Patriots' O moved away from Randy Moss

October, 6, 2010
10/06/10
12:06
PM ET
The New England Patriots' offense evolved to the point Randy Moss was marginalized through the first quarter of the season.

[+] EnlargeAaron Hernandez
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaThe Patriots have relied on mutiple tight end sets featuring players such as Aaron Hernandez, making Randy Moss expendable.
Patriots overlord Bill Belichick certainly had that in mind when he opted to trade the first-ballot Hall of Famer to the Minnesota Vikings, reportedly for a third-round draft choice.

Moss averaged 2.3 receptions per game and didn't have any catches Monday night, but the Patriots still managed to go 3-1 before their bye week. He had nine catches for 139 yards. Moss scored three touchdowns, tying him with Wes Welker for the team lead.

But the Patriots also have gotten two touchdowns apiece out of former practice-squad running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski and street free agent Danny Woodhead.

New England's playbook isn't what it used to be.

The Patriots don't rely on that spread-style offense of their past three seasons. They don't operate exclusively out of the shotgun anymore with three-receiver sets.

ESPN Stats & Information logs every NFL play and finds no other team operates with multiple tight ends more than the Patriots this season.

The presence of rookie tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Gronkowski and veteran Alge Crumpler have allowed the Patriots to use at least two of them on a league-high 146 plays so far, according to ESPN Stats & Information's research.

For comparison's sake, the New York Jets have gone with two tight ends on 88 plays, the Miami Dolphins on 48 plays and the Buffalo Bills on a league-low six plays.

ESPN Stats & Information indicates the Patriots are on pace to run 584 multiple tight end plays this year. They ran 360 last year.

You might be surprised to discover 19 teams have used at least three wide receivers more frequently than the Patriots this year. The Patriots are on pace to run only 356 plays with at least three wide receivers.

In last year's research, Stats & Information didn't break down formations of more than three receivers, but the most common set for the Patriots were three wides, one tight end and one running back. They operated with that grouping 534 times. The Patriots ran 300 plays out of a trips formation alone (three receivers on one side of the field).

With multiple tight ends, Tom Brady has completed 72.2 percent of his passes for 367 yards and five touchdowns.

Overall, Brady has completed 69.7 percent of his attempts for 911 yards and nine touchdowns.

Multiple tight ends haven't impacted the Patriots' running game, though. They are on pace to rush for 1,956 yards this year. They rushed for 1,921 yards last year.

I know that's a lot of formation data to digest.

But examining the Patriots' offense from this perspective helps to explain how Belichick and play-caller Bill O'Brien can justify unloading Moss four games into the season and still think they can get to the playoffs.

The big question, however, is how much Moss' mere presence on the field impacted the rest of the Patriots' offense. Moss kept defenses on red alert for the deep ball every time he was on the field. Defenders had to cheat his way, opening the offense for other targets.

Second-year receiver Brandon Tate has been sensational as a kick returner, but his next NFL receiving touchdown will be his first. Can he fill the void and stretch the field?

Given the direction of their offense, the Patriots felt comfortable enough to gamble and said goodbye to a proven force.

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