Football Outsiders has taken a look at the formation tendencies of each of the 32 NFL teams and the Patriots stats are pretty interesting. Let’s start with last week’s look at the offensive side of the ball where the Patriots ran formations by the following percentages:
- 0-1 WRs: 15%
- 2 WR: 39%
- 3 WR: 40%
- 4-5 WR: 6%
They also mention:
After drafting Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, New England completed their transition away from the shotgun spread toward more of a two-tight-end alignment. As a result, their DVOA in formations with one-or-fewer wide receivers increased by 14.4% in 2010 after having dropped from 14.5% in 2008 to 6.5% in 2009.
As for their DVOA out of each formation here’s how the Pats fared (the higher percentage DVOA the better):
- 0-1 WR: 20.9% (4th overall)
- 2 WR: 65.7% (1st overall)
- 3 WR: 42.7% (2nd overall)
- 4-5 WR: 79.0% (1st overall)
So yeah, no matter what personnel/formation the Pats used they were near the best in the league. But what about when defending the various personnel packages?
Let’s start with the frequency that they faced each personnel combination.
- 0-1 WRs: 7%
- 2 WR: 30%
- 3 WR: 53%
- 4-5 WR: 10%
And here’s how the Patriots defense performed versus each personnel grouping (rating in DVOA, the lower the better, into the negatives).
- 0-1 WR: 20.5% (30th overall)
- 2 WR: -22.6% (2nd overall)
- 3 WR: 23.1% (28th overall)
- 4-5 WR: -19.8% (4th overall)
Football Outsiders found that how defenses performed against the 4-5 WR sets highly correlated with how much teams won or lost. We can see that the Patriots were one of the best teams against the 4-5 WR sets, but they were dreadful against the 3 WR sets and that’s where the opposition tried to attack them most.
They struggled the most against the 0-1 WR sets although teams threw that personnel at them only 7% of the time. This would include short yardage and goal line situations.
The Pats defensive numbers are pretty strange, with incredible disparity between the rankings of 0-1 WRs and 3 WRs versus 2 WRs and 4-5 WRs. The thing about 3WR sets is that defenses really have the choice of inserting a nickelback to cover the 3rd wide receiver, or staying in base and allowing a linebacker to potentially have to cover them. This can allow for confusion and hesitation in a defense, especially one that is as inexperienced as New England was in 2010.
Clearly the Pats defensive strength was when the match-ups were more cut and dry. The 3-4 defense which they excel at was a perfect match for the 2 WR sets, and with multiple talented safeties and corners their straight up sub-packages were hard to throw on.