Offensive identity tied to tight ends

SAN DIEGO -- It's a theme that has been evident all season but really hit home Sunday in San Diego.

The pure three- and four-receiver offense that defined the Patriots from 2007-2009 has become a secondary part of the team's attack. In its place is an approach that focuses on tapping into the versatility and different options that the team's tight end position offers.

The breakdown of positional groupings from the Chargers game:

2 WR/2 TE/1 RB -- 45 of 61

3 WR/1 TE/1 RB -- 9 of 61

3 TE/1 FB/1 RB -- 3 of 61

1 WR/3 TE/1 RB -- 2 of 61

2 WR/1 TE/1 FB/1 RB -- 1 of 61

1 WR/2 TE/1 FB/1 RB -- 1 of 61

(Holding and offensive and defensive pass interference penalties included.)

ANALYSIS: After going with a pure three-receiver look for seven first-half snaps, the Patriots utilized it just twice in the second half -- on an 18-yard completion to Aaron Hernandez and an 8-yard pass to Danny Woodhead. This was likely tied to protection issues up front and keeping one tight end in to help combat the Chargers' effective rush. ... In all, the Patriots had multiple tight ends on the field for 51 of their 61 snaps. Part of this is tied to Aaron Hernandez' versatility. Even though he's a tight end by official position, his presence can quickly turn a 2 WR/2 TE/1 RB look into a 3 WR package because of his receiver-like skills. This is a big part of the Patriots' offensive identity in 2010.