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Thursday, November 12, 2009
Brady, Manning are NFL's top double agents


Nobody relies on the double formation more than Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

ESPN Stats & Information tracks every snap and notes the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts favor the formation -- single back, two receivers to each side -- more than any other NFL team.
Tom Brady
Tom Brady and the Patriots operate out of the double formation 49 percent of the time.


A standard look from the double formation would be a wideout and slot receiver to one side and the tight end and a wideout to the other side.

The Patriots have operated out of the double formation 268 times, or 49 percent of their 552 plays from scrimmage. They're averaging 6.4 yards a play.

The Colts have gone double an NFL-high 354 times on 47 fewer snaps, or 70 percent of the time. They have amassed 2,323 yards out of double, an average of 6.6 yards per play.

But Indy's average doesn't lead the league. The Dallas Cowboys have averaged 9.1 yards on their 144 plays in the double formation. The San Diego Chargers have averaged 7.5 yards on their 104 plays.

The Arizona Cardinals are a distant third with 189 plays out of the double formation.

I was in the Buffalo Bills' locker room on Wednesday, so I stopped by backup quarterback Gibran Hamdan's stall to get his take on why the double formation suits Brady and Manning.

The Patriots visit the Colts on Sunday night in Lucas Oil Stadium.

"It's about being blessed enough to keep a system in place for a long period of time," Hamdan said. "They've built a whole package around the formation."

Hamdan, who took part in the NFL's Broadcast Boot Camp over the summer, has a bright future as an analyst. He's one of those guys who makes you feel smarter for speaking with him.

"You can ask a lot of quarterbacks, and they feel good about certain formations," Hamdan said. "The key to it is those two guys like it. They know the intricacies of that formation, and they've seen pretty much everything a defense can do to them.

"Once you've seen all the looks, now you're just letting the players' ability to take over. Then you get into a feel and a rapport between the quarterback and receiver that happens when you play for a long period of time and run a formation like double over and over and over."

Hamdan noted the Bills' double formation often has Lee Evans split out and slot receiver Josh Reed to the left, with tight end Derek Fine and receiver Terrell Owens on the right.

New England's version might have Randy Moss and Wes Welker on the weak side, Chris Baker and Sam Aiken on the strong side.

"There's versatility," Hamdan said. "You can create things on both sides of the field, so symmetry definitely creates a versatility that maybe a three-by-one formation would lack."

It also comes down to precision. Hamdan pointed out neither team offers much variety out of the double formation.

"Turn on their film," Hamdan said. "They're not running that many plays out of that formation. They just know what they're doing and execute it."

In case you were curious what formations are popular with the other AFC East teams, the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets rank third and fifth in most plays out of a backfield set (two running backs). The Dolphins have used two backs on 48 percent of their snaps. The Jets have done so on 47 percent.

The Dolphins, of course, lead the league in Wildcat (any player other than a quarterback takes the snap). They've made 76 Wildcat attempts, more than three times as often as the next team on the list, the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Bills most frequently operate out of a trips formation (single back with three receivers to one side). They've run it 191 times, third-most in the NFL. They also rank 11th in the double formation with 160 plays.

The Patriots have run an empty set (only a quarterback in the backfield) 45 times, three fewer than the league-leading Houston Texans.