Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy loves tight ends. After all, he was one back in his playing days at Baker University in Baldwin City, Kan.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick really loves tight ends.
That’s why he paired Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett last year — two of the best tight ends in the game. And that’s why, in anticipation that he’d be unable to retain Bennett this offseason, he traded for Dwayne Allen to pair with Gronkowski.
While it’d be almost impossible to match a Gronkowski-Bennett combination, the Packers are trying their best. Not only did they sign Bennett but they added Lance Kendricks. With fourth-year pro Richard Rodgers, the Packers are loaded at tight end.
And that should mean more offensive diversity for McCarthy.
In 10 games with Jared Cook and Rodgers on the active roster, they lined up together only 51 times — or 5.1 per game. In eight games with Gronkowski and Bennett on the active roster, they lined up together 202 times — or 25.3 per game. Heck, Bennett lined up with somebody named Matt Lengel for 43 snaps. That shows Belichick’s commitment to two-tight-end sets.
Having players like Gronkowski and Bennett puts defenses into a real pickle. How do you match up? Play base personnel, and the quarterback will take advantage of his pass-catching tight ends. Play nickel personnel, and the quarterback will hand off the ball and let his big guys go to work against smaller defenders.
Bennett, at 275 pounds, caught 55 passes last season for the Patriots. Kendricks, at 250 pounds, caught 50 passes last season for the Rams.
“If both tight ends can block and catch, it’s tough for teams because when they cover us, they cover us in a nickel package, so they go small. But when they go small, we’re able to run the ball because they don’t have the extra linebacker on the field,” Bennett said in a conference call on Tuesday. “When they bring that base package on the field, then you’re able to throw it. But then you’ve got to throw it and have a mismatch. So I think the defense has to show their cards a little bit earlier than they would, because if you keep one guy in tight, move one guy wide, what’s happening? Is it going to be a safety out there with him, or did the corner stay out there with him? Did they bring a linebacker out there? Is it man to man, in the box, what’s going on? So there’s a lot of things you can do moving a tight end around to check what the coverage is going to be and what the defense is trying to show you.”
Of the 12 playoff teams, only one team (the Giants) used at least two tight ends less often than Green Bay on first-and-10, according to league data. The rundown: Kansas City, 159; Dallas, 154; Atlanta, 153; Seattle, 147; Pittsburgh, 122; New England, 119; Miami, 107; Houston, 95; Oakland, 86; Detroit, 69; Green Bay, 45; New York, 39.
Two interesting nuggets from that. First, for all the focus on Atlanta’s dynamic combination of quarterback Matt Ryan and receivers Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel, the Falcons used a lot of two-tight end sets on first-and-10. Second, Kansas City lined up with three tight ends on 60 first-and-10 snaps.
Green Bay didn’t use two tight ends often because it wasn’t an effective personnel package. Of its 45 first-and-10 snaps, 35 were with two tight ends, two receivers and one running back. Those plays averaged 4.43 yards — 26th in the league and far worse than the league average of 5.87 with that personnel group on first-and-10. With Bennett (and a half season of Gronkowski), New England beat the league averages by almost a full yard with two tight ends, two backs and one receiver and two tight ends, one back and two receivers. Atlanta destroyed teams with two tight ends, two receivers and one back, with a league-best 8.66 yards per first-and-10 snap — almost 3 yards better than the league average.
“I know that Coach McCarthy is very big on tight ends,” Kendricks said during his conference call. “He loves tight ends, and it’s been a while since they’ve been able to run some sort of two-tight-end sets. I’m able to play all over the field. I play in the backfield, I play on line, I play split out. I’m sure they’re going to do something similar like that. They’ll probably have me split out here and then backfield here, in line. I’m just excited. Whatever they have me doing, I’m sure I’ll be happy with it.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.