With Rob Gronkowski healthy and Tom Brady back at quarterback, the New England Patriots finally deployed their much-anticipated two-tight end offense, right? Unfortunately for future opponents, not completely.
Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett combined for 11 receptions, 176 yards and three touchdowns Sunday in the Patriots’ 33-13 win over the Cleveland Browns, but both tight ends ran routes on just six of those completions. Gronkowski was on the field for 81 percent of snaps, while Bennett played on 69 percent.
Those six catches, when both tight ends were utilized as receivers, did show how difficult it will be for opposing teams to cover both tight ends throughout the season, however.
— On this play, the Browns sent six pass rushers, and the offensive line, plus running back James White, held up long enough for Brady to find Bennett on a crossing route. Gronkowski, circled in blue, was double covered, while Bennett, circled in red, made a contested catch for the touchdown early in the second quarter.
— There was a lot of confusion at the line before this play early in the third quarter. Bennett originally was doubled, then Browns linebacker Corey Lemonier, circled in blue, was caught in no man’s land when Brady threw to Gronkowski, circled in red, who made a contested 12-yard catch. Cover either tight end as well as you want, but unless they’re being doubled teamed, they’re probably coming down with the ball.
— Brady had his pick of either tight end with 12:28 left in the third quarter, when the Patriots used play action to free up both players. He picked Bennett for a deep 37-yard completion as the big tight end had separation on a flat-footed Ibraheim Campbell.
— The Patriots had success when lining up both Gronkowski and Bennett on the same side of the line, as they did on this 37-yard completion to Gronkowski early in the fourth quarter. Gronkowski, circled in red, went deep, and Bennett ran an out route. The Browns couldn’t bracket Gronkowski, which allowed Brady to take the top off the defense with the free safety coming over late.
Brady didn’t only have success throwing to Gronkowski and Bennett, of course, as he went 28-of-40 for 406 yards with three touchdowns.
Brady completed 3 of 5 deep passes, including the one above to Gronkowski and two to wide receiver Chris Hogan.
— The Patriots used play action to give Brady time to heave it 42 yards down field to Hogan, circled in red, on this deep throw.
— Offensive tackles Nate Solder and Cameron Fleming routed the Browns’ edge defenders behind Brady then blocked them from the new angle on this 52-yard heave to Hogan later in the second quarter.
Brady’s accuracy was immaculate on both deep passes to Hogan.
Some other notes from our film review:
— Linebacker Elandon Roberts made one of the better plays you’ll see in your life with 6:03 remaining in the second quarter, when he tackled All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas to bring down running back Isaiah Crowell.
— Roberts was all over the field as he rotated at linebacker with Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins. I wondered why the Patriots were holding onto Roberts, since he doesn’t contribute on special teams. We found out Sunday.
— Undrafted rookie defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton held up well in his NFL debut. He was stout at the line of scrimmage and showed enough athleticism to make plays at the line.
— Defensive tackle Alan Branch is as good as he wants to be at this point in his career. There are times when he’s absolutely dominant and others when he’ll disappear.
— Running back James White has been criticized for his lack of ability to carry the ball. Sunday was White’s best, most complete game as a ball-carrier as he showed nice decisiveness and vision.
— Rookie guard Joe Thuney also played his most complete game and was impressive as both a pass protector and run blocker. Patriots fans were heated that the team released Jonathan Cooper, who was acquired in the Chandler Jones trade. The Patriots also picked up a second-round pick, which they traded down for a third-rounder, used on Thuney, and a fourth-rounder, used on wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell. Thuney looks like a foundational left guard early in his career and could alone make that trade worth it, since the Patriots only would have had Jones for one more year.
— Cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler were just as good as they should have been against the Browns’ passing game.
— Fleming was solid in place of Marcus Cannon at right tackle. Fleming also had a nice game in Week 1, replacing Nate Solder at left tackle. Perhaps returning offensive coordinator Dante Scarnecchia has made him into a player.
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