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Josh McDaniels, Tom Brady thriving when using play-action: ‘It’s always a good design and a good idea’ 12.16.14 at 3:11 pm ET
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Tom Brady has had a lot of success when using play action this season. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Tom Brady has had a lot of success when using play action this season. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Sunday’s second half performance against the Dolphins was dominant.

The Patriots outscored the Dolphins 27-0 led by their quarterback Tom Brady, as the signal caller went 13-for-20 with 205 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the second half of the 41-13 win.

Playing a major part in his success was using play-action, which was used on Rob Gronkowski‘s 27-yard touchdown catch to blow the game open following a Patrick Chung interception.

Overall in the game, per Pro Football Focus, Brady was 10-for-12 with 135 yards with a touchdown and an interception when using play-action.

“We definitely used it in the second half maybe a little bit more than we did in the first half,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said on a conference call Wednesday. “I think it’€™s always a part of what you want to be able to do to complement the rest of your offense. You have a chance to run the football and then try to go ahead and use some play-action to complement your run game.

“I think it’€™s always a good design and a good idea, but ultimately the credit and the responsibility lies with the players and the execution, and they did a great job of doing that. The line gave Tom [Brady] an opportunity to play action fake and then get his eyes down the field and find some people open in the defense. We were able to get behind them a few times there in the second half to create some chunk plays for ourselves and some momentum.”

For the season, Brady has been one of the most effective quarterbacks in the league when using play-action. According to Pro Football Focus, Brady is 98-for-143 (68.5 percent) with 1,334 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions.

His 1,334 passing yards are the most in the league, his eight touchdown passes are tied for fifth, his 68.5 completion percentage is seventh and his 108 quarterback rating is eighth. The Patriots run play-action on 27.3 percent of their drop backs, which is fifth in the NFL.

“It’€™s always been a part of what we do,” McDaniels said. “We’€™ve had weeks where we’€™ve been very good at it and other weeks where it’€™s been more limited in terms of what you’€™re able to do, and some of that is determined by how the defense plays you, too. It definitely played a good role in some of our success in the second half, and hopefully we can continue to do that.”

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A look inside Patriots’ goal-to-go situations this season 12.09.14 at 3:45 pm ET
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The Patriots had two goal-to-go situations in Sunday's game against the Chargers and failed to score touchdowns on both. (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

The Patriots had two goal-to-go situations in Sunday’s game against the Chargers and failed to score touchdowns on both. (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Over the last two games, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has received a fair share of criticism for his play calling, particularly for not running the ball in the red zone, especially in Sunday’s game when the Patriots had 1st-and-goal on two occasions and were forced to kick field goals both times, calling only one running play out of the six total plays.

Not scoring a touchdown in two goal-to-go situations is reason to be critiqued when New England has scored touchdowns on 63 percent of its red zone trips this season, seventh in the NFL, but obviously once you get inside the 10-yard line those percentages should increase. Sunday’s game was similar to Week 3 against the Raiders in goal-to-go situations when the Patriots also failed to score a touchdowns on two occasions with goal-to-go.

Contrary to what some may think, this has not been a season-long trend, as the Patriots have maintained balance in goal-to-go situations with success. For the season, the Patriots have had 34 goal-to-go situations and have scored touchdowns on 26 of them (76 percent), and scoring points on all but one (a Brady interception vs. Lions). Of the 26 touchdowns scored, 16 have been through the air and 10 on the ground. Of the 66 total plays ran in goal-to-go situations, McDaniels and the offense have ran 37 passing plays and 29 running plays — pretty balanced all things considered.

“We always go into the game with an idea of what we want to do on the goal line first — short-yardage first, our first third down call, third-and-two-to-five, third-and-whatever the distances are — and we had discussed that prior to the game,” McDaniels said on Tuesday’s conference call when asked about last Sunday’s sequence. “We made our call, and unfortunately it got tipped there at the line of scrimmage. In hindsight, you always do that as a play-caller.

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Florida is closing in on a new head coach and it’s not Josh McDaniels 12.03.14 at 4:37 pm ET
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Patriots fans can stop worrying about whether Josh McDaniels will be distracted by the Florida head coaching job.

A source tells FOX Sports that the Gators are closing in on a deal with Colorado State head coach Jim McElwain to take over for the ousted Will Muschamp starting in 2015. Muschamp went just 10-13 in the last two seasons in Gainesville. Yahoo! Sports first reported that the school and McElwain were closing in on an agreement on Tuesday.

This would be a return to the SEC for the 52-year-old McElwain, who spent four seasons on Nick Saban‘s staff at Alabama as the offensive coordinator. He has spent the past three seasons revitalizing the Rams program, going 4-8 in his first season to 8-6 in 2013 to this year’s 10-2 mark. One of those 10 wins was a 24-21 come-from-behind victory over Boston College on Sept. 27 at Alumni Stadium.

Florida AD Jeremy Foley has publicly listed several requirements for Muschamp’s replacement, saying his next coach had to have high integrity, character and needed to be a fit at Florida. This is the second straight season McDaniels’ name came up in rumors about a head coaching vacancy. Last January, he interviewed with the Cleveland Browns to replace Rob Chudzinski and was considered a leading candidate before turning them down.

Florida was rumored to be interested in speaking with McDaniels but nothing ever materialized.

