Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are the constants. But what makes this 2011 Patriots go as opposed to teams in the past? What defines them?
We’d argue this era of Patriots football started the day they drafted Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Wes Welker is a great piece to the puzzle, but the tight ends make the offense unique.
While Gronk Nation and Hernandez represent a very modern way of attacking defenses, Belichick in some ways has been working with this approach since the 1970’s. As a member of the Lions coaching staff, Belichick helped pair Charlie Sanders and David Hill in a two tight end attack that was the first of its era.
“Yeah, that was really the first – I mean, honestly there wasn’t a lot of two tight ends in the mid-70s, there really wasn’t,” Belichick told Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports this week.
We highly recommend checking out Cole’s piece on the evolution of the two tight end attack. Hill and Sanders combined for half of the Lions’ touchdowns in Hill’s rookie year of 1976. In the past, two tight ends would only be used together in short yardage situations. Sanders, a Hall of Famer, thanks Belichick every time he sees him.
“Bill always says back to me, ‘No, thank you and David [Hill] for all you did,” Sanders told Cole. “Without you guys, none of this would have happened.’ ”
Falcons coach Mike Smith explains the matchup problems that Gronkowski and Hernandez create, calling them “queens on the chessboard.”
“If you want to play standard personnel on defense, they flex one or both of those guys out and force you to cover them with linebackers. If you put extra defensive backs in, they line up in double-[tight end] and maul you. You never have the right personnel on the field,” Smith said.
That becomes an even bigger problem when the Patriots use their hurry up offense. Defenses can’t substitute to get the right matchups on the field.
We expect to see the Patriots play plenty of hurry up offense Sunday against Baltimore, with Gronkowski and Hernandez at the center of it all.