‘Playbook’ mailbag: Defending double-tight end sets

We expaned the “Playbook” Mailbag to two posts this week thanks to an interesting scheme question from John Fry:

How is the double-tight end set utilized to create problems for opposing defenses?

Simply put, the tight end position is one of the hardest for defenses to match up with because of their “tweener” nature. Do you cover a tight end — like Rob Gronkowski, for example — with a cornerback, safety or linebacker?

If you use a linebacker, a tight end might cross up an average coverage player on pass routes. What happens if teams use a defensive back on Gronkowski, who has a huge size advantage, and the Patriots run the ball? That defensive back is probably getting trucked.

That, in a nutshell, shows the matchup difficulties for defenses facing two tight end sets.

The Patriots can be deadly through the pass or run using the same two tight ends — Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The tight end duo makes it difficult for defenses to determine whether to stack up with linebackers or play coverage with nickel and dime personnel.

The tight ends are also the preferred targets for the Patriots.  Gronkowski, with 21 percent of Tom Brady’s targets, is second only to Wes Welker (30 percent). Hernandez (16 percent) is only a shade behind WR Deion Branch (18 percent).

In fact, the Patriots lead the league with 60 pass plays of four-plus yards out of two tight end sets and rank tenth in four-plus-yard run plays with the same personnel. At the same time, their percentage of runs of four-plus yards out of two tight end sets ranks second in the league, behind only the Jets, at 53 percent (26 plays on 49 carries).

“Playbook” — the ultimate football Xs and Os show — airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET (AFC) and 9 p.m. ET (NFC) on NFL Network. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

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