Can the Two Tight End Set Loose the Beast on the League?


How good would Marshawn Lynch have been last year had the Seahawk’s been able to field a credible two tight end set? Lynch was awfully good last year. But recall the acquisition of Zach Miller even though the Hawks already had a decent TE on the roster in John Carlson. The move puzzled the media…until they saw what New England did last year with their two tight end set featuring a pair of monster players, Hernandez and Gronkowski. Unfortunately, Carlson got hurt and a credible two TE set never really materialized for the Seahawks.

So, why am I talking about Marshawn Lynch in an article about the two TE set? That question could get us into a long discussion of X’s and O’s and defenses and O-line gaps. Since I’m not an offensive guru or an expert in defenses I’ll try to give you the “Two tight end sets for Dummys” answer to the “how good would Lynch have been” question as well as answer the question; “why do you need two giant TE’s on your roster”?

In defending against the running game, it’s all about the gaps on the offensive line. In a normal (one tight end) offensive set you have one more gap than the defense has linemen to plug it. The defense counters that by putting a linebacker or other defensive back up on the line to cover that gap. The offense would then do something like put in a big, strong fullback as a lead blocker or pull a guard to move defensive guys out of the gaps and give the running back a place to attack and hopefully break through. That’s a very Chuck Knox-y approach (did I just age myself?).

Bring on the two tight ends! What New England’s Bill Belichick figured out is with two massive tight ends and one back in various alignments, he could force the defense to use that defensive back who was supposed to close that extra gap in the O line to cover the second tight end, who can be in motion or set out wide to clear out the middle, or stacked with the other TE on one side to create an unbalanced formation. The D would have to bring up another back to cover the TE so they can still cover the extra gap. What this means for the running back is it’s like having an extra guy on offense (or one less on defense). The threat of two credible TEs who can catch the ball on short or medium depth routes means there is now an imbalance in favor of the offense. Running backs love imbalances because that means more empty space in the middle and weak side they can run around in. I use the word “credible” because it’s not good enough to just put any two tight ends on the field at the same time. It has to be two big, tall, fast tight ends with great hands who will be seen in the minds of the defensive players as a legitimate threat.

Now, think about those big empty spaces in the field caused by the imbalance created by the extra TE, and imagine Marshawn Lynch not just running through them, but also coming out of the backfield for a screen pass. If there is anyone a defense does NOT want to see in the open field with the ball, it’s Lynch. He’s is THE MAN when it comes to yards after initial contact. Once he’s past the pile-up at the line of scrimmage, he’s back there with the little guys in the defensive backfield. A couple of broken tackles and a stiff-arm later he’s going to be standing in the end zone getting pelted with Skittles.

One last aspect of the two TE set that we should consider. I’ll call it the associative property of mathematics as applied to TE’s and RB’s. If the TE’s can open up the field for RB’s, so can a bull of a running back open things up for the two TE’s. New England used their pair of TE’s not only as TE’s but as wide receivers. Let’s say the defense just got burned by a couple of long runs from the two TE set.  This time they’ll set their TE’s up in an alignment with the TE’s inside to look like a running play, then swap them into the wide receiver position just before the snap. That creates what coaches refer to as “a personnel mismatch”, i.e. a 6’5” 240lb TE against a 5’10” 190lb corner. That usually doesn’t go well for the smaller player. That kind of mismatch was something Mike Williams used to give the Hawks, but with the addition of Winslow, maybe Carroll found Williams expendable due to the flexibility of the two TE set to run one of them as a WR.

This was a really brief and somewhat incomplete summary of what the two tight end set can do. There are many more things coaches can do to further stifle and confuse defenses that we will see the Seahawks doing this year. Now that you know what to look for, try to spot some other setups using two TE’s. I’ll be watching for it because if there is going to be ONE difference between this year’s team and last year’s, it will depend upon how successfully they can deploy Winslow and Miller together.

So, the answer to the question; “how good would Lynch have been with a credible two TE set” will hopefully be answered this year. With the addition of Winslow to Pro-bowler Miller the Seahawks will have possibly one of the top 2 or 3 TE combos in the league. If you thought Lynch was good the last two seasons, this season he could make those look like a simple throat clearing before his virtuoso performance. In other words, look out league! This is gonna be fun!