If you are not aware of the ESPN.com Stats & Information blog, you should be. Our research people work their tails off, and this blog is a place for them to showcase their hard work without relying on clowns like me to give them credit when I use their information. One of their latest entries is a piece on the Patriots' offensive formations, and since the New York Giants have a big game coming up against the New England Patriots, I thought Giants fans might find it interesting.
This piece focuses on how often the Patriots line up in a 'Tiger' formation on offense — two receivers, two tight ends and one back. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw 382 passes out of such formations this year. The second-highest such number was 223 by San Diego's Philip Rivers. Wide receivers Wes Welker and Deion Branch and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were on the field together for 45.2 percent of New England's offensive snaps:
This personnel matchup favors the Patriots (statistically), as the New York Giants allowed a league-worst 86.7 QBR to opposing quarterbacks in two-receiver, two-tight end, one-back sets this season. In the New York's Week 9 victory at Foxboro, the Giants held Tom Brady to a 56.3 QBR, his third-lowest mark of the season. But when Brady had his 2 WR, 2 TE, 1 RB personnel on the field, his QBR was 19.9 points higher.
Scheme-wise, this shouldn't bother the Giants too much, since the way to combat the Tiger is to play five or more defensive backs in coverage and the Giants don't blitz much anyway. The Giants' biggest problem with this formation will be the same problem every team has against the Patriots — the physical mismatch the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Gronkowski presents against any defensive back in the league. He's got six inches and 60 pounds on any Giants cornerback, and he's got four inches and 50 pounds on safety Kenny Phillips, who's the biggest player in the New York secondary. The Giants will need to account for Gronkowski and the various ways the Patriots align all of these players by staying alert and flexible in their coverages, and they'll also need to make sure their front four defensive linemen get enough pressure on Brady to make sure he can't take advantages of whatever mismatches they're able to establish.