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Patriots Take 2: The post-Gronkowski game plan

Posted by Erik Frenz  December 11, 2013 07:00 AM

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Some thoughts on what jumped out looking back at the film of the Patriots' 27-26 win over the Browns this past Sunday.

Looking ahead to the Patriots offense without Rob Gronkowski

There will be a wide range of opinions on what the Patriots should do without Rob Gronkowski in the lineup, but we might be able to get a better idea just by taking a look at what they did when he went down.

Here is the snap summary for the skill position offensive players in the 36 plays after Gronkowski's departure (not including a spike).

offense.pngJulian Edelman: 36 of 36
Danny Amendola: 34 of 36
Josh Boyce: 31 of 36
Shane Vereen: 24 of 36
Matthew Mulligan: 23 of 36
Austin Collie: 13 of 36
LeGarrette Blount: 7 of 36
James Develin: 7 of 36
Stevan Ridley: 5 of 36

Some of the numbers may be skewed a little because of the score -- the Patriots were playing from behind the entire time. A majority of the Patriots' snaps in 10 personnel were on the second-to-last drive, with the Patriots adding extra speed to their offense to help them move the ball quickly downfield.

Mulligan should continue to get extra reps, especially since top backup Michael Hoomanawanui is still on the mend.

Most likely, the offense will dink and dunk its way to touchdowns now that Gronkowski is out -- only five of Brady's 52 pass attempts traveled 20 yards or more down the field. That has always been the strength of the Patriots offense, but it's also been part of the reason why good defenses have been able to limit them in the playoffs.

That quick-hitting pass attack will most likely feature a heavy dose of Shane Vereen, who set a team record for running backs, with 12 receptions for 153 yards.

vereen short pass.png

Vereen (34) started off lined up in the backfield on this play, but split out wide, as he did several times on the day. He ran a modified curl route on the perimeter, but look at the other routes -- a seven-yard out by Amendola, a five-yard out by Collie. The majority of the routes here are short and on the outside.

It will be interesting to see how the Patriots manufacture production over the middle of the field, where Gronkowski has dominated for so long.

Vereen could also help contribute to the explosive passing game, as seen on his 50-yard reception in the third quarter.

vereen deep 1.png

With Vereen matched up on a linebacker, Brady knew where he was going with the ball the moment the Patriots broke the huddle. Vereen motioned out of the backfield, splitting out wide and running a go-route straight down the field.

vereen deep 4.png

Whether the linebacker thought Vereen was going to stem his route short or he was just a victim of a lack of speed, the only thing he could do was watch as Vereen burned past him and tracked the ball in flight, before reeling it in over his shoulder like a true wide receiver.

The return of Aaron Dobson (14.1 YPR) and Kenbrell Thompkins (14.6 YPR) could bode well for the vertical passing game, but the Patriots had a hard time hitting those big plays on the outside earlier in the season, and without Gronkowski, the Patriots lack the explosive threat over the middle.

Jamie Collins earning bigger role, flexing versatility muscles

Nothing was handed to Jamie Collins this year; despite being the team's top draft choice, he's had to earn it all. Against the Browns, he earned 55 snaps, his highest of the season by far and more snaps than the past four games combined.

He's earned that playing time by playing well against both the run and pass, but his best tape against the Browns came in run defense.

collins TFL.png

One thing that jumped out at me was his patience in run defense. It doesn't seem too long ago that Collins (91) looked like a dog chasing cars; now, he's staying in his lane and waiting for the play to come to him.

On this run with 8:08 left in the third quarter, the Browns wanted to run straight at Collins.

collins tackle for loss 2.png

Some credit goes to the defensive line for soaking up the blockers, but Collins was able to read the running back and made his break outside the tackle right when the back did.

collins PBU.png

Collins also made a nice play in pass coverage, when he batted a pass that was intended for wide receiver Josh Gordon (12) on a slant route.

It was the culmination of his improved discipline and his freakish athleticism -- he set a record at the 2013 NFL combine with a 41.5-inch vertical. Some of those ups were on display here.

It wasn't all positive for Collins, however.

campbell TD 2.png

He was caught out of position on the Browns' final touchdown, when he was peeking into the backfield on the play-action fake. In his effort to find the running back, he lost his man.

campbell TD.png

Tight end Jordan Cameron (84) ran right past him and completely unaccounted for in the end zone.

This could happen to anyone, but is just another lesson for Collins as he builds on a strong start to his career.

Patriots find success and stick to the script

Pointed out in last week's film review that the Patriots had used the exact same play against the Texans two years in a row down near the end zone, and we saw the Patriots stick to the script against the Browns, as well.

edelman 2pt 3.png

Above is a picture of Edelman's reception on the two-point conversion in the third quarter.

edelman TD 2.png

Above is a picture of Edelman's touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. Notice anything? Edelman and Amendola run the same route combination on both plays; Amendola comes in motion to a "bunch" formation before the snap, putting the cornerbacks in a bind as to who they'll cover.

The first time, they tried to switch spots during the play to stick with their assignment; the second time, they stuck with their man. Both times, they gave up the reception to Edelman on the slant in the middle of the end zone.

On the first play, they came to the line in the formation; on the second play, they came out with everyone split out wide and Brady under center before the veteran backed up into the shotgun and motioned first Vereen into the backfield, then Amendola to the slot.

Once the Patriots have found something that works, they're not afraid to go back to it until their opponent finds a way to stop it.

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About the author

Erik Frenz delivers analysis of the biggest news with the Patriots, including insight into the AFC East and New England's biggest rivals from a Patriots perspective. Erik is an interactive writer who engages his audience in his posts’ comments sections and on Twitter. Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions. More »


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