There’s no better team in the NFL at delivering subtle but strong messages than the New England Patriots. It stems from head coach Bill Belichick, who is one of the league’s most ruthless innovators and game planners. This offseason, Belichick is reshaping his offense following an influx of new talent at the wide receiver position, and the departure of reliable veterans like Wes Welker.
Welker left the Patriots for the Denver Broncos in a shocking move during free agency, and he’s been replaced by former St. Louis Rams multi-purpose receiver Danny Amendola. Amendola is frequently compared to Welker, and while they do have many similarities, there’s one glaring difference: the former has the potential to be much more of a vertical threat.
Amendola excels at getting downfield despite his lack of great size and speed. Once timed at 4.68 in the 40-yard dash, Amendola has the quick feet, cookie cutter route running skills, and surprising upper-body strength to consistently get open when running through the seam. The seam is where the Patriots are most deadly, as we’ve seen over the last couple of years with tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. And while Welker was very good at working the underneath routes, he sometimes lacked the ability to be productive while running vertically. That’s not the case with Amendola, however.
He hasn’t always had the opportunities to make big plays because of the poor surrounding cast in St. Louis, but the potential has always been there. He’s shown it multiple times over the course of his career, such as against the Washington Redskins last season.
The Rams were in 11 personnel, with one running back in the backfield and a single tight end flexed outside the right hash. The tight end was the first receiver of a stacked set, a two receiver set that features one wideout lined up just behind or to the side of the other. The other was Amendola, who would be running an angle route and facing man coverage from the Redskins’ strong safety.
The structure of the angle route required Amendola to be precise and efficient, not wasting any steps, and being sure to not give the route away with his upper body. That’s a mistake many receivers (and tight ends) make when first learning how to run the route, but Amendola’s clearly not inexperienced.
That’s why when he released off the line of scrimmage, he took an immediate path outside as if he was going to be running an outside breaking route, such as a wheel, and then he stabbed his right foot into the ground. When his right foot in the turf, the safety slid over outside, creating an opening in the middle of the field.
Opening up that gap was Amendola’s goal, which is why he stemmed his route outside. It allowed him to pivot and move past the safety, running just inside of him and the right hash, where he would leap to haul in Bradford’s needling pass.
With Amendola able to win vertically, the Patriots have added another significant asset to their already potent offense. He’ll be able to complement the tight ends when they are running routes underneath and create space for them by clearing out the safeties as well.
All of this is under the assumption that he stays healthy, however. He’s rarely been healthy since entering the league, having failed to stay on the field for a full season. If he doesn’t manage to stay healthy again, the Patriots offense will have a big hole to fill, especially considering how durable and reliable Amendola’s predecessor had been for them over the years.