A closer look at Gronkowski and Hernandez


A closer look at Gronkowski and Hernandez

By TomE. Curran

If you like football and you aren't following Greg Cosell on Twitter, you ought to. He's been at NFL Films for 32 years. He's currently a senior producer there and way back in 1984, he and Steve Sabol created NFL Matchup, the first nuts-and-bolts, Xs-and-Os show that demonstrated the technical and strategic artistry of the NFL game. In addition to continuing with that show and co-authoring The Games That Changed The Game with Ron Jaworski and David Plaut, Cosell breaks down hours of game film. He uses the "all-22" coach's film so he gets a better look at what's going on than the rest of us. He's been tweeting his position-by-position findings during this long, dry offseason. Over the next few days, I'll pick Cosell's brain about the Patriots' personnel and schemes. First up, tight ends.
On Rob Gronkowski
GC: "I think he has a chance to be a very complete tight end. My initial comparison is with Jason Witten (Dallas Cowboys), but he's a bit more fluid and smoother. Therefore, I believe he has a chance to become a better intermediate receiver. He can certainly run the vertical seam. He can block, he can run routes from the line of scrimmage, he can be flexed out."On Aaron Hernandez
GC: "I really liked him coming out of Florida. I believe he is a 'new age' tight end that is continuing the evolution of the position. He's what I like to call a 'Joker',like a movable chess piece. You can use him all over, which is what Don Coryell did with Kellen Winslow (back in with the Chargers in the 1980s - a development which is highlighted in the GamesThat ChangedThe Game book). He's very fluid, a much better pure athlete than Gronkowski, really a different player than Gronkowski. He's very good after the catch and I watched him beat corners off the line (in 2010)."On Scheme ImpactGC: "When they put Gronkowski and Hernandez on the field at the same time, they are asking defenses, 'How do you want to treat these players?' Hernandez really has to be treated as a wide receiver. He beats cornerbacks (Cosell cited a "stick-nod-go" route on which Hernandez blew past Chargers' corner Quentin Jammer as evidence). So the Patriots are making defenses declare. Do they want to play base personnel? If so, Hernandez is matched up with a safety or a linebacker. If the defense wantsto put a corner on him, the Patriots may have a mismatch elsewhere with Wes Welker against a safety. That's what happened against the Colts when Gronkowski and Hernandez were on the field. The Colts ended up with linebacker Pat Angerer on Welker and Welker scored a 22-yard touchdown."On Presnap Reads of Tom BradyGC: "Reading the defense before the snap is critical for all quarterbacks. Tom Brady, (Peyton) Manning, (Drew) Brees and (Aaron) Rodgers are the best in football at deciphering the personnel packages and the favorable matchupsthat are there to take advantage of. The magic with Brady happens before theball is snapped. With all the Patriots' personnel packages and multi-dimensional tight ends, it makes it difficult for a defense. It makes them declare their personnel and their coverages and when they declare, that's when quarterbacks like Brady have the advantage."SummaryIn terms of skill set, Cosell really isn't telling those of us who watch the Patriots regularly anything we didn't learn in 2010. But he really amplifies the point that the goal of the Patriots offense is creating mismatches. Some teams are just "we'll run our stuff" type offenses, but the Patriots' constant effort to get multi-dimensional players at the same position is what makes them a "game plan" offense that's so hard to match up with. For example, when the Patriots drafted Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley as running backs, there was some wonderment about whether BenJarvus Green-Ellis' 2010 work wasn't valued or whether Danny Woodhead was going to be replaced. In reality, Vereen and Ridley aren't replacements for those two but complements and depth. Vereen can't be expected to be as potent a receiver, scatback as Woodhead, but he can affordsome of that while also being abackupto Green-Ellis' role. And Ridley brings short yardage thump that Green-Ellis may not have and replaces Sammy Morris, an outgoing free agent.Opposing defenses will have to figure out how the Patriots plan to deploy them, same as they had to - and still have to - with the Gronknandez Combo at tight end.
Tom E. Curran can be reached at Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

When the Patriots signed Stephon Gilmore in the offseason and then managed to keep Malcolm Butler around, the consensus was not only might this be the best 1-2 punch at cornerback the team has ever had, but maybe, just maybe, it was the best duo in the NFL this season. 

