Bill Belichick has quite the bag of tricks. Will he dip into it on Sunday in Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks?
The New England Patriots have used a variety of trick plays and formations -- all which are perfectly legal -- in both of their playoff games leading up to the Super Bowl. The plays have worked so well that the NFL will use new hand signals to announce which players are ineligible on a given play.
Let's take a look at the kinds of trick plays and formations that the Patriots have used thus far in the playoffs.
INELIGIBLE RECEIVERS AWAY FROM LINE OF SCRIMMAGE
On this play from the AFC divisional round, the Patriots have the ball at the Baltimore Ravens’ 24-yard line on 2nd-and-6 with 7:19 left in the third quarter.
After breaking the huddle, the Pats take right guard Josh Kline off the field, slide left tackle Nate Solder over to left guard, move left guard Dan Connolly to right guard and put tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (circled in yellow) at left tackle. So technically, there are four linemen on the field, plus a tight end at a lineman’s position. Note that Hoomanawanui is lined up on the line of scrimmage.
As we expand the formation, we see receivers Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell lined up to the left, tight end Rob Gronkowski next to the line of scrimmage to the right and running back Shane Vereen (circled in yellow) and wideout Julian Edelman to the right.
Again, note the positioning of each player as they relate to the line of scrimmage -- Amendola and LaFell are a yard behind the line on the left side, Gronkowski is a yard behind it to the right, while Vereen and Edelman are lined up on the line to the right. By rule, there must be seven players lined up along the line of scrimmage and four behind it (including the quarterback). Amendola, LaFell and Gronkowski are off the line of scrimmage, while Vereen, Edelman, Hoomanawanui and the four offensive linemen are directly at the line.
From there, the rule also states that of the seven players at the line of scrimmage, the two that are the farthest to the outside of the formation are eligible. That means that Hoomanawanui -- even though he technically is lined up at the left tackle spot -- and Edelman are eligible on this play.
That means that Vereen (circled in yellow) is an ineligible receiver, even though he is lined up in the slot, because he is not the outside receiver to that side. He declares himself as such before the play.
How does this affect Vereen on the play? Well, for one, he cannot go downfield past the line of scrimmage. BUT, he can receive a lateral, which is key to this play. Vereen, who is known for being a pass-catcher out of the backfield, sells the screen, which draws some attention from Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley.
Meanwhile, Hoomanawanui (who is lined up at left tackle) takes off on a go route. The Ravens, thinking that Hoomanawanui was a lineman, fail to recognize that he was eligible, leaving him uncovered.
The result: a wide-open catch for 14 yards and a first down that brings the Patriots into the red zone. Two plays later, the Pats score a touchdown to close the gap to 28-21.
WIDE RECEIVER PASSES
This play comes on the Patriots’ next drive of the game. The Patriots come out in a singleback formation with their “11” personnel -- three receivers, one tight end, one running back -- as Gronkowski is split out to the left in the slot and running back LeGarrette Blount lines up in the backfield. Edelman comes out to the right in the slot, but get sent in motion to the left, joining Amendola and Gronkowski in a trips formation. Meanwhile, the Ravens defensive backs allow for some cushion off the line of scrimmage.
At first, it looks like a routine screen pass to Edelman, as Tom Brady throws a backwards pass to Edelman as soon as he gets the snap. Amendola and Gronkowski get off the line and sell the downfield block.
Suddenly, Edelman -- a former quarterback at Kent State -- gets set to pass. Gronkowski stays in to block Ravens safety Will Hill, and Amendola takes off down the field past Ravens cornerback Rashaan Melvin after selling his block enough to make Melvin bite.
Amendola is wide open on the go route, and Edelman airs it out deep down the field. Amendola makes the catch and has nothing but open field ahead on his way to the end zone for a 51-yard game-tying touchdown.
This play is from the Patriots’ AFC Championship game victory over the Indianapolis Colts. The Pats come out in a jumbo set, which normally is used in obvious run situations (up until that point, the Colts had a lot of trouble stopping the run). Solder (circled in yellow) lines up at his normal left tackle spot. LaFell lines up out wide to the left, but he is a yard behind the line of scrimmage. That means Solder technically is the outside receiver on that side of the field, which makes him eligible -- and he declares himself as such.
Brady fakes the inside handoff to Blount (shown in red), and Solder sells the run block (shown in yellow).
From there, Solder -- a former college tight end at Colorado -- releases into the flat with nobody covering him. It’s an easy throw for Brady, and Solder manages to haul in the pass.
Solder rumbles into end zone for the 16-yard touchdown.