Talented tight ends inviting targets for Patriots in red zone

Brady can light up Texans if pass rush can't hurry him before he unloads on cornerbacks

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The Patriots and Tom Brady can show multiple alignments with their two tight end personnel against the Texans in their playoff game Sunday. Think of spread looks with both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez removed from the core of the formation to create matchups in the secondary.

As shown here, the Patriots have their Ace personnel (two wide receivers, two tight ends, one running back) on the field in a Doubles Orange (spread) formation. The Texans counter with their nickel sub package (five defensive backs) playing Cover-4 in the red zone. The Patriots will look to target their tight ends and test the discipline of the Texans' coverage scheme running the Pin route.

Spread alignment

The Patriots invest in tight ends because of the flexibility and matchups they create within their playbook. Here, the Patriots remove both tight ends from the core of the formation and slide Brandon Lloyd (X) and Wes Welker (Z) inside to slot alignments. This gives the Patriots a spread look while allowing Gronkowski (Y) and Hernandez (U) to match up versus cornerbacks outside of the numbers.

Pin route

The Pin route is a common scheme run throughout the NFL because it tests the eye discipline of Cover-4 safeties. Both Gronkowski and Hernandez will use a vertical stem to press up the field and then break back inside on the deep dig routes. Underneath, Lloyd will sit down in front of the free safety (FS) on the inside curl with Welker running the smash route under the strong safety (SS) to the closed side of the formation. The idea is to force the two safeties to take the bait, drive downhill on the underneath concepts and leave the corners trailing the tight ends with no help to the inside.

Targeting tight ends

The Texans have talented cornerbacks in Johnathan Joseph (RC) and Kareem Jackson (LC). However, in Cover-4 both cornerbacks are coached to play from an off-man alignment with outside leverage. That's an advantage for the Patriots tight ends because of the skill sets they bring to the field. At the top of the route stem, Gronkowski and Hernandez will work to create separation and break back inside of the numbers. Even if the Texans cornerbacks play with the correct technique and drive to the upfield shoulder on the throw, they will have a tough time making a play on the ball because of the size of Gronkowski and Hernandez at the point of attack.

Underneath options

Brady will target the tight ends as his primary reads, but he will look underneath if the safeties play with depth and shield the deep dig routes. Welker will sit his route down between the Mike backer (M) and the nickel back (N) on the smash concept, with Lloyd finding room on the curl based off the drop of the Will backer (W). As a final option, Brady can target Danny Woodhead (R) on the checkdown and get the ball to his running back in open space.

Brady factor

During their previous meeting in Week 14, the Texans showed some pressure looks with combination man coverages in the secondary. But regardless of the scheme, allowing Brady to work the pocket leads to points for the Patriots. With only a four-man rush, including the Sam backer, the Texans and defensive end J.J. Watt (LE) have to generate a push up the field and force Brady to move off the spot. Brady is too talented and will fit the ball into tight throwing windows if you give him time to challenge the secondary. The Texans can't allow that to happen Sunday if they want to advance to the AFC championship game.

Twitter @MattBowen41

Special contributor Matt Bowen, who played at Glenbard West and Iowa, spent seven seasons in the NFL as a strong safety. You also can find his work at nationalfootballpost.com.

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