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Breaking Down the Goal Line Stand in Patriots-Seahawks

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Super Bowl XLIX came down to a goal line stand by the New England Patriots to keep the Seattle Seahawks from scoring. The Patriots preserved the win, in part because Marshawn Lynch was on the sideline while Russell Wilson threw a pick, but also because the Patriots played solid defense.

The shoe was on the other foot this past Sunday as the Patriots desperately tried to score and tie the game at the end of regulation. They, like the Seahawks on Super Bowl Sunday, failed.

Let’s take a look at why that is.

images via NFL Game Pass

images via NFL Game Pass

1-2-SEA 2 (:43) T.Brady up the middle to SEA 1 for 1 yard (J.Reed; T.McDaniel).

It’s an interesting call, as it’s a long way to go on a quarterback sneak. Likely, the Patriots didn’t expect to score here but just wanted to halve the distance to the goal.

The center and the right guard get a decent push, but the left guard collapses right onto the pile. It’s unclear if Brady was down at that point, but it certainly limited the yards he could get.

Offensive line push is critical for plays like this, and it will factor in throughout parts of this final drive.

images via NFL Game Pass

images via NFL Game Pass

2-1-SEA 1 (:37) L.Blount up the middle to SEA 1 for no gain (K.Chancellor).

Credit to safety Kam Chancellor (#31 on the left side of the screen) for closing quickly on LeGarrette Blount, but the real play here is by the defensive line, which stymies the Patriots offensive line.

This play is designed to go in either the “1” hole on the left side of the center or the “3” hole between the guard and the tackle. Once the play starts, it’s really hard to tell because the blockers collapse in on the center (leading me to assume it’s the “1” hole).

The defensive line actually is able to push the offensive line backwards just a smidge, though that’s enough on most plays. Then, as the center collapses, a hole sort of opens up on the left side of the line.

The Patriots begin the play in an “I” formation, with James Devlin the lead blocker and Blount behind him. Devlin is supposed to clear out the last resistance—pick a linebacker and smash him—but Blount doesn’t follow him.

Whether that would have made a difference is hard to say, as both Kendall Wright and Cliff Avril were in the area. Avril crashed in one hole, but Wright was certainly scraping and spying on Blount.  Also critical is Cameron Fleming, who has lined up on the left side as a blocking tight end (and declared ‘eligible’).

Fleming gets manhandled by Bobby Wagner, who drives him into the hole Blount ends up going into.

images via NFL Game Pass

images via NFL Game Pass

The final nail in the coffin of this play is Blount himself, who leaps from nearly two yards out. Should he have seen the hole to the left? More than likely, but it’s just as likely he was never following his fullback and was going come hell or highwater through the assigned hole.

Since the line got zero push—and again, lost some inches—that never was working out.

images via NFL Game Pass

images via NFL Game Pass

3-1-SEA 1 (:19) T.Brady FUMBLES (Aborted) at SEA 1, and recovers at SEA 2. T.Brady to SEA 2 for no gain (C.Marsh)

The Patriots got a lucky break here, because this play goes all sorts of wrong.

Brady is pretty much moving before the snap and as Cris Collinsworth points out on the broadcast, that throws everyone off. It also causes him to never get a handle on the ball.

Would the play have worked? It’s hard to say though the left guard gets enough push to where Brady—who had half a yard to go—might have made it. The center is stonewalled though, so it could have gone either way.

At this point, the Patriots have moved away from the ‘bunch’ formation and tried to spread the defense out to unclog the interior routes for their runners.  It doesn’t help all that much as the Seahawks keep seven men in the box, and the Patriots have just six men on the line (though Blount theoretically evens things up as another blocker, he never really does anything on a sneak but perhaps push Brady).

On top of all of this, the Patriots lose a yard. Luckily, they don’t lose the ball and then the Seahawks get called for one of the more baffling penalties in the NFL—twelve men on the field.

So while the Patriots lost that yard, they get it back a moment later.

images via NFL Game Pass

images via NFL Game Pass

4-1-SEA 1 (:14) T.Brady pass incomplete short left to R.Gronkowski.

This is the play which will keep people talking just like Pete Carroll’s decision to not run Marshawn Lynch did after the Seahawks lost the Super Bowl.

It’s not quite a 1:1 comparison, though, as Lynch was beating the heck out of the Patriots defense and averaging a 4.3 yards per carry average. Meanwhile, despite scoring three touchdowns, Blount was averaging just 3.3 yards per carry.

Lynch was famous for shedding defenders and gaining tons of yards after first contact. Blount isn’t that guy.

So the situations, while similar aren’t exactly the same. Given that the offensive line wasn’t exactly blowing defenders off the ball, it’s easy to see why Bill Belichick chose to throw.

Unfortunately, it was not the finest moment for the Tom Brady-Rob Gronkowski love connection.

As with the play where Brady fumbled, the Patriots split out three receivers. Everyone knows the pass is going to Gronkowski, so it comes as no surprise that it does.

The problem is, he gets into a hand-fight with Kam Chancellor. It certainly seems as if Gronkowski initiates it and almost seems like for a moment he’s so involved in that he doesn’t start his route. Brady’s pass is in the air immediately and Gronkowski isn’t in position to catch it.

Perhaps Brady could have put just a little more air under it. You can make an argument that Gronkowski got too wrapped up battling Chancellor. Should Chancellor have been flagged? I tend to agree with Collinsworth that they officials did the right thing in not flagging it. Both players were engaged and Gronkowski, I think, could have disengaged earlier.

Regardless, the Seahawks knew where the ball was going and put their most physical defensive back on Gronkowski, the most physical weapon on the Patriots (and a guy who has seen his fair share of calls for offensive pass interference).

If you were the Seahawks or the Patriots, you’d take that matchup all day. This time, it just didn’t fall the Patriots’ way.


About Andrew Garda

Andrew Garda is a freelance writer primarily covering NFL football, with frequent side trips to everything else. A member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he is a contributing writer for Sports on Earth and Pro Football Weekly. He also covers fantasy for Footballguys.com. Garda is the host of the At the Whistle podcast and has been credentialed for many NFL drafts, Senior Bowls, pro days and various NFL events.