In his latest post at FootballOutsiders.com, Aaron Schatz breaks down usage of empty formations across the NFL in 2010. It isn't a surprise to see the Patriots ranking first in Schatz' statistical analysis.
The Patriots went with no personnel in the backfield on 9.9 percent of their offensive snaps, according to Football Outsiders game trackers, and averaged 7.2 yards per play out of the empty formation.
Two thoughts come to mind with this data:
1. Tom Brady's excellence in this situation. One of the main reasons the Patriots go empty as often as they do is Brady's ability to serve as his own sixth lineman in terms of identifying and feeling pressure, and then staying out of harm's way. Quarterbacks are often left on an island in the empty set and Brady seems to thrive in that setting.
2. Running backs as pass catchers. As noted by Schatz, even though the Patriots go empty, it usually doesn't mean taking a running back off the field. Kevin Faulk and Danny Woodhead were usually on the field in those empty packages, which highlights why second-round pick Shane Vereen -- who was considered one of the better pass-catching backs in the draft -- was deemed one of the best fits this year by the team's decision-makers.