What's different for Patriots this time?

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
5:00
AM ET
Let's lead off the day by looking back at notes from the New England Patriots' 34-31 overtime victory over the Denver Broncos on Nov. 24, highlighting some of the personnel changes since that time and also how the coaches utilized groupings:

1. Offensive snaps for the Patriots: Tight end Rob Gronkowski played every offensive snap against the Broncos, marking the first time he had done so since his return Oct. 20. He is now on injured reserve, which is obviously a net loss for the team. … One player who didn’t play in the game, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (knee injury), will be suiting up Sunday. … Every other offensive player who played in the game remains on the Patriots’ active roster. … Running back LeGarrette Blount, who has turned it on over the past month or so, played just two snaps as the Patriots were forced into more of a passing game (and he took an early-game hit to the head and lost a fumble on the play). Blount's emergence is a significant change from what the Broncos saw on Nov. 24.

2. Positional groupings for the Patriots: One of the things that stood out from the groupings utilized by the Patriots on Nov. 24 was the flexibility that Gronkowski provided offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. The Patriots ran 45 of 86 snaps out of the three-receiver package, 25 of 86 snaps with multiple tight ends, and 21 of 86 snaps with two backs. Current depth/health questions at receiver with Aaron Dobson (foot) and Kenbrell Thompkins (head) ailing, could make it difficult to duplicate that approach. ... The Patriots have been trending towards more multiple tight ends and two backs in recent weeks, in part to spark the running game, as that’s now a bigger part of their identity.

3. Defensive snaps for the Patriots: Starting safety Steve Gregory didn’t play in the Nov. 24 game because of a broken thumb. He will suit up Sunday and is viewed as a key to the all-important communication between defensive backs. Rookie Duron Harmon had started in his place … Second-year defensive tackle Sealver Siliga, who has emerged as a starter in a run-plugging role, wasn’t yet on the active roster on Nov. 24. The Patriots had started a combination of Joe Vellano (6-2, 300) and Chris Jones (6-1, 309) at defensive tackle, but Siliga (6-2, 325) has proven to be the space-eater they generally prefer inside. That’s the other big change on defense. … Linebacker Brandon Spikes, who played 68 snaps in a reserve role, is now on injured reserve and probably wouldn’t have played much in this game.

4. Defensive groupings for the Patriots: The Patriots had either one or two extra defensive backs on the field for all 90 snaps (including penalties). That’s commonplace against a Peyton Manning-led offense, which is geared more towards the pass. We’d expect to see more of the same Sunday. In addition to Gregory at safety, another personnel change in the secondary this time around is that reserve cornerback Marquice Cole is no longer on the club.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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