Patriot Tight End Rob Gronkowski could run wild in New England's "13 personnel" package. Mandatory credit: Don McPeak-US PRESSWIRE

New England Patriots On Paper: Triskaidekaphobia

The Code of Hammurabi is an ancient Babylonian Law Code dating back to about 1772 BC, containing laws governing behavior, morality and punishments, contracts and pay scales.  It is also the earliest reference to the number thirteen being unlucky or evil.

To the Arizona Cardinals, the New England Patriots “13 Personnel” package may the the latest reference.

Introduced as a fact-finding mission at the Patriots’ 34-13 beatdown of the Tennessee Titans last Sunday, the formation is perfect for attacking the Cardinals’ defense this week.  The alignment calls for 1 Receiver, 3 tight ends and 1 running back, which sounds like a short yardage formation – and it can be by replacing the receiver with a fullback – and New England is the only team in the league that has the players to pull it off.

It was wildly successful against the Titans, particularly in the short yardage set, accounting for three touchdowns in 10 total snaps.  Arizona will have a chance to study it, to scheme against it, but it is just another way that the Patriots’ offense will dictate the pace of the game to the Cardinals – and by the time all is said and done, the Cardinals will be flying home with a serious case of Triskaidekaphobia…

The fear of the number 13 is lodged in folklore throughout history.  Besides the Mesopotamian code that for whatever reason omits law #13, there is the Christian counter that Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, was the 13th person to be seated at the last supper table, which also is the first instance recorded of someone being fashionably late.

The Vikings got into the act as the mythical Loki, believed to be the 13th God, intruded on the banquet of Valhalla, to which all the Gods were invited – with the exception of Loki, who nonetheless showed up armed with a spear and a serious attitude that soon ended up making the God Baldr an accidental shishkabob and Loki the first recorded Party crasher…

Even the scientists at NASA thought to defy the Gods of superstition by sending up Apollo 13 at 13:13 hours (military time) and entering the Moon’s gravitational pull on April 13th.  Command Module Pilot Ken Mattingly even joked about it, stating that he had a black cat walk over a broken mirror under the lunar module’s ladder, claiming it to be no big deal – yet an explosion rendered the mission a loss and the astronauts in serious jeopardy.

Madness, all of it.  Psychiatrists universally dismiss this phobia as a pile of bad noise, claiming it is a delusion, though in modern culture many hotels omit the 13th floor of their buildings and several airlines omit the 13th row of their seating…

…and there is no cure, neither for this irrational fear nor the Patriots offense.

Consider Rob Gronkowski and Michael Hoomanawanui lined up as in-line Tight Ends, Aaron Hernandez in the slot and Brandon Lloyd outside the numbers – and Brady under center.  This is a newer twist as well, as Brady is masterful with the play action, and it works famously in this formation.

The key to the Patriots using this alignment against the Cardinals is that it should, in theory, eliminate the pressure from their young linebackers and pull 2nd year sensation, cornerback Patrick Petersen, out of the play altogether.

Arizona plays in a base 3-4 Defense, as do many other teams in the league.  What makes Arizona’s defense more difficult to deal with is their size, length and speed.  They are a collection of mid-round draft picks and speedy sack artists.  Up front, Lightweight Darnell Dockett and mammoth Calais Campbell are the ends, bookcasing nose tackle Dan Williams.  Both Dockett and Campbell are fierce penetraters and play the run exceptionally well, while Williams is pretty much a space eater with suspect instincts and motivation who can be pushed around inside.

Normally, the majority of Arizona’s pass rush pressure will come from their outside linebackers, O’Brien Schofield and Sam Acho – both recent 4th round picks.  Acho is intriguing.  He started 10 games last season and ended up with 7 sacks and is very much a diamond in the rough.  He, along with Campbell are a fearsome duo rushing from Brady’s blindside.  Acho is a relentless rusher and Campbell is a force given his combination of size (6′ 8″, 300 pounds) and length.  Campbell can disrupt screens, a staple of the Patriots’ offense, if he sniffs them out and gets between New England left tackle Nate Solder and the flat.

In the 13 personnel, Hoomanawanui would be responsible for helping out on the left, nullifying Arizona’s size and speed advantage while Acho will have to drop into coverage to help handle the massive underneath size of the Patriots’ big tight ends. On the right side, Gronkowski will have to chip either Schofield or a blitzing safety Adrian Wilson before releasing into his pattern while Lloyd escorts Peterson out of the play.  Peterson is a special talent that rarely needs help over the top, but his trailing technique makes it easier for a cagey wide out to completely isolate him from the action.

The inside backers are Paris Lenon and Daryl Washington, who provide consistent downhill violence, but are susceptible to the play action as well.

Safeties Wilson and Kerry Rhodes are a bit long in the tooth, but Wilson is still a ferocious hitter when he can reach the action.  To promote this, Wilson may be used as either is a blitz linebacker in the nickle or be relegated to deep centerfield as help over the top for the other cornerback, William Gay.

To deal with their speed, Brady will likely line up under center, take the snap, then freeze the linebackers and safeties for a split-second with play action.  Ideally, this will give Hernandez and Lloyd the advantage to gain separation.  Even if Brady hands off to hard-running Stevan Ridley, there should be plenty of room off tackle for the back to operate after the zone is cleared out by Solder and Hoomanawanui.

And all of this is speculation, of course.  The Patriots have the personnel on offense to spread the Cardinals defense out on one play and pull them back in with the 13 on the next – and with the no-huddle expertise mixed into the maw, the Arizona defense has little chance of containing the potent New England offense.

The best that the Cardinals can hope for is to take advantage of their return game to set up short scoring opportunities for their offense.  But given the state of that unit, it would be best for return man Patrick Peterson to try and take any kicks he gets his hands on to the house.

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Tags: Arizona Cardinals New England Patriots Rob Gronkowski

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