Chasing Continuity: Tracking Patriots Personnel Following Rob Gronkowski’s Week 14 Injury

Rob Gronkowski’s departure from Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns left the Patriots offense searching for answers. (NFL Game Rewind)

NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas

The New England Patriots are chasing continuity. But in a sport predicated on speed, power and physicality, continuity is elusive. From one game to the next, teams battle against attrition.

And attrition is undefeated.

Versus the Cleveland Browns in Week 14, that sentiment was illustrated once again. The Patriots offense, already without right tackles Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon, backup tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, as well as wide receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, found itself without two-time All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski.

With 8:32 left to play in the third quarter, Gronkowski caught a 21-yard pass from quarterback Tom Brady before his right leg caught the shoulder of Browns safety T.J. Ward. The towering, 6’6”, 265-pound target was taken to the hospital, and on Monday, New England’s worst fears were confirmed.

Gronkowski’s 2013 season was over after just seven games, and in turn, his health for 2014 was cast in a shadow of doubt. He had torn his ACL and MCL.

But on Dec. 8, the Patriots didn’t have time to process the future. All the Patriots could do was respond over the remaining 18 minutes – without Gronkowski’s 39 catches, 592 yards and four touchdowns, his unremitting double- teams, and his blocking prowess.

Head coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the undermanned offensive personnel did respond. And by using a similar procedure, New England surged to defeat the Browns in the final seconds, 27-26.

Here is a closer look at which offensive groupings were employed to make the resilient comeback possible.

‘11’ Personnel – Grouping One

  • Running Back: Stevan Ridley
  • Tight End: Matthew Mulligan
  • Wide Receivers: Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Josh Boyce

After Gronkowski’s exit, the Patriots stayed the course with “11” personnel, utilizing one running back and one tight end. The first combination of skill players used in that grouping included reserve tight end Matthew Mulligan, running back Stevan Ridley, and wide receivers Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Josh Boyce.

This collection tallied three snaps over the final quarter and a half, with Ridley providing a ground presence more than an aerial presence.

‘11’ Personnel – Grouping Two

  • Running Back: LeGarrette Blount
  • Tight End: Matthew Mulligan
  • Wide Receivers: Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Josh Boyce

Similar to grouping one, the lone difference in the Patriots’ second most prevalent “11” grouping was the 6’0”, 250-pound LeGarrette Blount. New England’s rotational back, who led the team in rushing Sunday, kept the Browns honest with his between-the-tackles ability.

Without No. 87, the Patriots gathered in this assembly for four snaps.

‘11’ Personnel – Grouping Three

  • Running Back: Shane Vereen
  • Tight End: Matthew Mulligan
  • Wide Receivers: Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Josh Boyce

New England operated from the single-back, single- tight end set for a total of 17 snaps after Gronkowski’s knee injury. And Shane Vereen’s facilitation as a tailback and motioning wideout was an integral reason why.

The combination of Mulligan, Amendola, Edelman, Boyce and Vereen was on the field to snap 10 plays. Because Vereen – who posted nine catches for 127 yards and two rushes for six yards and a touchdown post-Gronkowski – was a mismatch Cleveland had to account for.

‘21’ Personnel – Grouping One

  • Running Backs: LeGarrette Blount, James Develin
  • Tight End: Matthew Mulligan
  • Wide Receivers: Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman

The Patriots showcased “21” personnel – two backs and one tight end – for a total of six snaps from late in the third quarter on. Each of those snaps incorporated fullback James Develin, but his role changed based on positional need. With Mulligan the only active tight end remaining, Develin spelled in as an “F” tight end off the line and out wide, much like Hoomanawanui has done for New England. He also served as a lead blocker out of the backfield.

And in this particular assortment, which we will call grouping one, the Patriots used Amendola and Edelman as the receivers, Mulligan as the tight end, Develin as a utility man, and Blount as the tailback for Brady in shotgun for four plays.

‘21’ Personnel – Grouping Two

  • Running Backs: LeGarrette Blount, James Develin
  • Tight End: Matthew Mulligan
  • Wide Receivers: Julian Edelman, Josh Boyce

The Patriots displayed a “21” look with Develin and Mulligan acting as mainstays, Blount deep behind Brady, and Edelman and Boyce flanking the line. The change of pace in this second pool was the rookie Boyce, who filtered in for Amendola.

This nucleus was together for one snap over the last 39.

‘21’ Personnel – Grouping Three

  • Running Backs: Stevan Ridley, James Develin
  • Tight End: Matthew Mulligan
  • Wide Receivers: Julian Edelman, Josh Boyce

The third grouping of “21” saw Boyce stay on the field for Amendola, but it also saw Ridley swap in for Blount. The other components went unaltered in contrast to the second grouping; Develin acted as a strong-I fullback, Mulligan acted as the “Y’ tight end, and the receivers worked in tandem on the weak side of the field.

New England’s third tier of the two-back, one-tight end showing logged on snap over the final 18:32.

‘10’ Personnel – Grouping One

  • Running Backs: Shane Vereen
  • Wide Receivers: Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Josh Boyce, Austin Collie

When time became a factor in New England’s comeback hopes, the offense turned to the four-wide receiver shotgun design of “10” personnel. Mulligan and Develin stepped to the sidelines, while third and fourth options, Boyce and the re-signed Austin Collie, stepped onto the field to join Amendola and Edelman.

With all hands on deck, that meant Vereen would be, too. The third-year pro was the exclusive back in “10,” offering Brady with shiftiness on screens to the flat, over the middle and even downfield. Furthermore, he motioned out wide as a fifth route-runner. Although in all, this specific sorting garnered 12 snaps over the final quarter and a half.

‘10’ Personnel – Grouping Two

  • Running Backs: Shane Vereen
  • Wide Receivers: Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Josh Boyce, Matthew Slater 

Collie was the primary fourth receiver in New England’s “10” alignment. However, the grouping had another member in his place for two snaps: special teams captain Matthew Slater.

Slater had appeared in the offense for 10 run plays and just two pass plays over four games this season, according to Pro Football Focus, but he was able to add a couple routes versus Cleveland when the passing urgency was heightened.

Upon reflection of the last 39 snaps without the Gronkowski dynamic, the Patriots ran 17 plays from “11” personnel, six plays from a mixture of “21” and “12” personnel, and 16 plays from “10” personnel. And from those, eight different combinations of running backs, tight ends and wide receivers were used.

Now, New England will never be the same offense without Gronkowski. The defensive openings he creates are no longer there, and neither are the in-traffic receptions.

“We’re going to have to make do, whatever the combinations are,” Brady told WEEI on Monday. “If Gronk’s not out there, we’ve got to try to figure those out.”

The Patriots will have to figure out a way to win with the formula and players in place. It will not be an easy feat, but rallying for 13 points in 30 seconds wasn’t either.

Tags: Cleveland Browns, Film Breakdown, Rob Gronkowski

One Response to “Chasing Continuity: Tracking Patriots Personnel Following Rob Gronkowski’s Week 14 Injury”

  1. Breazy says:

    When is Hoomanui back? Who are they promoting to fill Gronk’s roster spot? When are Dobson and Thompkins back? How much upside does Mulligan have?



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