The Wham: The philosophy and execution of one of the Patriots’ signature plays

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Having both played and coached the offensive line, to say I am enamored with the run game would be quite the understatement. I am infatuated with it. To me, it’s a fine balance between art, strategy, technique, identity and shear toughness. If you can combine all of those attributes with a bit of talent, you will have something special.

I was fortunate enough to be a ball boy for the New England Patriots in the mid-80’s. I guess having been a big kid, I was only interested in the guys that I related to. Although I wanted to be a running back, tight end, maybe even linebacker... I was destined to the OL. Thus, my heroes back then were John Hannah, Pete Brock, Guy Morris, Trevor Matich, Brian Holloway, and Bruce Armstrong. I also gravitated to the O-Line coaches. Dante Scarnecchia has been someone that I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know and has been an idol of mine since those early days.

In this post, I’d like to explore what I so lovingly call the "Wham" play. Our New England Patriots have been the pioneer in the development of this scheme. This play shows up at least three to five times per game and is a great compliment to their run game package.

I sincerely believe Coach Scarnecchia has been at the forefront of perfecting what is now a very effective and difficult to defend run play.

The objective of any run game scheme is to find a way to make a defense short in their gap responsibility. Moving tight ends and inserting fullbacks into the line of scrimmage creates this exact challenge. In doing so, you also want to design the scheme so that you have leverage to defenders. That allows for better angles and easier blocks.

A run-game scheme is typically defined by the gap that it attacks. All schemes identify gaps by numbering the gaps. Depending on the philosophy of the offensive coordinator, the gaps can be numbered differently based on their system. Some will number the gaps from left to right.

For example:

Others will have odd-numbered gaps to the left and even numbered gaps to the right.

For example:

For the sake of this discussion, I will just letter the gaps and say whether it’s to the left or right.

As follows:

The other piece that’s important to understand in run game terminology is how you define the techniques or alignment being played by the defensive line. This is important because it determines who is working together on double teams or combo blocks and most plays are checked to a specific technique/alignment.

Once again there are lots of ways to do this. For this discussion, here is how I will define them:

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Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get right into this play.

As you look at these two clips, they are most commonly referred to as the wide or sideline copy and the tight or end zone copy. True OL guys use both.

The wide copy allows you to see the contour of the secondary. This contour should tell you the coverage that the defense is in. The coverage then tells you where the run support and force defender is coming from. Most run schemes require an offensive line to determine who is “in” the count. This count determines who the OL will block.

The tight copy is where you can see alignments of defenders and really coach/critique fundamentals and techniques of offensive line play.

Starting with the wide copy you can see that the defense is in a one high or odd coverage. It appears to be man free.

As a note, often times offenses will use motion, which really helps in identifying or uncovering coverage.

Also using the wide copy, you can see that the defense is in an even front with a reduction to the split surface. This is what I call an under front. I will use the tight copy to identify the specific alignments being played.

On offense, using the wide copy, I can see that the Patriots are in a 21 personnel formation with a strong alignment by the fullback. Fullbacks can be used in a variety of alignments. Strong is offset to the tight end, weak is offset away from the tight end. "I" or "Eye" is aligned behind the center. Wing strong or wing weak alignment is outside of the tight end or tackle.

Personnel groupings are identified by the amount of running backs and tight ends in the game.

Most common personnel groupings are:

10 = 1 back and no tight ends
11 = 1 back and one tight end
12 = 1 back and 2 tight ends
20 = 2 backs and no tight ends
21 = 2 backs and one tight end

NOTE: this is important for the defense to know because most defenses call their defense based on offensive personnel in the game and match personnel likewise. It's also why having a tight end that can play as a true tight end or receiver is so valuable.

Based on this wide copy, it is obvious the Patriots should have a good play here. If all is blocked correctly the running back should be clean all the way up to the strong safety rolled down in coverage at depth.

Before I get into the tight copy, I first have to explain the theory of the wham play. Ideally, the wham play is run at a 1- or 2I- (inside shade) technique it is designed to hit in what becomes a newly defined B Gap.

Normally this is what you have:


By inserting the offensive player (in this case a fullback0 you have this:

CENTER — A gap — FULLBACK — B gap — RIGHT GUARD — C gap

For every offensive player, you need two defensive players (an offensive player has a gap to their left and a gap to their right).

The reason you want to run it to a one or 2I is because it allows for you to have an open B Gap and it gives your center and guard natural leverage to climb to the next level.

Let’s look at the tight copy and go offensive player by offensive player and talk about their responsibilities.

Trent Brown at left tackle has the easiest block of all. He has a Wide 7 technique on him. The alignment of the defensive end alone takes him out of the play. Brown's job is to simply wall the defensive end off. He cannot allow the end to cross his face and impact the play.

Joe Thuney at left guard has a loose 3 technique on him. He has a rather easy block as well. He also cannot allow the defensive tackle to cross his face. He invites the DT upfield by opening his shoulders and then washed him by.

David Andrews at center has a critical block in this play's scheme. He has a one technique on him.

*Without getting too in-depth on this, the one technique's gap and job is to control the outside shoulder of the center in this alignment, wherever that center goes, dictates where the DT’s gap goes. This is probably a topic in itself at a later date*

Andrews' job in this play is to clear the one technique and climb to the linebacker with inside-out leverage upon contact. In this clip, Andrews does a great job clearing the one technique. You can see he takes a lateral step to create space for himself and then gets vertical to the linebacker. Where he gets in trouble is once he clears the one technique, he hesitates and loses inside-out leverage on the linebacker. The linebacker ends up making the tackle.

Having said that, there’s a chance that the Patriots are asking the running back to read the second level blocks and make the offensive linemen right. When you hear Coach Belichick talk about Sony Michel's development, second-level reads in the run game could be one of the things that he is referring to.

Shaq Mason at right guard has a nice easy release to a linebacker that is right on top of him. He does a good job coming under control with a base, using his hands, and sustaining his block. I like how he plays!

Marcus Cannon and Rob Gronkowski both have easy blocks as they fan the front side and turn their blocks into inside-out drive blocks doing everything they can to prevent the defenders from crossing their face.

James Develin has the “wham” block. His job is to handle the one technique in this example. Often times, the defensive tackle doesn’t expect this block and this can be a knockout. Develin is aligned in a leverage position. He wants to maintain leverage on the play side shoulder of the defensive tackle.

Tom Brady hands the ball off direct to James White and you have a nice gain. If executed properly the only player that could have made this play would’ve been the strong (#48) or free (#24) safety. Those guys don’t usually like to mix it up with a back coming downhill fast!

The beauty of this play is that you can run it out of all kinds of personnel groupings and do it with a tight end, bigger wide receiver and of course a fullback.

The Patriots also have successfully developed a play action pass game out of this scheme. Good luck with that defenses!