The Gronkowski Effect

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is perhaps the ultimate offensive weapon. With his rare combination of size and athleticism he poses a matchup nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators. Because of these facts, New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels moves his big tight end all over the formation, forcing defenses to adjust themselves and sometimes even tip their coverage presnap.

Even when the ball is not thrown his way, Gronkowski has an impact on the opposing defense. This short touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Philip Dorsett in New England’s season-opening victory is a prime example.

Right before halftime the Patriots face a 1st and goal at the Houston Texans’ 4-yard line. They break the huddle with 11 offensive personnel and put Brady (#12) in the shotgun of a 2×2 offensive formation. Dorsett (#13) is in the slot to the right with Gronkowski (#87) split wide outside of him. Receivers Chris Hogan (#15) and Riley McCarron (#17) are in a tight slot formation on the left side of the offense:

Look at the defensive alignment. Rookie safety Justin Reid (#20) aligns across from Gronkowski in a press coverage position. Reid, who was drafted in the third round by the Texans, measures just slightly taller than six feet tall. Gronkowski, of course, checks in at 6’6″, so advantage New England at this point. Now look inside to Dorsett. Kevin Johnson (#30), a cornerback, aligns across from Dorsett. Free safety Kareem Jackson (#25) aligns in the end zone, over the football.

But the Patriots are not done. As they so often do, they use motion presnap, sending Dorsett across the formation. Johnson trails him:

When he sees this, Brady now knows that the Texans are in man coverage. But that is not the only adjustment they make:

Jackson, the free safety, slides down toward the slot just vacated by Dorsett. His adjustment is in direct response to the presence of Gronkowski outside. He is now in position to help on any slant route from the tight end, which the Patriots have used in the past with their TE on the goalline. Two defenders bracketing one player on the goalline.

Here is the play New England runs:

Gronkowski simply posts up against Reid, looking for a jump ball. On the left side the Patriots now have a bunch formation and they run a variation of their Y-Follow concept. McCarron and Hogan cross while Dorsett runs a “Toggle” route:

As you can see, Dorsett will feel the leverage of the defender, and break away from him.

It works to perfection:

The presnap motion from the receiver plays a huge role in the success of the play. As Dorsett comes across the formation, Johnson is trailing him. So at the snap Johnson has inside leverage, with Dorsett having an easy release on his cut to the outside. Given that the defender is on the inside, Dorsett makes his cut to the boundary as you would expect on the Toggle route, and Brady drives in a well-placed throw for the touchdown.

New England finds so many ways to attack defenses, from presnap alignment to motion and shifting, through route adjustments made based on the defensive coverage. All of those played a role in this short touchdown pass to Dorsett. But it begins, as it did here, with the Gronkowski Effect.

For more on this play, and everything else regarding the Patriots, check out the Locked On Patriots podcast. Here is a link to the latest episode

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