FanPost

Stephen Hill and the Tight Bunch

Although its maddening that our guys aren't even in pads yet, its still kinda cool for us optimists with vivid imaginations to dream up different ways of "unstoppability." Its the time of year where the chatter is all positive and it seems comical to even consider the possibility that our team will lose a single game in the season to come. Of course, that is nonsense. We'll probably lose one or two. Maybe. But if you tune out the rah rah and listen to some of the things that are a point of focus, you'll find that there's some things to get excited about. [Some advice: give more weight to the players' statements than the coaches. The players are more likely to be honest about what is actually happening out there, and they're less likely to be pushing an agenda.] One of the things that really piqued my interest is the apparent focus on using two TE sets, specifically with Keller and Cumberland. I've also been reading that Keller is being used more creatively and has been TD machine. These are things that I can sink my teeth into. Things that I think can be very impactful in the season to come. Rah rah about some guy that has never done much/anything in the NFL and the singing of his praises for his performance during padless practices does nothing for me.

One of the things I really like about the Patriots is their ability to continuously and creatively position their offensive personnel in ways that best utilizes their strengths. One of the things I absolutely HATED about Schotty was his inability to do just that. Dustin Keller has been a disappointment thus far in his career. He's failed to live up to expectations. He's been inconsistent, at times soft, and often times disengaged. I think a big part of that has been Schotty's fault. We've never made the commitment to make Dustin a focal point of the offense. We've never continuously and creatively positioned him for success. One half we'd move him around and get him in favorable match-ups, the next half it would seem like we forgot he was on the team. I like hearing that he's been a focus during the initial installation of the new offense under Sparano. That tells me that he's a big part of the foundation. So what the heck does that have to do with Stephen Hill and the Tight Bunch?

Well, I think that that formation and personnel grouping (i.e. Keller, Hill and Cumberland) has more to do with using our personnel to its strength than anything else. Its a heavy group with two TEs, and therefore less likely to induce nickel/dime coverage. But both TEs are very athletic and difficult covers for LBs deep down field. Using that group in a tight bunch creates all kinds of advantages. For one, it allows us to get Hill a free release off of scrimmage, which makes it very difficult to get a jam on him. Its especially difficult if we use a quick cross/pick to free him up. At 6-4 215 with 4.3 feet, his size and speed with a free release poses a potent vertical threat, so he's likely to draw some attention from a safety. But Hill is also accustomed to blocking, so playing him by backing off a DB in coverage gives us a blocking advantage in the run game at the point of attack. Cumberland poses a similar threat at 6-4 260 with 4.5 speed. He can press the seam and blow the top off coverage, or he can double down on a DE/LB in the run game. Bunching Keller with two vertical threats gets him more space to work with underneath in favorable match-ups. Making Keller a focal point in these types of situations could allow him to do some serious damage. Doubling Keller is a kiss of death because its likely to lead to either Cumberland being chased by a LB up the seam or Holmes solo on a corner on the weakside. Either scenario leaves a lot of exposure to a quick strike touchdown. This formation and personnel grouping also helps to open up the running game.

There's a lot big speed in this group which is very tough to handle down the field. And we can release these guys in a hundred different ways with quick crosses and a myriad of route combos. This creates a lot of pressure on the coverage and is likely to cause a lot of attention and stress. One false step or misread could mean a quick TD. All that attention being paid to the Bunch, means that there's less attention being paid to the running game. The number one agenda for all defenses is to avoid the big play. Using this mentality against them, could create advantages in the running game. This is where the quickened pace that Sparano has been preaching could pay huge diviends. Going into the Tight Bunch out of a quick huddle on 2nd down and snapping the ball early in the clock could catch the defense on its heels and get Greene some momentum going down hill, where he's a beast. If the defense starts diving too much at scrimmage, then you attack them down field.

What I like most about the Bunch is that its an attacking formation and grouping. You don't line up in the Bunch and then wait to see how the defense reacts. You go to the Bunch quick and you snap it quick. You make the defense decisive and you put pressure on them to be right. If there's a bad match-up anywhere, its easy to spot and exploit. If there's a false step, its likely to lead to a big play.
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