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New England Patriots

Sep 12, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots tight end Jonnu Smith (81) is tackled by Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Jerome Baker (55) during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots have a new-look offense, and one that will be deployed much differently than what we’ve seen in the past few seasons.

For the first time in years, the Pats appear poised to run a base offense with two tight ends on the field, due to the signings of Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry in the offseason. They both ran and passed the ball with their prized tight ends on the field together, while Smith and Henry combined for eight catches and 73 yards through the air.

Josh McDaniels still likes to run three-receiver sets, particularly on third down and in no-huddle situations, as do most NFL coaches. But it’s clear that the two-tight end attack is back.

Here’s a breakdown of the Patriots’ offensive personnel and how it was used against the Dolphins…

  • Snap Counts

    Sep 12, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Jakobi Meyers (16) runs with the ball against the Miami Dolphins during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    Sep 12, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Jakobi Meyers (16) runs with the ball against the Miami Dolphins during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    Here are the final offensive snaps for the Patriots’ skill players, excluding plays that resulted in penalties, based on 69 snaps…

    Jakobi Meyers: 68
    Nelson Agholor: 58
    Hunter Henry: 52
    Jonnu Smith: 50
    Damien Harris: 37
    Kendrick Bourne: 29
    James White: 26
    Gunner Olszewski: 11
    Jakob Johnson: 7
    Rhamondre Stevenson: 4
    Brandon Bolden: 3
    Yasir Durant: 1

    Meyers played all but one play. Olszewski started coming into the game more in the second half in place of Agholor, who led the team with 72 receiving yards and a touchdown on five receptions. Meyers and James White tied for the team league in catches with six each.

    Tackle Yasir Durant checked in as an extra “Jumbo” tight end for one play. Rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson was the lead back on the second drive of the game. But after fumbling the ball away on that drive, Stevenson checked in for only one play the rest of the game, and got blown up in pass protection on a play that resulted in a roughing the passer flag.

    Harris carried the ball 23 times and was targeted three times in his 37 snaps, the last of which was his costly fumble late in the fourth quarter.

  • Personnel Packages

    Sep 12, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots tight end Hunter Henry (85) rushes against Miami Dolphins safety Brandon Jones (29) during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    Sep 12, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots tight end Hunter Henry (85) rushes against Miami Dolphins safety Brandon Jones (29) during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    As alluded to earlier, “12” personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers) is the new bread & butter of the Patriots offense. Considering the talent and versatility of Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, putting them both on the field leads to their best possible combination of weapons.

    Here’s a breakdown of how the Patriots used their personnel groupings. Reminder: the first digit is the number of running backs, and the second is the number of tight ends.

    12 personnel: 34 snaps
    11 personnel: 26 snaps
    21 personnel: 6 snaps
    23 personnel: 1 snap
    10 personnel: 2 snaps

    Smith’s versatility will allow the Patriots to draw up passing game concepts that function more like a three-receiver set. Henry mainly lined up at the traditional in-line position, and got open down the seam on a few occasions, but Jones didn’t take advantage as much as he could. Smith, meanwhile, lined up both inside and outside. He also took a handoff for a jet sweep on the Patriots’ third offensive play of the game.

    We got an answer to question of who would be the lone tight end in “11” personnel: it would be fairly evenly split. Henry was the tight end in “11” on 15 snaps, to 11 snaps for Smith.

  • Running and Passing

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 12: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots looks to hand the ball off to Damien Harris #37 during the first half against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – SEPTEMBER 12: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots looks to hand the ball off to Damien Harris #37 during the first half against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    Here’s how the Patriots divvied up the runs and passes in their principal offensive groupings:

    12 personnel: 61.8 percent running (21 runs, 13 passes)
    11 personnel: 76.9 percent passing (20 passes, six runs)

    The Patriots’ split of the play-calling in “12” personnel reflects what they generally want to do with their two-tight end looks: be unpredictable and multiple. They can be expected to run it a lot, if only to preserve their rookie quarterback from taking too much of a beating. But it’s likely to be an ongoing challenge for opposing defenses to decipher where the ball’s going, especially with a player like Smith going in motion and lining up all over the field.

  • Third Down

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 12: James White #28 of the New England Patriots makes a catch past the reach of Jerome Baker #55 of the Miami Dolphins during the second half at Gillette Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – SEPTEMBER 12: James White #28 of the New England Patriots makes a catch past the reach of Jerome Baker #55 of the Miami Dolphins during the second half at Gillette Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    The Patriots went 11-for-16 overall on third down, a solid rate. They employed “11” personnel (one RB, one TE, three WRs) on 10 of those plays. Here’s the complete breakdown of third-down personnel packages…

    11 personnel: 10 snaps
    12 personnel: 5 snaps
    23 personnel: 1 snap

    The offense was very good on third down in “11” personnel, going 7-for-10 overall. Five of those conversions came on passing plays. They went 3-for-5 on third down in “12” personnel.

    The Pats ran one play in “23” personnel (two RBs, three TEs) with tackle Yasir Durant as an extra eligible tight end. Facing third-and-1, Harris picked up the yard to keep the drive alive, and it resulted in a field goal.