Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots have always been known to think outside the box when it comes to game-planning, and it seems this year they’re already toying with a new idea that could wreak havoc on defenses.
According to Providence Journal’s Brian MacPherson, the Patriots are experimenting more with four-tight-end formations on offense, and it could become part of their regular schemes this season.
The Patriots ran this kind of lineup twice in their season opener against the Steelers and scored touchdowns on both occasions. One went to Rob Gronkowski, who finished with two touchdowns on the night, and the other went to tight end Scott Chandler.
The formations, featuring Gronkowski, Chandler, Michael Hoomanawanui, and Michael Williams, give the Patriots a giant size advantage on opponents, particularly in the secondary. Hoomanawanui is the smallest of the four tight ends at 6-foot-4, 265 pounds. The Patriots could send out three giant wide receivers and a blocker, one giant receiver and three blockers, or any other combination.
Here’s the play that got Chandler his touchdown, in which the Patriots lined up three tight ends wide and left Williams as a blocker:
- Via NFL.com
This is where the set can be effective, particularly because Gronkowski is a force of nature. Gronk draws two defenders as he cuts across Chandler, leaving Chandler open for a brief window of time.
On the other side, Hoomanawanui doesn’t get open, but given his size, could have been a target if Brady opted to loft it up. Williams also does a solid job protecting Brady on the right side:
- Via NFL.com
Other times, like on Gronkowski’s second touchdown, the Patriots used three tight ends for blockers while lining up Gronkowski wide. While it resulted in an easy touchdown, the Steelers’ sloppy coverage didn’t help matters:
- Via NFL.com
While Belichick downplayed the significance of the formation to MacPherson, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said they like the versatility these formations bring:
“Those guys all have a role in this offense, and they all do different things. We’re happy that we get production from those guys in different ways, whether it be in the run game, protections or receiving, and we’ll try to go forward and find things that they can do to be productive this week.”
This may not be as clever as the Patriots’ banned formation from the playoffs last year, but this is definitely thinking outside the box. Given the success of the four-tight-end formation in Week 1, plus Gronkowski’s dominance, this could become a nightmare for defenses. It’ll be interesting to see how often the Patriots got back to it in Week 2.