Anatomy of a Play: Did the Patriots Really Double Team the Raiders “Checkdowns” in Week 3?

There has been a lot of talk surrounding the Raiders 36-20 loss to the Patriots in week 3. In particular, many have focused on a defensive play call by New England Patriots Head Coach, Bill Belichick.

The play was first noticed by @TheMarcJohnNFL.

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They were double-teaming the check-downs LOL Belichick’s a **** genius I never have seen a defense do this before.


Marc is a hard working journalist and his keen eye provided some seriously needed comic relief after a stinging 36-20 defeat at the hands of a much reviled opponent. It also provided some ammunition for those looking to disparage the Raiders offense. While there were certainly some aspects of the teams performance that deserve and should be critiqued, the criticism over this clip isn’t one.

The play in question is shown below.

After watching this play, it is understandable why viewers would think that this is a double-team on Raiders running back Jalen Richard. However, like many things in Bill Belichick’s scheme, not everything is always what it seems. This wasn’t a cognitive choice by the Patriots to take away the “checkdown”. It actually wasn’t even a double team. Let’s break down the play to see why.

Pattern Match Coverage

To understand this clip, we first have to touch on Belichick’s system. His “Pattern Match” coverage is exactly what the name suggests. It’s coverages “match” the “pattern” of the receivers’ routes, which Belichick calls the “Route Distribution”. At their core, Belichick’s coverages are designed to put his defensive backs into the best leverages possible against route distribution.

Now his system is a little complex, but for the purpose of this article we will just focus on the basics of those leverages to understand the play call we are studying. We’ll start with a simple look at how normal man coverage would cover the “Slant / Flat” concept in this diagram.

Basic Man Coverage vs Slant/Flat

As this diagram shows, the “X” receiver is running a slant while the “Y” is running a flat route. The cornerback ( C ) covers the slant inside while the slot corner ( SC ) covers the flat outside. You can see how this route distribution could lead to either receiver getting a leverage advantage on the corners while also having open space to run after the catch.

A concept like this would also have coaching points instructing one of the receivers to attempt to “Rub” ( pick ) one of the defensive backs, freeing the other receiver of their coverage. Fans will certainly recognize those pick plays because they happen every weekend. These types of leverage disadvantages are a weakness of basic man coverages.

One the positive side, there isn’t much that can go wrong from a mental standpoint. At it’s core, the coverage identifies a receiving target and the cornerback simply follows him everywhere he goes. That is an oversimplification because there is a lot of detail involved, but it is on a more individual level. Now let’s check out how Belichick’s system would cover that same concept.

Man Match vs Slant / Flat

As you can see, they would be in much better position to cover these routes. Without getting into the rules of the scheme, the releases of these routes would tell both corners to switch off coverage responsibilities. The main takeaway is that while the secondary lines up within a coverage, their individual coverage responsibilities change depending on the route distribution. This is how Belichick gets his defensive backs into excellent leverage against most route concepts that the offense throws at them.


That focus on leverage advantages isn’t limited to the receivers at the line of scrimmage, which brings us back to our play. We have all seen a running back release out into the flat, or for a screen, while a linebacker has to sprint across the field in an attempt to cover them. Belichick has an answer for that as well which he calls “Funnel”. Here is what it looks like.

HB Funnel

To prevent that linebacker from having to run across the field while attempting to navigate the traffic in his way, Belichick will give some of his defenders multiple responsibilities. Again though, the final responsibilities are based entirely on the route distribution.

In the diagram above, if the running back ( H ) releases out to the left, the Sam ( S ) backer would play him in man coverage. The Mike ( M ) would then drop into zone coverage. Should the “H” release to the right, the Mike would play him in man coverage while the Sam plays zone. I can’t state enough that while both of the linebackers are keyed on the running back, at no point are they both covering him. This is a basic design in Belichick’s defense and one that was involved in our play. Here is a look at the defensive responsibilities.


The two defenders ( Black ) keyed on Richard are going to read his release. Should he break outside, the defender in the flat would cover him. If he goes inside, the defender on the hash marks would cover him. What transpires is comical but for a far different reason.

Here is the route distribution.

Sail / Smash

Richard is actually going to hook up at about 3 yards. The fact that he doesn’t break inside or outside freezes the defensive backs and they aren’t quite sure how to play him. After a second or two, the outside defender gives up and rushes Carr.

This was either a designed 5-man pressure with the Funnel player that would typically drop into zone being the 5th rusher, or this was a blown coverage. Either way, it wasn’t a designed double team on Jalen Richard.

Here is that play again.

Full Play

If nothing else, hopefully this sheds a little light on why Belichick defenses can appear so simple, but are very complex. He doesn’t simply stumble into excellent defensive units year after year.

As for the Raiders, they actually moved the ball reasonably well against the Patriots on Sunday, especially considering how many key offensive players weren’t on the field.

Derek Carr and company won’t get much of a break this week with the Buffalo Bills coming to town. Certainly the Bills secondary will bring more than enough challenges for the Raider offense, but thankfully the one “Bill” that won’t be on the Buffalo sideline on Sunday is the one named Belichick.

Twitter: @ChrisReed_NFL

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2 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Play: Did the Patriots Really Double Team the Raiders “Checkdowns” in Week 3?

  1. It is exactly what he said it was they paid attention to all short routes and intermediate, they put Stephon and McCourtny in man coverage and doubled everyone else…

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