Hey guys. I'm an editor over at the Redskins site, Hogs Haven. I did a post on our tight end situation by studying the Patriots two stud tight ends. I just thought I'd post this here as a fan post, cause you guys might enjoy.
The New England Patriots have agreed to a six-year, $54million extension with Rob Gronkowski, potentially making him the highest paid tight end in the history of the National Football League. Is he worth it? You can bet your house and life savings on it. You can point to the obvious stats, which show he caught 17 touchdown passes last year, a league record for a tight end, or the record number of yards he put up (1,327 to be precise). But it's not just those stats, its the way that he, along with fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez have revolutionised the tight end position and the Patriots offense.
Going back to the near unbeaten season, the Patriots effectively ran a pro-style spread offense. Randy Moss was the deep threat on the outside to keep teams honest, while Wes Welker worked his magic underneath. Then as Moss started to decline teams no longer had to worry about the deep threat and became more aggressive on the blitz. Hell, Rex Ryan built his Jets defense (generally speaking) on leaving Derrelle Revis to take away one receiver, and then sending all sorts of pressure at Brady. That worked for a period of time, then the Patriots drafted Hernandez and Gronkowski. These two players have given the Patriots incredible flexibility and unpredictability on offense, allowing them to put together new concepts for defenses to deal with.
Gronkowski's 6'6", 265lbs frame along with his outstanding blocking and receiving ability make him the envy of all offensive coordinators in the NFL, and a nightmare for every defensive coordinator (and player). He's too athletic for linebackers to keep up with him, and too big for defenisve backs to tackle.
Hernandez, on the other hand, is small in terms of tight ends. But the 6'1", 245lbs man is incredibly shifty, and versatile enough to line up out wide as a receiver, or in his natural position at tight end. He can outrun linebackers and is tough to tackle for corners (although he's a damn sight easier to bring down than Gronkowski).
When these two are on the field together, they create devastating mismatches for defenses, which the Patriots have built upon. I'm about to walk you through one particular concept which I, as a keen study of different style offenses, absolutely adore.
This is the personnel group that causes all the troubles for defenses. It's run with two receivers, two tight ends and a running back and in the west coast offense, is referred to as the 'tiger' formation. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick love to call it with Danny Woodhead as the running back, but motioning out to receiver. When a defense is substituting players and sub-packages onto the field, they see what personnel group the offense is using to best match up with them.
Usually when a defense recognises the tiger personnel group (one running back, two tight ends and two receivers) they are expecting a formation similar to this:
As you can see, that is drastically different from the formation we saw the Patriots use above. Most defenses will use their base personnel group to defend that, no nickel or dime packages which substitute extra defensive backs in the place of linebackers or defensive linemen. So a defense is now forced to choose who to cover with what in a very short space of time. If they are caught off-guard by such a formation, they will more than likely keep their two safeties deep in case of a busted coverage. That means linebackers will have to cover both tight ends and the back. So not only have the offense got the match ups they want with tight ends covered by linebackers, but they've also forced the defense into only rushing a maximum of four players. This is what happened for the Patriots against the Jets in the play above.
The Jets, a Rex Ryan coached team, can only rush four defenders when ideally Ryan would have them sending exotic blitzes with up to seven rushers. The offensive line can give Brady time as there is only four rushers, and Hernandez ends up making the reception after beating the man in coverage.
Lets go back to earlier in that Jets game.
Hernandez lines up in a traditional tight end spot, but the play has a similar outcome.
Ryan is desperate to hit Brady, so he sends a blitz against this personnel group. Hernandez manages to chip one of the blitzers before running into a huge hole in the defense, created by the confusion of the formation and Ryans desire to create a pass-rush.
Brady gets the pass off before any defender has a chance to touch him. Hernandez is in acres of open space and they get the better of the defense again.
More examples of this concept came in the Patriots game against the Dallas Cowboys.
Once again we have the two tight ends, Gronkowski and Hernandez lined up as receivers rather than traditional tight ends. The Cowboys attempt to confuse the Patriots with a fake heavy blitz look.
They drop a defensive lineman into zone coverage to try and surprise Brady. But Gronkowski and Hernandez remain open, and the offensive line only has three pass-rushers to deal with. With a defensive lineman and linebacker in coverage, Hernandez once again makes the play and picks up a couple extra yards after the catch.
The Patriots come back again with this concept the very next play.
This time the Cowboys decide to deal with it in a more conventional way.
They only rush three guys again, which is easy enough for the offensive line to deal with. Then it's all about the match up. I mentioned how Hernandez speed and ability as a receiving tight end helps him beat linebackers, which is exactly the case here. He's match up one on one with the Cowboys inside linebacker.
He cuts inside past the linebacker in coverage, and is an easy wide open completion across the middle for any quarterback, let alone Tom Brady.
The genius of this concept is that it gets the desired match ups for the Patriots, while limiting the pass-rush of the defense and protect Brady. The best part is, that is just one of the many concepts the Patriots have drawn up to get the most out of this tight end pairing. So this begs the question, how long is it before the Patriots lock down Aaron Hernandez, and could that possibly be a higher priority than Wes Welker?