Earlier in the offseason we took a look at the New England Patriots personnel usage on defense. We found that the Patriots used just two linebackers 75% of the time, that the secondary featured five or more players on 83.5% of snaps, and that the defense was far better with defensive tackle Malcom Brown on the field.
We're going to turn our focus to the offensive side of the ball and the biggest change this offseason has to be the addition of tight end Martellus Bennett from the Chicago Bears. Bennett is one of the most dynamic receiving tight ends in the league, but he's also an above average blocker.
Bennett joins All Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski to give the Patriots the best tight end duo, probably in the history of the sport. The 2011 Patriots with Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez remain the only season in NFL history where one team featured two 900+ yard tight ends, and we can check the tape to see how Bennett could be deployed as a receiver.
But where Bennett could help the Patriots the most is just in his presence.
Last season, the Patriots paired Gronkowski with the likes of Scott Chandler and Michael Williams. Chandler was a weak blocker, so teams new that the Patriots were going to pass the ball. Williams was such a non-threat as a receiver that teams would decide not to even cover him, and he acted as an effective 6th offensive lineman on the field.
When Williams was the only tight end on the field, the Patriots ran the ball 70% of the time, versus 79% passing plays when any other tight end was the only one on the field. When Williams was paired with another tight end, the Patriots ran 52% of the time; the Patriots passed the ball 72% of the time out of two tight end sets without Williams on the field.
In other words, the presence of Williams generally telegraphed that a rushing play was more likely on its way.
On the other side, when Chandler was the only tight end on the field, the Patriots passed 88% of the time, which is a 58% greater chance of passing the ball than with Williams on the field.
The Patriots, in general, are going to pass the ball on roughly 60% of snaps, so using Chandler or Williams as the second tight end on the field telegraphs pass or run nearly as much as when the Patriots put Dion Lewis or LeGarrette Blount in the backfield (the Patriots passed on 78% of plays with Lewis, and ran on 63% of plays with Blount).
The same desire for a tight end that can block and catch is mirrored in the team's possible desire in drafting a running back that is a better receiver than Blount. Bennett might not be a 6th offensive tackle, like Williams, but at least he will force opposing defenses to guess the Patriots play. The New England is always at its most dangerous when it can change from running the ball to passing, all while keeping the same personnel on the field.