himself out of any chance to be able to assist on a deep receiver instead of a less aggressive path (blue line). Again, his role on this play seems to be providing protection as the last line of defense and leaving it to others to make the stop. Landry is thus totally out of position on this play. Again, Landry might have never seen Dobson. It didn't seem that way presnap. Dobson hides selling his block and then breaks deep. Milliner is on the other side of the field. Dobson is past Landry before he recognizes, and Tom Brady has the easiest touchdown pass he will ever have. Even if Milliner was lined up correctly, he might have expected Landry to help, and this might have still ended up a touchdown.
Landry is in the red circle, and Milliner is in the blue circle.
Is this where the story ends? Again, I don't think so. The Jets' coaching staff like Landry has to take some of the blame here for not recognizing the team was lined up incorrectly. The Patriots also outschemed the Jets on this play. A third and two opens up the entire playbook. The Patriots sold the run by bringing in the extra offensive lineman on a short yardage play. Even though they had three receivers, they lined up in a run formation. The Jets really couldn't counter. Had they brought in an extra cornerback to counter the three receiver set, that would have meant one less linebacker against a front with six offensive lineman. Brady probably would have recognized this and checked to a run, which could have resulted in a big gain. By not going smaller, though, the Jets would have been left with a very unfavorable matchup of Antonio Allen against Edelman even had Milliner lined up on the left.
Finally, New England's tempo helped to contribute to the mix up. New England took about 25 seconds to snap the ball. Once they broke the huddle and got set, Brady had the ball snapped immediately. This might have been because he saw what was wrong with the way the Jets lined up. This minimized the time the Jets had to correct the problem. The Jets have such a complex defense that the Pats in recent years have had a lot of success hurrying things up and creating breakdowns. The defense can be so complicated that it takes a little time to identify what everybody's role really is. The Pats have burned them by using tempo multiple times.
The final key to this play is that the Jets got themselves into a bad down and distance. Third and two favors the offense. Sheldon Richardson missed a tackle on the play before this that would have brought up a third and long and created a better scenario for the Jets. New England couldn't really sell the run and used an extra lineman in that situation.
Again, nobody but the Jets knows for sure what happened, but these are a few things I noticed and my working theories.