Mike Reiss did a good job of laying out the projected starting players today, but I wanted to take it a step further and really dive into how diverse and deadly the Patriots’ offense can be this year.
If you thought they could play any kind of game last year, well this year it looks even easier to dictate matchups and attack weaknesses. They should also be able to mitigate injury risk, meaning on any given Sunday any given Patriots weapon could go off. Bad for fantasy football, but good for real football (which is all I really care about anyway tbh)
Let’s lay out just a few of the personnel packages they could roll out and they kind of issues they could cause for a defense.
11 Personnel (One RB/One TE/Three WRs)
This was the favorite package down the stretch in 2016, partially due to Rob Gronkowski‘s absence, but with the depth at wide receiver it’s seems like this will again be a go-to in 2017, even with Gronk back and Dwayne Allen now in the mix. At running back, Dion Lewis might be the best bet here because he’s a good run/pass threat, though really James White, Rex Burkhead or Mike Gillislee would all work. With five wide receivers who can all play, there are plenty of options here, but it’s a good bet that Brandin Cooks is going to take over the heavy snap load that Chris Hogan had last year. With Cooks and Hogan on the field together you’ve got two outside field stretchers which should open up space underneath for Gronkowski and Julian Edelman. And let’s not forget Gronk led the league in yards-per-catch before he went down, so the Pats can threaten the seam and edges of the field as well. Better yet, the two deep threats could force more two and three high-safety coverage which equals light boxes for Lewis to dance around. This is a balanced set that won’t be heavy on power, but one that they won’t hesitate to run out of.
12 Personnel (One RB/Two TE/Two WRs)
Old faithful would feature Gronkowski and Allen as the tight ends who provide a little more run potential, so here we’re going with Gillislee as the main back. Cooks and Edelman would seem like the top receiver choices, but again, Hogan and Mitchell would easily fit in as well. But imagine Hogan and Cooks on the outside and how that will stress the back end of the defense pre-snap. The more the Patriots can use those two to lighten the box, the more they’re going to run some smashmouth football.
21 Personnel (Two RB/One TE/Two WRs)
Speaking of smashmouth, here comes James Develin leading the way for Burkhead. Despite the appearance of this being a run-only set, the Patriots will not hesitate to pass out of it either, sending Develin out in motion. Burkhead and Lewis are good choices because they’re both balanced, but as I get broken record-y, all would fit. What appears like a power run initially out of the huddle could quickly become an effective spread offense, no matter who the receivers are.
22 Personnel (Two RB/Two TE/One WR)
This package is even more run-centric on the surface, with Develin and both tight ends on the field, but again, appearances can be deceiving. This is where the diversity of the running backs and Rob Gronkowski are just so hard to account for. Throw Cooks out there and defenses will still have to account for his speed on the back end. Stacking the box will be pretty much impossible for Patriots’ opponents. Defenses would stay in base personnel (4 DBs) against 22 personnel usually, but here that comes with an element of risk.
10 Personnel (One Running Back/Four Wide Receivers)
Taking Rob Gronkowski off the field is never ideal, but the Pats have enough threats and depth that perhaps they can preserve him a bit with packages like this. This has James White written all over it, with Cooks-Hogan-Edelman-Mitchell (or Amendola wherever) stretching the cornerback depth of a defense like never before. At best a defense is looking at their third and fourth defensive backs on Hogan and Mitchell, which is mismatch city. This is a Madden-style package with so much speed, quickness and reliability that it very well could actually look like a video game.
All of this is fluid and I’m sure you can all see how easily you can swap in Amendola or Lewis or anyone else into the mix, bringing new twists and problems for defenses. Unfortunately injuries and surprise roster subtractions could alter the numerous possibilities a bit, but not enough to stop this from being an amoeba offense that can win pre-snap every time.
Josh McDaniels must be going out of his mind with all possibilities. I’m sure he’s crafting plenty of new concepts to maximize the incredible potential this offense is just dripping with.