The New England Patriots dominated in Belichickian fashion on Saturday night, holding the Denver Broncos offense to a mere 10 points, while putting up 45 (!) points of their own. The offensive performance was a clinic for the proper execution of passing concepts, and it all started with the first points of the onslaught that featured a simple concept known as “Double China.”
Early in the first quarter, New England’s offense lined up in an Empty backfield set, meaning there were no running backs in the backfield with quarterback Tom Brady, and two tight ends were flexed out along with three wide receivers. Wes Welker (slot) and Julian Edelman were split to Brady’s right side along with tight end Rob Gronkowski, which created a Trips set. There was also a tight Twins (two to one side) set made up of tight end Aaron Hernandez and wide receiver Deion Branch to the left of Brady.
Defensively, the Broncos came out in their Nickel (five defensive backs) package with three defensive linemen and linebackers. This was a common package used by the Broncos as well as many other NFL teams that spend over half of their defensive snaps in this personnel grouping.
Double China is a concept that is often ran out of Trips set and has two square-in routes — sometimes known as “China” — ran by Welker and Edelman along with Gronkowski’s corner route which creates a “rub” or pick on a defender to clear out the underneath route for an opening.
The Broncos turned to a very popular coverage known as 2 Man Under, which put all underneath defenders in man coverage while two safeties provided help by roaming at the top of the coverage. Linebacker D.J. Williams and cornerback Chris Harris were in man coverage, which would prove to be a problem for the Broncos because of Gronkowski’s pre-snap alignment.
Gronkowski was the third receiver in from the sideline, and he ran a corner route. This corner route would create a pick on the aforementioned two defenders in man coverage, which freed up Welker across the middle of the field.
The rub created for Welker’s square-in or “China” route worked to perfection because it put the defender at a disadvantage by having to cover ground to catch up.
Since the defender had to avoid the towering Gronkowski, he was late catching up to Welker, who would go on to score a touchdown.
When New England’s talented pass catchers combine with an offensive scheme executed to near perfection, the Patriots offense is very difficult to stop regardless of the coverage played by the defense. Gronkowski is able to significantly affect a play without touching the ball in the Double China concept by freeing up his teammates for big catches.