By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Patriots have a new quarterback, and a very different one at that. So that means a whole new look for the Patriots offense in Week 1 against the Dolphins, moving the ball and accumulated their stats in a much different way than we’re used to seeing.
It’s clear that, at least in the early going, the run game will be paramount. Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels are taking full advantage of Cam Newton’s ability as a runner, while focusing on efficiency and ball security when dropping back to pass. In front of him, the offensive personnel was heavier than we ever saw in 2019 with Tom Brady, with an increased use of extra tackles as jumbo blocking tight ends.
“We always try to do what’s best for the team to win,” said Belichick during his Monday conference call. “Everything we’ve done for the last 20 years, and rightfully so, has been for Tom Brady. It was for Tom Brady. Everything was dedicated to him, other than the games that he didn’t play in, like when [Matt] Cassel played or Jimmy [Garoppolo] and then Jacoby [Brissett] when Brady was suspended. So, there were times when we had to plan differently, but when your starting quarterback has things that he’s good at or things that you can take advantage of, then I think you try to take advantage of them.”
Quickly, for the uninitiated: offensive personnel is denoted by a digit for the number of running backs and a digit for the number of tight ends. So one running back and one tight end would be “11” personnel. Click here for a more detailed explanation. If you’ve got it down, read on because this should be fun for football nerds.
On top of the heavy running personnel, the Patriots even ran more than they passed in three-wide receiver sets. Although 11 personnel remained their favorite grouping, the Patriots were inclined to lean on the ground & pound, regardless of who was on the field.
Here’s a more in-depth look at how the Patriots deployed their new-look offensive personnel against the Dolphins.
Unsurprisingly, McDaniels ran three-receiver sets early and often. The difference is rather than picking the Dolphins apart with the pass like Tom Brady used to do, they mixed it up and ran more than usual.
11 personnel: 29 snaps (46.0 percent)
21 personnel: 20 snaps (31.7 percent)
12 personnel: 9 snaps (14.3 percent)
14 personnel: 2 snaps (3.2 percent)
22 personnel: 1 snap (1.6 percent)
23 personnel: 1 snap (1.6 percent)
10 personnel: 1 snap (1.6 percent)
In 21 personnel (2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR), they mainly used one runner and fullback Jakob Johnson as a lead blocker. Johnson played 18 snaps, 16 of which were in “21.”
The “14” is not a typo. The Patriots ran two plays with a fullback, two tight ends, and two extra offensive linemen as eligible tight ends – in this case, two rookies: fifth-round pick Michael Onwenu and sixth-rounder Justin Herron. Onwenu checked in for seven snaps as an extra blocker, in four different personnel packages.
Their preferred three-receiver set was Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, and Damiere Byrd. However, in two-receiver sets (21 and 12 personnel), they used Harry and Byrd on 23 out of 29 snaps. Belichick appeared to prefer to lighten Edelman’s workload as a blocker.
Running & Passing
The most notable percentage here is in 11 personnel: even with three receivers on the field, the Patriots ran more than they passed. Cam Newton ran the ball himself on nine of 17 run plays out of “11.” James White and Rex Burkhead got four and three carries, respectively. Edelman ran a 23-yard jet sweep in one of the key plays of the game out of “11,” as well.
11 personnel: 58.6 percent run (17-of-29)
21 personnel: 70 percent run (14-of-20)
12 personnel: 66.7 percent run (6-of-9)
14 personnel: 100 percent run (2-of-2)
22 personnel: 100 percent run (1-of-1)
23 personnel: 100 percent run (1-of-1)
10 personnel: 100 percent pass (1-of-1)
It’s no surprise that the Patriots ran more than they passed in 21 personnel and 12 personnel. But as McDaniels is wont to do, they tried to mix in some throws out of those heavier packages as well. Both true tight ends on the roster, Ryan Izzo and rookie Devin Asiasi, played six of nine snaps in “12,” with an even 3/3 split running and passing. The Patriots appear to be aiming for unpredictability out of that grouping.
Out of six passing plays in 21 personnel, three used Sony Michel and Jakob Johnson in the backfield and the other three used White and Burkhead. More unpredictability.
The only question with the Patriots’ offensive personnel is what they do when they have to play from behind. Playing most of the game with a lead and controlling the clock, the Pats were able to utilize their run game in a variety of ways. But when they needed a play through the air, they still seemed to lean toward 11 personnel. Here’s how their nine drives broke down, by grouping:
The Patriots’ fifth drive, the last before halftime, showed that they still prefer throwing the ball out of 11 personnel. Their preferred grouping was Rex Burkhead, Ryan Izzo, Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, and Damiere Byrd, which they used on four of five snaps. James White played the first snap and made a nine-yard catch-and-run, but came off the field as he appeared to get shaken up.
Newton went 2-for-3 through the air on that drive, with the lone incompletion getting batted down at the line of scrimmage. Rex Burkhead ran the ball in an attempt to position it for Nick Folk’s field goal attempt.
The Patriots also favored 11 personnel on the closest thing to a “gotta have it” drive, their first of the fourth quarter that resulted in a touchdown to re-extend their lead. But this is where McDaniels busted out 14 personnel, plopping two extra linemen on top of two tight ends and a fullback on fourth-and-inches. Newton took the ball and got the blocking he needed, easily picking up the first down and nearly scoring on the play.
It will be interesting to see how much of the new-look run-heavy attack is deployed in Seattle against the Seahawks. The Patriots defense is facing a much more explosive passing attack against Russell Wilson, so there’s a chance that the Pats have to play from behind or keep up with that offense through the air. If they can score first and control time of possession, perhaps we see more of the same.
For now, Belichick and McDaniels are playing to Newton’s strengths and they’re off to a pretty good start.
Click here to read all Package Report articles from 2019.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff or send him a nasty email at firstname.lastname@example.org.