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Thursday, December 12, 2013
Groupings: Changes after Gronk injury

By Mike Reiss

One of the things that will be charted on a weekly basis is the positional groupings used by the New England Patriots' offense, as they reveal player value and take us deeper into the X's and O's of how coordinator Josh McDaniels is attempting to attack the opposition.

The main theme this week is what changed after Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was carted off with a torn ACL and torn MCL in the third quarter of Sunday's win over the Browns.

Because the Patriots had only two tight ends dressed, it knocked them out of two groupings -- 2 WR/2 TE/1 RB (10 snaps) and 1 WR/2 TE/1 FB/1 RB (3 snaps). It also led them to a new grouping that wasn't used prior to Gronkowski's injury -- 4 WR/1 RB (16 snaps).

That foreshadows what Patriots fans might expect going forward -- a heavier emphasis on receivers, similar to the first six weeks of the season when Gronkowski didn't play.

Also, as the Patriots tap the different talents of their skill-position players, it makes sense to think we might start to see some packages with two running backs (e.g., Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley) on the field at the same time.

For the season, here is a simplified breakdown of the team's 977 offensive snaps (including penalties, not kneel-downs):

3 or more WRs: 579 of 977
2 or more TEs: 238 of 977
2 backs (mostly RB/FB combo): 226 of 977

There is a 66-play overlap, which accounts for snaps in which there was a combination of 3 WRs/2 backs and 2-3 TEs/2 backs.