Newsflash: it hasn’t been. Not even close. 


The latest example comes from Sunday night in Denver. Gilmore returned from a three-game absence (concussion) to play well against Demaryius Thomas in that 41-16 win. The same can’t be said of Butler. He spent much of his day playing man-to-man versus Emmanuel Sanders and struggled mightily.

Butler’s issues started on the very first play. He got lost along the sidelines and surrendered a 31-yard catch. Butler initially had Sanders blanketed. The two were lined up outside the numbers along the left sideline. Based on the formation, and the alignment of safety Devin McCourty, it was pretty clear Butler was alone on an island. Sanders initially drove inside before straightening out his route. Then he cut sharply, working speedily to the flat. Butler had a good beat on the play but unwisely peeked into the backfield. That’s when Sanders turned up and found nothing but green grass.

“I would just say I’d just tip my hat to him,” said Butler. “It was a great route. He steered me in. Then he went up then went out then went back up so I thought that was it. It was a little more than I expected. You gotta learn from it and play it better next time.”

On the same drive, he was beaten again by Sanders, this time for 13 yards. The Pats defense tightened up and held Denver to a field goal but a pattern had already been established between the Patriots' 27-year-old cornerback and Sanders.

The next big play Butler coughed up came with 4:13 to play in the second quarter. Broncos QB Brock Osweiler summoned Sanders to come across the formation via motion but then sent him back as the wideout approached the tackle box. Butler overreacted, trying to jump out ahead of the motion while simultaneously looking into the backfield. It was then he realized Sanders had done an about-face. To his credit, Butler recovered and jumped on Sanders shortly after the snap of the ball, actually shoving the receivers’ right shoulder in an attempt to disrupt the pattern. 

As Sanders turned upfield, he appeared well-covered by Butler. But then another old habit that’s been hard for Butler to break appeared. He lost track of the ball once it took flight. Sanders slapped on the brakes and high-pointed the football while Butler watched, helplessly flat-footed. Chalk up another 23-yard gain.

“I would just say he underthrew it and I got pushed by,” said Butler. “I probably burst because I was expected the ball to come too. You just got to play it the best way you can. Things happen. He just made a great play. I was in good position but not good enough.”

Sanders caught one more pass on the drive, and should have had a touchdown in the second quarter, streaking past Butler toward the end zone. But Osweiler made a terrible throw, unable to even keep it in the field of play. Hence another field goal instead of a touchdown. Bullet dodged - and there were a few.

“You can’t win with three all day,” said Butler of the defense’s red-zone efficiency. “They’re very hard on us on protecting the red area and not giving up touchdowns in the red area. Bend but don’t break. That’s been the motto.”

The Patriots would break later and Sanders beating Butler was a part of it. The play coming about five minutes into the third quarter on Denver's only TD-scoring drive. The Broncos came out in trips, employing a bunch formation that had plagued the Patriots so often the first month of the season. Unlike then, the Pats handled communication perfectly and as Sanders worked toward the seam, Butler had good position and help toward the post, with safety Duron Harmon eyeballing Sanders the entire way. So did Butler do? He gave up outside leverage, with Sanders breaking hard to the flag. Butler’s footwork was a mess - he got spun around like he was auditioning for "Dancing With the Stars" - and was unable to recover until Sanders had picked up another 23 yards.

“Another good route,” said Butler. “He got me thinking inside and broke out. He’s a good player. A great receiver.”

There’s no denying Sanders’ talent, but Butler has got to be better and more consistent. He’s too often been lost in coverage or gotten caught gambling, eyeballing a big play that’s rarely come in 2017. With their issues up front, it’s the Pats secondary that’s going to have to lead the way. The corners have only occasionally played to the level expected of them. The clock is ticking. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: this is when the Patriots want to be playing their best football. About time Butler answered the call.