By TomE. Curran
If you like football and you aren't following Greg Cosell on Twitter, you ought to. He's been at NFL Films for 32 years. He's currently a senior producer there and way back in 1984, he and Steve Sabol created NFL Matchup, the first nuts-and-bolts, Xs-and-Os show that demonstrated the technical and strategic artistry of the NFL game. In addition to continuing with that show and co-authoring The Games That Changed The Game with Ron Jaworski and David Plaut, Cosell breaks down hours of game film. He uses the "all-22" coach's film so he gets a better look at what's going on than the rest of us. He's been tweeting his position-by-position findings during this long, dry offseason. Over the next few days, I'll pick Cosell's brain about the Patriots' personnel and schemes. First up, tight ends.
On Rob Gronkowski
GC: "I think he has a chance to be a very complete tight end. My initial comparison is with Jason Witten (Dallas Cowboys), but he's a bit more fluid and smoother. Therefore, I believe he has a chance to become a better intermediate receiver. He can certainly run the vertical seam. He can block, he can run routes from the line of scrimmage, he can be flexed out."On Aaron Hernandez
GC: "I really liked him coming out of Florida. I believe he is a 'new age' tight end that is continuing the evolution of the position. He's what I like to call a 'Joker',like a movable chess piece. You can use him all over, which is what Don Coryell did with Kellen Winslow (back in with the Chargers in the 1980s - a development which is highlighted in the GamesThat ChangedThe Game book). He's very fluid, a much better pure athlete than Gronkowski, really a different player than Gronkowski. He's very good after the catch and I watched him beat corners off the line (in 2010)."On Scheme ImpactGC: "When they put Gronkowski and Hernandez on the field at the same time, they are asking defenses, 'How do you want to treat these players?' Hernandez really has to be treated as a wide receiver. He beats cornerbacks (Cosell cited a "stick-nod-go" route on which Hernandez blew past Chargers' corner Quentin Jammer as evidence). So the Patriots are making defenses declare. Do they want to play base personnel? If so, Hernandez is matched up with a safety or a linebacker. If the defense wantsto put a corner on him, the Patriots may have a mismatch elsewhere with Wes Welker against a safety. That's what happened against the Colts when Gronkowski and Hernandez were on the field. The Colts ended up with linebacker Pat Angerer on Welker and Welker scored a 22-yard touchdown."On Presnap Reads of Tom BradyGC: "Reading the defense before the snap is critical for all quarterbacks. Tom Brady, (Peyton) Manning, (Drew) Brees and (Aaron) Rodgers are the best in football at deciphering the personnel packages and the favorable matchupsthat are there to take advantage of. The magic with Brady happens before theball is snapped. With all the Patriots' personnel packages and multi-dimensional tight ends, it makes it difficult for a defense. It makes them declare their personnel and their coverages and when they declare, that's when quarterbacks like Brady have the advantage."SummaryIn terms of skill set, Cosell really isn't telling those of us who watch the Patriots regularly anything we didn't learn in 2010. But he really amplifies the point that the goal of the Patriots offense is creating mismatches. Some teams are just "we'll run our stuff" type offenses, but the Patriots' constant effort to get multi-dimensional players at the same position is what makes them a "game plan" offense that's so hard to match up with. For example, when the Patriots drafted Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley as running backs, there was some wonderment about whether BenJarvus Green-Ellis' 2010 work wasn't valued or whether Danny Woodhead was going to be replaced. In reality, Vereen and Ridley aren't replacements for those two but complements and depth. Vereen can't be expected to be as potent a receiver, scatback as Woodhead, but he can affordsome of that while also being abackupto Green-Ellis' role. And Ridley brings short yardage thump that Green-Ellis may not have and replaces Sammy Morris, an outgoing free agent.Opposing defenses will have to figure out how the Patriots plan to deploy them, same as they had to - and still have to - with the Gronknandez Combo at tight end.
Tom E. Curran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran