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Football Concepts

The Best NFL Coaches Adapt: The Use of Two Tight Ends

Even as the NFL finally catches spread football fever from the college ranks, the top NFL offenses are actually the ones that frequently deploy two tight end sets.

If you hop on the twitter for more than a few minutes, you may have seen a standard troll dropping some baseless hot take about why the Bears should have signed “X” QB. Bears twitter then goes off on how dumb Ryan Pace is, yaddi yadda yadda. I mean, he’s an average run of the mill GM, as most are if you think about it? (Hurry, name me 5 great GM’s and or one that has been in office for more than 5 years. Exactly, it is a fungible job.)

All of this rambling ignores the clear fact, that none of them have ever been in Nagy’s altered version of Andy Reid’s West Coast offense. Foles was signed because he has worked with other coaches prior (DeFillippo), and he has run this offense in Philly and as a backup in Kansas City, pre-Mahomes. Knowing how rocky the 2020 off season has been, it would only make sense to get a quick seamless learner. Yes offenses have different vernacular and maybe similar concepts, but they do in general fall under an umbrella of a “system”.  Adapting to that system takes a minute.

Is he still Superman? 2015 was a while ago.

So, the Patriots acquired Cam Newton a few days ago, and based off his one dominant 2015 campaign, everyone is abuzz with possibilities. His tenure in Carolina was marked by heavy formations with QB runs, a stud TE in Greg Olsen, and later on a strong receiving running back. (I think it’s like, Ed McCaffrey’s kid or something.) Cam nonetheless is a good passer, but not great. This isn’t so much about Newton, as about where he is going. Ironically enough, the one place he CAN transfer his skills is in New England. (hey didn’t you just say QB’s going into new systems take a hot minute to acclimate. Yes, they do)

But even though Billy B had Tom Terrific for twenty years, they constantly morphed based on skill players Bellichick acquired, and much more importantly, seeing where the league was going, before the league got there. Hell, he changes his offensive focus year to year, and even week to week. (ever have one of his backs in fantasy?) With so many coaches being adamant to run their stuff (Coach Nagy) Billy B is always ahead of the curve.

Check out this Great quote from The Ringer.com:

“Brady and Belichick innovated a lot: The 2007 with Wes Welker and Randy Moss, the Patriots were the first team to run shotgun on the majority of their plays, now a staple of NFL offenses. Four years later, the Patriots adopted a two-tight-end approach that mystified opposing defenses and made Rob Gronkowski a superstar. And recently, as defenses got smaller to combat spread-out, pass-happy offenses that have come up through the college ranks, New England has been one of few smart teams(Ravens, 49ers) that has countered by embracing heavy personnel packages. (that means majority of time with 2 Tight End’s) On top of that, NOW he gets to draw up some running quarterback plays, possibly taking notes on the Ravens and Lamar Jackson. This one is for football dorks.”

Side note: Even though these guys might not be the second coming of Hernandez and Gronk, Belichick just drafted two more Tight Ends, almost like he was planning on signing Newton. I wonder what their offensive sets and plays will look like this year?

Queens on a chessboard

The last part of the quote mentioned going “heavy”. Defenses dictate their strength to the Tight End, whether that player is in line or flexed out. Perhaps you have seen teams on the goal line with THREE tight ends, and then sometimes, they lob it to the crappy blocking Tight End in the corner of the end zone? It was almost as if the defense brought out their own heavy personnel, and the offense took advantage of it. Most team’s in theory go “heavy”, so the defense has to keep their base package in, and maybe bring in more run stuffers, etc. However, they at times then take their third DB off the field, which offenses can dial in on.

Then there is the vice versa aspect, where a team has their three base receivers like the Rams, or getting nutty with FOUR receivers like the Cardinals, the D will bring in 5 or more DB’s, and more pass rushing type lineman. Great time to run the ball, right!?  You want to have the best of both world’s? Go find a Tight End than can catch and block very well. That rare specimen is the queen of the chessboard. There are only about a half dozen, but damnit if they conveniently are not all on upper echelon NFL offenses. Weird!

Another analogy is the QB that can run and throw. What that does is essentially add another player to the offense, because defenses never used to, until like the 2000’s consider the QB as an extra runner. That’s why Cam Newton broke that mold a decade ago, and when Lamar Jackson fixed his mechanics and could fit enough balls cleanly down the seams, he mutated into unstoppable, because defenses can’t stack the box.

The concept with Tight End’s as a dual threat makes them difficult to defend. You’re standard blocking tight end isn’t a threat to get more than a few dump off’s a game, and on the other side, you have your Jimmy Graham’s, who are basically receivers, and play paddy cake when they try to block. Of course modern players like George Kittle and Zach Ertz are the best at both, but one guy was the ultimate cyborg. Gronk. That dude could seal the edge in stretch outside zine, come down and bang on gap scheme, and base block to the backside. You had a third offensive tackle that could out run linebackers. And Gronk was beyond X and O smart. Belichick moved him everywhere.

https://www.si.com/nfl/2016/09/15/rob-gronkowski-patriots-nfls-brainiest-tight-end

Wait, what if there are TWO of them now?

Remember the mid-2000s Colts, who by the way won the most regular season games in the decade, only to be that decade’s version of the Atlanta Braves, by winning only one title. The Manning led Colts were also in 12 personnel a whole ton. They took out the fullback instead of going extra receiver they went two tight end’s with Marcus Pollard and Dallas Clark. Clark was obviously more of a receiver, but Pollard was a solid in line Y tight end that as a former college hoopster, could move a little. Yeah, those teams had great skill players, with Wayne and Harrison always staying on the left and right respectively, but it didn’t hurt Pollard and Clark made diagnosing plays and formations for defenses very tough.

Know who else runs a lot of one back with two TE’s? The Eagles and the Chiefs! They also have Pro Bowlers in Kelce and Zach Ertz, and they have recently won Super Bowl’s! Eagles Head Coach Doug Pedersen also used to work for Andy Reid, as the OC in Kansas City before Matt Nagy took that spot. Those teams have had some top offenses when healthy, and even though it’s great coaching and for the Chiefs generational skill players, but their offenses wouldn’t hum at full bore without Ertz and Kelce.

***(We will dig deep on the 49ers and George Kittle next week, as their second TE is really receiving fullback Kyle Juszczyk. I hear their offense is also really good, coached by Mike Shanahan’s kid)***

Lastly, some may think it was odd than the Bears grabbed a legitimate Y tight end in the draft, after the unfortunate Adam Shaheen debacle, but Cole Kmet has nothing to do with Shaheen, and that’s a silly baseless hot take if it is. The Bears signed more of blocking tight end of Demetrius Harris, and then the most receiving anti blocking tight end possible in Jimmy Graham. The best of both world’s when he grows into his already giant body, is young Kmet. Big enough to block, just fast enough to cause problems. Nagy is a protege of Pedersen and Reid, who love Tight End’s. Put the pieces together. Or don’t.

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