McElwain’s pro-style offense has led the Rams to eye-opening numbers this season. They are No. 3 in the nation in passing efficiency, No. 7 in passing offense and No. 7 in third down offense. The Gators struggled badly on offense in the Muschamp era, which included quarterback Tyler Murphy in 2013 before he transferred to Boston College this season.

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Josh McDaniels on why the Patriots use so many running backs 12.02.14 at 8:26 pm ET
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Brandon Bolden was the latest running back to be featured in a game, with his first touchdown of the season on Sunday. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Brandon Bolden was the latest Patriots running back to be featured in a game, scoring his first touchdown of the season on Sunday. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

It’s been a revolving door at the running back position over the last several weeks for the Patriots, with seemingly a different player being featured every week.

Shane Vereen, Jonas Gray, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden have all received at least three carries over the last three games, including three of them scoring touchdowns.

Against Indianapolis it was Gray rushing for 201 yards and four touchdowns, against the Lions it was Blount rushing for two touchdowns in his first game back as a Patriot and this past Sunday Bolden scored his first touchdown of the season against the Packers — all while Vereen has continued to be a dependable third-down back out of the backfield.

So, how exactly is it determined who will be the featured back that particular game?

“We have confidence in all of our backs, and they can all do a lot of the things we do in our offense,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said on Wednesday’s conference call. “And then there are some things that we do with them that are a little bit more specific. I think there are so many variables that go into how we use them on a weekly basis — the style, the game plan, the personnel groupings we’€™re using, what we anticipate getting from the defense and the types of things that we choose to do during the course of the game.

“They are all ready to go, and sometimes, we kind of know what their role is heading into the game, and then however the game unfolds and the way we’€™re being played and what we choose to do as the game goes on sometimes will certainly impact who ends up playing in different situations or who plays more or what have you. They’€™re all ready to go. We have a lot of confidence in all of them, and we would anticipate all of them playing that go to the game.”

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Josh McDaniels doesn’t ‘have any idea’ about University of Florida coaching rumor at 3:54 pm ET
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Earlier this week, it was reported Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was a “viable candidate” for the University of Florida head coaching job and the school was “vetting” him. McDaniels was asked of the rumor on Wednesday’s conference call.

The offensive coordinator didn’t have much to add to the report, saying his focus is on the Chargers.

“I really honestly don’t have any idea about that rumor,” said McDaniels. “I mean I heard it, but I have nothing to add to it. My focus is solely on the Chargers and getting our team ready to go this week on offense and trying to do the best thing I can. It’s a time of year that this happens quite a bit and I’ve been through it before. Keep your focus where it belongs, which is on your next opponent. We have plenty to work on and get prepared for because this is a really good defense we’re facing.”

Last January prior to the postseason, McDaniels was a candidate for the Cleveland Browns job, but he eventually withdrew his name from consideration. His only other college coaching experience was a graduate assistant at Michigan State from 1999-2000.

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Report: Josh McDaniels in mix for Florida coaching job 12.01.14 at 12:27 pm ET
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Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is being considered as a possible candidate for the head coaching position at the University of Florida, according to

Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley reportedly considers McDaniels a “viable candidate” for the position, and is part of a group of possibles names that have been connected with to the job, including Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze and Colorado State head coach Jim McElwain.

The Florida job opened up after it was announced late last month that Gators coach Will Muschamp would not be returning for the 2015 season. McDaniels has spent the bulk of his coaching career in New England, but worked as the Broncos head coach for nearly two years before being fired late in the 2010 season.

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Josh McDaniels says Patriots’ ‘two-dimensional’ approach makes Tom Brady ‘excellent’ on 3rd down, red zone 11.18.14 at 4:17 pm ET
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Tom Brady stepped up his game in the second half of Sunday's win over the Colts. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Tom Brady stepped up his game in the second half of Sunday’s win over the Colts. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The Patriots may have found the true key to maintaining success down the stretch, at least offensively.

The Patriots scored touchdowns in all five chances Sunday night in the red zone. The key, according to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, was the genuine threat of either a pass or run.

As a matter of fact, the first five touchdowns the Patriots scored were the result of red zone execution. Instead of settling for field goals, which Tom Brady had mentioned in previous weeks as a problem, the Patriots were able to run it into the end zone four times behind the power attack of Jonas Gray.

Brady also converted a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tim Wright to cap an 80-yard drive that opened the second half scoring.

“In order to be good in the red zone, I think you have to maintain the ability to be balanced, two-dimensional down there,” McDaniels said in a conference call Tuesday. “If you ever get into the red zone and become all pass or all run, then generally a defense kind of either packs it in in the running game or tries to double cover certain people in the passing game, and there is obviously less space to throw it in, and there are usually more people near the line of scrimmage the lower you get in the red zone [and] the closer you get to the goal line.

“I thought that we were effective running the ball in the red zone the other night. A lot of people did a lot of good things. It’€™s tough when you get down there because there is not a lot of space, like I said, and you’€™ve got to get either receivers in there blocking tight, or your backs are going to have to break a tackle or run through an extra defender some times, and I thought that Jonas did a good job of doing that. We were fortunate to be able to run the ball in I believe four times the other night. Running the ball is not an easy thing, but I think the guys did a good job of trying to get a hat on those guys, and like I said, Jonas ran well.”

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