10 questions: Is the spread dead?


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Part 9 in a 10-part series examining storylines leading into Patriots training camp …

The question: Is the Patriot offense moving away from the spread??

Three factors: The strength of the running game; the emergence of the young tight ends; the state of the receiver position.

Finding the answer: Over a six-game stretch last year, from Week 11-16, the Patriots actively moved away from the spread sets that once struck fear into the rest of the league, lining up in three- and four-receiver sets on just 44 percent of their offensive snaps. They also ran the ball 35 or more times in four of those six games.

And remember, that was while Wes Welker was healthy.

The notion that the Patriots’ shift offensively will continue was raised this offseason, and there’s plenty of validity to the thought. The idea of asserting that the spread offense is more effective between the 20s than it is in tight spots (short yardage, red zone) certainly manifested itself in 2009, and the overhauling of the tight end position shows a commitment to adding bigger, more physical weapons to Tom Brady’s arsenal.

Is the spread dead? Not completely, of course. This coaching staff has always schemed to its personnel, and there are too many guys on this offense suited to wide-open looks and playing in space (Welker, Julian Edelman, Kevin Faulk) to stray too far. But it’s not far-fetched to think that Brady will be under center more, and tight ends will be utilized in different ways than they have been in the past.


Whether the Patriots can develop the running game, with a backfield
rife with questions, and prepare rookies Rob Gronkowski and Aaron
Hernandez to contribute right away will be pivotal in that regard.
Being able to run it consistently will set up play-action, and being
stocked at tight end will bring that flexibility.

But all the competition and uncertainty at receiver is why at least
having the ability to be more of a bloody-your-lip style of offense
could be most important. If Welker can’t play right away, or some of
the new additions don’t work out, or the young players hit stumbling
blocks in their development, it’ll be harder for the team to go into
‘11’ and ‘10’ personnel groupings, so they’ll need to make up for it
elsewhere.

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It’s not like the way the Patriots have played offense the last three
years is suddenly worthless. It’s obviously not. The club ripped up
record books in 2007 doing those things.

It’s just as clear, though, that the flaws in that philosophy have
cropped up, and so it would hardly be shocking to see camp used to give
the offense a physical edge and prepare the group to play the game a
little differently.