The Patriots make use of myriad personnel groupings and formations offensively, but like the rest of the NFL, there's one set that they favor over all others: 11 personnel.
One back. One tight end. Three receivers. It is the modern NFL's primary offensive setup. According to Football Outsiders, 2016 was the sixth consecutive year that three-wideout formations saw an increase. Eleven personnel accounted for more than 60 percent of all offensive plays, and every offense in the league used it for at least 40 percent of their snaps. It was more than 3.5 times as common as any other formation, per Football Outsiders.
Though the Patriots still make great use of two-back sets -- deploying both "pony" formations as well as more traditional power formations with a fullback -- they have favored 11-personnel groupings over all others this season, running with three receivers on the field for 48 percent of their offensive snaps.
With that in mind, Phillip Dorsett may have to be ready for a steep increase in playing time this weekend. If Chris Hogan, who injured his shoulder in Week 8 against the Chargers, can't play then it could be up to Dorsett to fill in.
Brandin Cooks is the clear-cut No. 1, having played almost 92 percent of snaps this season. And Danny Amendola (49 percent) would likely slot in as the No. 2 if Hogan misses time. That would leave Dorsett (19 percent) as the likely No. 3 in New England's three-receiver looks.
The Patriots could turn to their pass-catching backs more often to help make up for Hogan's loss. They have three they can rely upon in James White, Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead. But there will certainly be 11-personnel plays the Patriots will want to keep available to them in Denver. And for those they'll need Dorsett.
"Yeah, Phillip – he came in and didn’t really have a whole lot of extra practices from camp and the spring, like some of our guys or most of our guys did," Josh McDaniels said during a conference call on Monday morning. "He just kind of got thrown in there, and he’s really doing a good job of working hard, working extra with Coach [Chad] O’Shea. Chad’s doing a great job of trying to get him caught up on some of the things, the foundational things that you need to be able to go from one week to the next and feel like you’re not learning a new offense every single week.
"Phillip’s a smart kid, he works hard, he’s got a good work ethic, good attitude and he’s continued to work at playing different spots and being ready to go when his opportunities come up. Hopefully, that will continue to progress as we go through the season. I know that’s what he wants. I know that’s what we want, and we’re looking forward to that."
Dorsett has seen eight snaps for the Patriots in each of the last two weeks despite being given a start Week 7 against the Falcons. He's caught four passes on seven targets for 85 yards for an average of 21.3 yards per catch. He last saw a pass come his way in Week 6 against the Jets, though he didn't catch any of the three targets he saw that day, and one was intercepted deep down the middle of the field by corner Buster Skrine.