Anatomy of a Play: Brady-to-Moss flea-flicker

The New England Patriotsdemolished the Tennessee Titans last Sunday, thanks to some outstanding game-planning and execution in extreme weather conditions.

The Patriots threw the ball all over the field, taking advantage of the bad footing for Tennesee's defenders. They called route combinations where their receivers were not required to stop and start and where the Titans were forced to change direction.

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Tom Brady carried out the plan with precision, by throwing six touchdown passes.

The first was a 40-yard flea-flicker to Randy Moss. A flea-flicker is the ultimate form of play-action passing because the play begins with an actual handoff to the running back. Then he stops, turns, and pitches the ball back to the quarterback, who typically throws a deep pass downfield.

New England got an ideal coverage to perform a successful flea-flicker -- quarters -- where the safeties are primary run-support players.

When Brady handed the ball to RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the safety to the side of Moss attacked the line of scrimmage to help stop the apparent run.

Moss, who was split wide to the right, initially gave a run-blocking fake, by slowly jogging off the line of scrimmage. After three, rope-a-dope steps, Moss turned on his jets and blew past the safety.

Normally, the weakness of a flea-flicker is that it takes a long time to develop and can be a burden on the offensive line. But because of the bad footing, Tennessee's pass rushers were neutralized. Brady had plenty of time and space to make the throw to Moss.

The trickiest part about a flea-flicker, in a snow-storm, is ball-handling. Several exchanges must be precisely made in order for the play to work:

  1. The snap must be clean.
    1. The handoff to the back must be clean.
    2. The running back's pitch back to the quarterback must be clean.
    3. The quarterback must have a clean pocket to properly deliver an accurate throw.
    4. The wide receiver must catch the ball.

Everything was clean on this one. The execution by Moss, Green-Ellis, the offensive line, and Brady made the Patriots' offensive coaches look like geniuses for calling such a high-risk, high-reward play.

Brady commented after the game, "Coach Belichick was on us pretty tough, being the only team to not hit a 40-yard pass play or have a 20-yard run all season, so hopefully we kept him quiet for a week or two."

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