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Film Room: Patriots RB James White, the Receiver

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Punch, counter-punch, counter-counter-punch. That’s how things will play out between the Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, likely on an endless loop. Whoever has the last answer, or the trickiest question to solve, will likely come out on top in this duel of minds.

On the Locked On Eagles podcast, RB James White was mentioned as a candidate for having a bigger than expected impact. It shouldn’t be a surprise if he does, as in last years’ Super Bowl against the Atlanta Falcons, White was targeted 16 times, hauling in 14 catches for 110 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for two touchdowns, but for the purpose of this article, we will focus on the many ways he is deployed by the Patriots in the passing game.

Before getting to that, special mention needs to be given to Betz aka @alltwentytwo for providing the graphics in the video below. He was of great help with many of the concepts and coverage responsibilities that will be explained below. Follow him on Twitter for insightful football knowledge and… well, you’ll find out.

You’ll notice the MIKE linebacker being labeled “RAT” (commonly called the “robber”) and other than the safety is the only other player that is not responsible for man coverage (“M/M”) on a specific receiver. On “1 RAT”, the player labeled “M/M #3” is in man coverage on the number 3 receiver, in this case, WR Julian Edelman, and will try to funnel Edelman to the RAT.

With the RAT cleared, the Patriots use a wave concept on the right of the formation.

First they motion RB James White and stack him behind WR Chris Hogan on the right side of the formation. This gives White a clean release and provides traffic through which the outside cornerback (M/M #2) is forced to navigate.

Hogan clears out with his route and White works inside-out on his stem before coming off Hogan’s butt and into space for an easy pitch and catch. White makes the first man miss, taking advantage of some poor tackling on his way to picking up yards after the catch.

Same 1RAT coverage as mentioned already and the Patriots run a “slay” concept on the left side of the formation. Slay is a slant from the outside with an arrow route from the slot. The slant acts as a natural rub route. The arrow route clears out underneath coverage for the slant.

The slay combination works well in conjunction with the “depot” concept. On depot, you would have the arrow route, but the outside receiver runs a deep post, which stresses a defense vertically if they run a lot of one-high safety (like the Eagles).

On the right side of the formation, White is lined up outside with a double slot lined up inside of him in the slot. From the trips side, the Patriots run a smash-divide variation. White runs a short dig, the receiver inside of him runs a corner route that he converts up field. The #3 WR runs a deep over route. This concept is meant to stress the safety, who has two routes attacking vertically.

At the top of the screen, White uses a dead leg release to get LB Deion Jones on his heels for a clean inside release. You’ll see the RAT/robber is too late to respond and had routes coming at him from either side. This mismatch with White on Jones, despite Jones’ athleticism, will be a factor if the Eagles decide to travel linebackers Nigel Bradham or Mychal Kendricks with White.

The Patriots use split flow action here with a play action to WR Hogan, then leak White out on a flair coming from behind Brady. You’ll see a slant clearing space so that the center can mirror LB Deion Jones, allowing White to pick up additional yards after the catch.

This concept can be utilized with double posts from the right side of the formation with the aim of getting the slot man singled up in the middle of the field.

The Falcons are in cover 5 aka man 2 here working against a 2×2 set by the Patriots with White in the backfield. On the left side of the formation the Patriots run curl-flat, a two-man combination route that stresses defenses on the boundary and can convert to a go route if a defense starts to sit on the curl.

The “hank” concept being deployed on the right side of the formation gives a hi-lo and horizontal read for Brady, essentially forming a triangle read. The Falcons cover it up well, but Brady climbs the pocket to space, buying time. This proves too long to stick to White, who threats vertically at the end of his route before looping back inside. The absence of pressure hurts the Falcons here.

Out of the backfield, condensed and stacked, lined up on the outside, and so on, James White can line up and run routes from anywhere on the field. The Eagles best coverage linebacker, Bradham, will have to have one of his best games of the year to bottle up White if the defense is expected to keep the Patriots offense off-schedule.

Expect White and RB Dion Lewis to be targeted early and often to counteract the Eagles roaring pass rush.

Did you enjoy this article? Check out another Super Bowl Film Room piece: The Patriots HOSS Concept!

Michael is an NFL Draft enthusiast, aspiring scout, and grandson of longtime East Stroudsburg (Pa.) HS football coach John P. Kist. He hosts Locked On Eagles and writes for Inside the Pylon & Breaking Football.

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