Now that Odell Beckham Jr. has a new NFL residence in Los Angeles and his jersey likely hangs on the discount racks in Cleveland, the Patriots won’t have to account for a “13” on the field in Sunday’s encounter with the Browns.
But they’ll still have to defend against his old number. Thirteen. As in, one back and three tight ends. It’s a personnel grouping the Browns employ far more frequently than anyone else, using it on a fifth of their offensive plays (21%), according to Sharp Football Stats.
More important than the sheer frequency of Cleveland’s three-tight-end usage is its flexibility.
On its own, as Bill Belichick reminded recently, a tight end can help create formation versatility more than any other position. Putting three of them out there at the same time, whether stacked side-by-side to form an unbalanced front to run behind or detached as very eligible receivers, allows the Browns to manipulate and exploit matchups.
Which, naturally, creates a conundrum for defensive coordinators. Counter with big bodies in your base defense to contain the run, you can suddenly find yourselves trying to cover the pass. Go light with extra defensive backs, you can be sure they’re going to run it right at you.
An excellent look at the Browns’ effectiveness out of 13 packages can be found on the team’s website, compliments of one of its all-time greats, Joe Thomas.