Antonio Brown presents Patriots with new offensive possibilities

When the New England Patriots had a healthy Rob Gronkowski in the lineup, running any formation without a tight end would have been, at best, an oversight, or at worst, negligent. But with the big fella enjoying retirement, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is enjoying scheming up new ways to attack opponents.

And with the Week 2 on-field debut of receiver Antonio Brown, acquired earlier this month in free agency, we got a glimpse into what the Pats might become as the season moves on: a team that leans on 10 personnel (4 wide receivers, one running back).

Per Next Gen Stats, the Patriots only ran five plays in 10 personnel against the Dolphins in Week 2, and every one of those plays was a dropback, with Tom Brady going 2 for 4 for 38 yards and a touchdown. (He was also sacked once.) Both of his completions went to Brown. So let's take a look at some of those snaps.

The first, an 18-yard completion to Brown on second-and-7 with 12:58 left in the first quarter, saw the Patriots come out with receiver Josh Gordon outside the numbers to the left of the formation, Brown in the slot, Julian Edelman in the right slot and Phillip Dorsett wide of Edelman. Running back James White lined up in the backfield, to the left of Brady. The Dolphins decided to send both their inside linebackers while dropping their ends into zone coverage. Brown ran an "over" route, and with the offensive line and White cleanly picking up the cross blitz, Brady had an easy pitch-and-catch to Brown.

"It really wasn't designed to go that way," Bill Belichick told the Patriots' website earlier this week. "In fact, most likely the ball would have gone outside had they played a normal coverage." But when the Dolphins dropped the ends, that left the middle of the field wide open.

The other completion in 10 personnel was Brown's first touchdown catch with New England, a 20-yarder on first-and-10 with 1:24 left in the first half. It came out of a formation the Patriots have utilized for years, but which received a ton of press in the aftermath of the most recent Super Bowl win over the Rams: the Hoss Y Juke concept (hitches on the outside, seams on the inside, and the juke, which can be a stop, a return route or just run by him). McDaniels dialed it up on three consecutive plays in the fourth quarter versus Los Angeles, and all were completions, the last that gorgeous 29-yard strike to Gronk down the seam. Notably, the Pats ran this concept from 22 personnel (two tight ends, two running backs and one wide receiver). On Sunday in Miami, it was four wides and one back, but also from an empty backfield, putting the Dolphins' defense in a bind, according to Belichick.

"If you have four defensive backs, you're kind of a guy short," he said at his Wednesday press conference. "If you have five defensive backs, you can match up to them, but then you have no deep help in kind of blitz-zero coverage. If you have six defensive backs, you can kind of play whatever you want. Zone is zone, so if you want to play man-to-man, you've just got to decide how you want those matchups to go, how long you think you can hold up in them, or play zone, and if you feel like you can't match up then there's a zone option. There's some different options there. It's definitely a problem, it's definitely a problem."

As with all five of the 10 personnel snaps, Brown lined up in the slot inside of Gordon on one side, and Edelman aligned inside Dorsett in the slot on the other side. White motioned out of the backfield (he did that on four of the five snaps) to the Dorsett/Edelman side, giving the Patriots that empty look. In doing so, the Pats created a pre-snap scenario in which Dolphins dime corner Jomal Wiltz was opposite Brown on each of his five routes. Not the top corner, or the No. 2, but the dime corner. Brady did appear to signal to Brown prior to the snap, as he acknowledged briefly in the postgame.

At the snap, Brown and Gordon both pressed their corners vertically, but Gordon throttled down and pushed to the sideline to take his defender, Xavien Howard, away from potentially vulturing the throw from Brady. Meanwhile, Wiltz didn't try to get physical with Brown, which allowed the wideout to get to Wiltz's outside shoulder without breaking stride. Normally, this route is designed to work the seam (it's the "S" in "Hoss"), but Brown faded the route instead (which is normally the rule versus press coverage). Then, Brady simply made a back-shoulder throw, and Brown's athleticism and instincts took over. It should also be noted that Brady was able to hold the free safety, Steven Parker, in the middle of the field with his eyes, although Parker was in a tough spot, eyeballing Edelman in one slot and Brown in the other.

"You have five receivers out there," added Belichick, pointing to the type of mismatches that can be created. "Those are hard matchups for players who aren't good, experienced coverage players playing at all of the positions, because those guys could line up anywhere."

The two would try and hook up on this play again in the third quarter, and Brady tried a repeat version of the throw, but this time, Brown continued to push vertically and didn't fade the route. He gained a step on Wiltz, but Brady read it differently and threw to the outside, resulting in an incompletion.

Brown's long-term availability remains uncertain, with the NFL investigating allegations that Brown sexually assaulted his former trainer. As long as Brown is eligible to play, however, look for the quarterback and the receiver to continue developing their on-field relationship.

Follow Mike Giardi on Twitter @MikeGiardi