How the Patriots use the jet sweep in their offense
FOXBOROUGH — During their first drive against the Vikings last Sunday, the Patriots ran a jet sweep for Julian Edelman. Edelman split out wide and, just before the snap, ran right to left across the formation. Tom Brady took the snap from under center and, just as Edelman crossed behind him, handed the ball off. Edelman got to the corner on the left side and ran for 15 yards.
Get used to seeing that. Thanks in part to the Patriots, the jet sweep is becoming a larger part of modern offenses.
“It’s been a great package for us and one you see a lot of other teams using right now in the NFL,” said Patriots receivers coach Chad O’Shea. “It’s been effective not only in getting them the football but also having a threat of always having the ability to run the ball or pass the ball or fake the run.”
Use of the jet sweep in the NFL has roughly quadrupled over the last four years, according to ESPN. It’s still used sparingly — the Rams are the only team to regularly run it multiple times per game — but it’s no coincidence that excellent offenses such as the Chiefs, Saints, and Chargers are among those using it most.
The Patriots have called jet sweeps for Edelman for years, at least since 2014. Last season, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels started calling them more often to get fast players such as Brandin Cooks out in space. This year, it’s remained in the playbook for Cordarrelle Patterson, James White, and Edelman. They weren’t the first but, as is often the case, the Patriots were early to what is now a league-wide party.
“Those jet sweeps and speed sweeps, whatever you want to call them, those have been popularized in the last, I don’t know, six, seven years,” coach Bill Belichick said. “I kind of think they sort of started with Percy Harvin out in Seattle and then obviously other teams have incorporated them and other plays that go off them — motion, but it isn’t a sweep, it’s some other play, but it looks like the sweep and so forth. I think those have been more recent additions to kind of the offensive schematics.”
A refresher on how the jet sweep works: A wide receiver runs in motion and takes a handoff or short toss. Jet motion is when the receiver runs as a decoy and doesn’t get the ball. A variation of this is sometimes called ghost motion, where the receiver runs behind the quarterback. One reason you’ll see it more and more is that sweeps are a bigger part of spread-style college offenses, meaning that young receivers entering the NFL are usually well-schooled in running them.
The Patriots have run the jet sweep with Brady under center and out of the shotgun. Sometimes he hands off to the motioning player, such as he did for Edelman’s 15-yard gain against the Vikings, and other times he’ll toss the ball as the receiver runs in front of him. The timing is the same, but most quarterbacks love the toss. Why? Passing yards.
The Patriots have gotten good execution on jet sweeps this year. They converted a third and 1 against the Jets in Week 12 on a jet sweep to Patterson, who they’ve also used as a decoy on the play. One of the few positive plays the Patriots made against the Titans in Week 10 was when Brady converted a fourth and 2 to White, who was open to his right thanks to jet motion from Patterson drawing the defense the other way. White scored his second touchdown against the Bears in Week 7 on a jet sweep.
“If they get a good block on the edge and the end doesn’t see it coming, you’ve pretty much got a good play,” said Patriots receiver Phillip Dorsett. “It’s kind of a gamble sometimes because sometimes they do see it coming and you’ve got to make the end miss or he’ll probably blow you outside and you won’t make a big play.”
It’s also pretty easy on the offensive linemen, who just have to sell like the play is going the other way.
“Go that way and he goes that way,” Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia said. “Golly. They love it when we call that one. There’s nothing you have to worry about.”
When it’s effective, the jet sweep stresses a defense horizontally and gives opponents one more thing to think about.
“It’s widening the defense, it’s pressing the leverage of the defense,” Patriots safety Duron Harmon said. “As a defense, you always want to keep everything outside-in, and with that sweep, sweep motion it’s stressing the edge of the defense.
“Everybody is doing it now if you’ve got a fast guy and you run a spread offense.”
When it’s ineffective, of course, the ball carrier usually gets blown up by the time he reaches the line of scrimmage, such as Patterson did on a jet sweep in Week 2 against the Jaguars. He’d gotten a big gain on the same play a week before, but Jacksonville safety Tashaun Gipson sussed out the sweep and made Patterson pay for it.
More often than not, though, it’s been effective. The Patriots’ offense opened up toward the end of the Vikings game in part because McDaniels’s play-calling stretched Minnesota’s defense horizontally early. In that way, Edelman’s 15-yard gain was worth more than just the yards because it gave the Vikings something else to think about. That’s what offensive coordinators want, and right now the Patriots are one of many teams using jet sweeps to give it to them.