On Monday, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick noted that the team's offensive set featuring four offensive linemen was something they had picked up from film study of another NFL team. That's one of the benefits of a postseason bye week: additional film study and the benefit to add wrinkles to your playbook.
And while we don't know for sure which NFL team Belichick was referring to, we did come across a play that may have been a root of their motivation. Back in Week 6, the Detroit Lions traveled to Minnesota to play the Vikings. At 8:59 of the third quarter, Detroit deployed a personnel group that actually featured six offensive linemen, but the formation is nearly identical to what the Patriots did on Sunday with their four offensive linemen set.
The Lions flexed an offensive lineman out between two receivers, similar to what the Patriots did with Shane Vereen. In both cases, these players were ineligible receivers based off of alignment (note: any player that aligns on the line of scrimmage but is covered up by another receiver is ineligible).
On the other side of the formation, the Lions had two receivers aligned outside but off of the line of scrimmage, making the right tackle an eligible receiver, much like Michael Hoomanawanui was for the Patriots while on the left side of the line.
As far as route concepts go, much like the Patriots did, the Lions sent four of their receivers vertically up the field (including the right tackle on a seam route, a la Hoomanwanui) and kept the ineligible receiver behind the line of scrimmage.
The Lions were less successful in their attempt (the Vikings sacked quarterback Matthew Stafford), but the challenge it presented the defense was similar: in both cases, the ineligible receiver was accounted for, while the eligible receiver aligned in a conventional offensive tackle alignment (like Hoomanwanui) was largely left ignored and free to press up the seam.
The two plays are not carbon copies, and there's no telling if the play by the Lions was actually the impetus for the Patriots' play, but it's something that caught our attention.