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Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Beware the Pats' "Tiger" personnel

By By Trevor Ebaugh and Michael Bonzagni

Getty Images/ESPN Stats & Information Roll over each player to see the variety of ways the Patriots utilize their key personnel.

Tom Brady
Brady
Tom Brady had a historically-good 2011 season, finishing in the top five in every major passing category, including yards, completions, completion percentage, yards per attempt and touchdowns. But as good as the New England Patriots' offense was, it was very predictable as to whom would be on the field, and for good reason.

The Patriots have utilized the same five-man skill-position player combination on 18.2 percent of their offensive snaps, a higher rate than any other playoff team. The personnel combo, consisting of receivers Wes Welker and Deion Branch, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and running back Danny Woodhead, presents an array of matchup issues for opposing defenses.

Dissecting this a bit further shows the Patriots had Welker, Branch, Gronkowski and Hernandez on the field at the same time for 45.2 percent of all of their offensive snaps this season.

Tom Brady thrives in two-receiver, two-tight end, one-back sets (nicknamed "Tiger" packages in the NFL), and the Patriots take advantage by throwing the ball more than any other team in such formations.

In the regular season Brady had 382 pass attempts out of two-WR, two-TE, one-RB sets; Philip Rivers had the second-most with 223. And due to the enormous number of opportunities, Brady dominated every major passing category.

Opposing defenses have countered New England's Tiger packages with five or more defensive backs 85.1 percent of the time, instead of using their base defenses to combat the heavier personnel.

Gronkowski and Hernandez present formidable receiving threats, so despite the extra pass coverage personnel, Brady posted a 77.7 QBR and 41.1 Points Above Average (the number of points the QB accounted for above how many the league's average QB would be expected to score). In a much smaller sample size (only 71 plays), when defenses kept their base 3-4 or 4-3 alignments on the field Brady's QBR was 12.6 points lower and he recorded only a 3.5 PAA.

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.