One of the things that will be charted on a weekly basis is the positional groupings utilized by the New England Patriots' offense, as they can reveal player value and take us deeper into the Xs and Os of how coordinator Josh McDaniels is attempting to attack the opposition.
Through two games, one theme that stands out is how the team known for its two-TE offense has gone away from it without Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Here is a simplified breakdown of the team's 159 offensive snaps (including penalties):
3 or more WRs: 89-of-159
2 backs: 46-of-159
2 or more TEs: 38-of-159
There is a 14-play overlap, which accounts for snaps in which there was a combination of 3 WRs/2 backs and 2-3 TEs/2 backs.
A few takeaways:
Adds context to stats. As noted by ESPN's Stats & Information this week, Patriots tight ends rank last in the NFL in receptions, yards and drop percentage, and 31st in targets. Part of the reason this is the case is that the Patriots aren't using the tight end as heavily as they have in the past. Michael Hoomanawanui has been the workhorse, with 140 of 159 snaps played. He's a dependable player who was never known as a big pass-catcher (career high 13 catches in 2010). After that, it's a big drop-off, with offensive-lineman-reporting-eligible Nate Solder (19), rookie Zach Sudfeld (19) and Matthew Mulligan (10) taking the tight end snaps.
Third receiver a better matchup than second tight end. In playing the majority of their snaps with three receivers, it reflects how the Patriots view a No. 3 receiver (Julian Edelman in the opener; Aaron Dobson in Week 2) as a better fit than a second tight end. This generally sets up a matchup against the opponent's sub defense.
Fullback presence notable. The Patriots are using fullback James Develin in place of a second tight end more than we've seen in recent years. The ability to move Develin around the formation (in the backfield, split wide, on the line of scrimmage) has been tapped in place of a second tight end at times. Hard to imagine that would be happening if the Gronkowski-Hernandez combo was on the field.