The New England Patriots ran 242 offensive plays during their 2016 playoff run. The unit was on the field for 69 snaps against the Houston Texans in the divisional round, for 74 against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC title game, and for a season-high 99 in the Super Bowl against the Atlanta Falcons.
Of those 242 plays, nine were nullified by penalty, leaving 233 to look at when outlining the team’s favorite personnel packages. And there have been a lot, as New England used 39 different variations during the postseason.
With the quarterback – Tom Brady – and the offensive line – from left to right Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon – staying set at all times, the lone changes in the line-up were made at the skill positions. Let’s take a look at them:
James White, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola
This 10-personnel package is tied for the most popular lineup used by the Patriots offense during the playoffs. Overall, the team ran 30 plays out of this formation, 29 of which were passes for an average gain of 6.6 yards.
While the lone rushing attempt did not gain any yardage, the team was still able to earn 12 first downs on the 30 times the package was used. Furthermore, the Patriots scored two touchdowns and the game-tying two-point attempt in the Super Bowl out of this formation.
James White, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Julian Edelman, Martellus Bennett
What stands out when looking at this package, tied for the most-used, is that rookie wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell has been part of it as well. This reflects how the coaching staff views the 23-year old and how well he has integrated himself into the offense.
Overall, this 11-personnel package has seen a more varied use than the one above. Of the 30 snaps played out of it, "only" 22 were passes for an average gain of 6.0 yards. The remaining eight rushing attempts gained 5.4 yards out of this formation.
James White, Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Martellus Bennett
The Patriots used this variation of an 11-personnel package 29 times. Once again, it was a pass-heavy formation with only one run being called. This lone rushing attempt, however, was a highly successful one: James White’s second touchdown in the Super Bowl. The 28 pass plays called out of this personnel group gained an average of 7.3 yards and two more scores.
LeGarrette Blount, James Develin, Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman, Martellus Bennett
The most-used personnel group not featuring James White at running back was one of New England’s heavier packages: LeGarrette Blount as the running back behind James Develin, with two wide receivers and one tight end. While the personnel leads to believe that this formation is predominately used as a rushing-set, the Patriots actually called more passes with it on the field.
Of the 21 times this group of players aligned, 12 pass plays were called as opposed to nine runs. When looking at the average gains, this does not come as a surprise. After all, the run gained only 1.0 yard on average out of this formation. For comparison, the Patriots gained an average of 13.0 yards – highest among personnel groups used regularly – when passing out of this personnel group.
Dion Lewis, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Julian Edelman, Martellus Bennett
Interestingly, the most-used package with a run-pass ratio favoring the ground game did not feature Blount as the runner. Instead, Dion Lewis was a part of it. This 11-personnel group was on the field for eight rushes for an average gain of 3.0 yards. Only six times a pass was thrown out of this personnel alignment, for 8.0 yards of average ground gained.
The Patriots like to throw multiple offensive looks at an opposing defense – and the 2016 playoffs were no different. What stands out is not only the heavy usage of James White as the lone running back or that Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan were the clear-cut top two wide receivers, but that the team regularly used rookie Malcolm Mitchell as a member of its top personnel groups. Given New England’s track record of developing wide receivers, this is encouraging to see.