Somehow, the New England Patriots were able to beat the Arizona Cardinals. It wasn’t pretty, but there are no moral victories in the NFL.

New England was outgained by over 120 yards, lost the turnover battle, had less than 100 passing yards and were penalized 6 times. In the closing moments, however, Arizona missed a field goal and New England was able to get into range for a Nick Folk game-winner.

The Patriots offense finished with less than 200 total yards, 110 of which came on the ground. Cam Newton averaged a healthy 5.1 yards per rush on 9 carries, as New England made an effort to emphasize his power as a ball carrier. They debuted a new formation and old-school play that helped kick-start the offense during certain struggles: Quarterback Iso. 

“Iso” is short for isolation, which refers to a running back meeting a linebacker for a block. For the Patriots, they ran this play out of the same formation all three times it was called. The formation was a shotgun backfield with fullback Jakob Johnson to the right of Newton, a wide receiver to either side, a tight end to the right and the slot receiver to the left.

Here’s how “Iso” works:

The offensive line and tight end usually perform man blocking, which means they’ll “fan” block the defensive lineman who is outside of them. Occasionally, the offensive lineman will need to perform a “combination” block. Combination blocks involve two offensive lineman blocking one defensive lineman, until one eventually falls off the block to take on the linebacker.

The combination blocks are how offensive lineman account for a linebacker that scrapes laterally towards the play, rather than stay in their gap.

The fullback will perform the isolation block on the play-side linebacker, which usually involves a bone-jarring collision. The quarterback wants to follow the fullback through the hole. As long as each block is performed well, the quarterback ends up meeting one of the safeties after a reasonable gain.

Here are the X’s and O’s plus the film of Quarterback Iso.

New England decided that getting Cam Newton involved in this fashion was the best way to use his skill-set and help out the offensive line that was missing franchise left tackle Isaiah Wynn. Running the quarterback is a way for the offensive line to add a blocker into the scheme, which usually means “even” numbers in the box against 1-high safeties (if there are 7 defenders, the offense has 7 blockers).

Defenses want to slow down the Patriots running game, so the offense has been facing more defenses with 1-high safety rather than two. This scheme is a great way for the Patriots to respond to facing an extra player in the box. On top of that, it gets the size and speed beast Cam Newton running downhill towards smaller defenders. 

Sunday’s win was key for keeping the Patriots in the playoff hunt, and the Quarterback Iso play helped New England get in position to score the go-ahead second-half touchdown. Look for offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to continue utilizing similar schemes as an answer to defenses selling out to stop the Patriots running game.

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