Why a Fullback? Why Gronk?

09/02/2016
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As most of you know, I did not believe that fullback Glenn Gronkowski would make the team over Jerome Felton. Well, I was obviously wrong, but the move doesn’t surprise me. As I looked at the schedule and Roman’s offensive progression in San Francisco all of the signs pointed to Gronk being the guy.

First of all, I believe that Roman’s offense is evolving. When the Bills signed Felton they wanted to be a ground and pound team. They came to realize that the offense was in all actuality more of an edge running game due to the threat of Tyrod Taylor’s running ability and Mccoy’s style of running. This run game philosophy caused Felton to struggle, he was just not good at blocking in space. He is more of a down-hill blocker.

If you look at Greg Roman’s history with San Francisco, you will see that his offense evolved there too. Specifically, in 2013. That was quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s full season as a starter. A year where Roman opened up the offense more by having Kaep drop back 600 times and attempt 498 passes. Why is that important? Well, Tyrod Taylor is entering his second season as a starter and I believe this is the year Roman opens up the offense for him.

“You adapt or die. We’ve eliminated some things, we’ve added some things that are totally new. We’ve added some things that are things that I’ve done in the past, that I feel like we’re ready for now.”

Earlier in the offseason, Greg Roman made that statement and I believe, that by keeping Gronkowski, Roman has a plan for him. As I have mentioned on Twitter, I believe that Gronk was kept to play a role in the passing game.

Offense is all about getting match ups in your favor. As a defensive coordinator do you count him as a TE or as a RB? How defensive coordinators will match up takes place during game planning.

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Pass catching is not something that Felton was able to provide. In 2015, Felton was targeted 2 times and caught one pass for 12 yards. Roman even called his number in the preseason, and what happened? He caught the ball and fumbled it as he was about to cross the goalline against the Giants. Gronkowski may not be the best receiving fullback in the league, but it allows the Bills some versatility. Versatility to create and dictate matchups on the ground and through the air.

Courtesy of Sports-reference.com

Courtesy of Sports-reference.com

 

Versatility at that position is what Roman is used to. In San Francisco, he had a talented fullback in Bruce Miller. A guy that was targeted 82 times during Roman’s tenure. Miller went on to catch 65 balls for 635 yards and 3 touchdowns in four years.

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Bruce Miller’s snap counts based on assignment. Courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

 

Here are Jerome Felton’s career snap numbers based on assignment.

Courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

Courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

 

As you can see, Bruce Miller averaged 150 pass routes a season in G-Ro’s offense. More than double what Felton did in his first year in Buffalo. But then look at Miller’s 2nd and 3rd years in San Francisco (2012, 2013), his pass route numbers skyrocketed. That is why I understand the Felton cut. Felton is not anywhere near as athletic as Miller, and he is unable to do the things that Miller and to a certain extent Gronk can.

If Taylor can’t get the ball to the receivers, he will have a security blanket that has to be accounted for.

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Another reason I understand why Roman kept Gronk is because he is extremely familiar with some of the opponents the Bills face this year. Specifically, the NFC West. The Bills play all four teams, Seattle, San Francisco, Arizona and Los Angeles this season. When coaches game plan for opponents they often look to the past and use what has worked out before. Without a doubt, Greg Roman plans on using the fullback in pass routes much more, especially versus the NFC West. In 22 games against the NFC West while Roman was with San Fran, he sent Miller into a pass route 201 times. That boils down to about 9.14 times a game. From 2011 to 2014 the total number of times Miller was sent into a pass route vs. those teams were as follows: 26, 46, 65, and 64, so you can see that having an athletic FB is something he will need.

Gronk can be moved around as you saw versus the Lions. Roman can use Gronk much like he did Miller at the off line tight end position. The defense doesn’t account for him. Easy pitch and catch.

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I can hear people saying, “but just because he was sent into a pass route doesn’t mean that he was a factor.” True, but unlike Felton last year, defenses will have to account for the fullback in pass coverage. What about Bruce Miller? Did defenses have to account for him in Roman’s offense? More specifically versus the NFC West? Yes, Miller was targeted 40 times, caught 32, for 225 yards and one touchdown.

Jerome Felton would have had trouble with all of the moving and shifting that the Bills will be doing this season.

 

Thirty-two catches for 225 yards doesn’t sound like much right? Take into account the type of defenses that the NFC West along with the other teams the Bills face this season, having a security blanket for Taylor is huge.

Courtesy of Buffalobills.com

Courtesy of Buffalobills.com

 

The Bills need to figure out ways to beat defenses with more than just the deep ball. Defenses will be ready to defend Buffalo’s vertical game and Roman must devise ways to move the chains by using the short and intermediate game. One way to do that is to use your backs. Miller only averaged 3.2 yards a catch versus the NFC West (9.7 career yds/rec) but pair that average with a couple early down runs and you can sustain drives. Something the Bills had trouble doing last season.

The #1 coverage the Bills saw last season was zone coverage. Well, one way to work the short/intermediate game is to use your backs in the flats and in the windows of zone coverage. Something that Gronk is fully capable of doing.

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Here is another perspective for another day, have you wondered why the Bills kept Salas, Woods and Powell? Slot WRs, or guys that can get open at the top of the route quickly. Taylor will be relying on them to work the short and intermediate game.

Roman is preparing his offensive unit to face some formidable defenses, specifically with some talented pass rushers so he must have a plan. Part of that plan is to use Gronk and even some of the tight ends out of the backfield. Although I was surprised the Bills cut Felton, after examining Roman’s track record I became ecstatic about the possibilties. Roman will now be able to open up the offense, dictate coverages and personnel matchups in ways that he couldn’t do with Felton. This will allow Taylor to utilize the whole field and hopefully lead this team to the playoffs.

 

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