The New England Patriots will get a big boost to their offense on Monday. Veteran tight end Benjamin Watson, who missed the first four games of the 2019 season while serving a suspension for violating the league’s drug policy, is expected to be activated.
In his second stint with the Patriots, Watson has evolved into more of a blocking tight end as his career has droned on, something he was noted for in his time in New Orleans. While having a veteran presence and a tight end familiar with Tom Brady and the New England offense back in the fold is helpful, it will especially benefit the Patriots running game.
New England has struggled to move the ball on the ground, but it’s no coincidence feature back Sony Michel has had his two best games when the team had multiple tight ends active.
Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo were both dressed against the Dolphins and the Bills. In those games, Michel rushed for a combined 146 yards. In the other two games of the season, with only one tight end active, Michel had a combined 25 yards rushing — a clear difference.
Last season, in two games where Michel played without Rob Gronkowski, he struggled as well combining for 53 yards on 15 carries. Even this year, Michel continues to show he is clearly more effective with a tight end in the game, meaning Watson’s addition will only help get him going.
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Back in Watson’s first stint with the Patriots, he helped an aging Corey Dillon continue to thrive as well as make Laurence Maroney look like one of the league’s premier running backs. Maroney eclipsed 700 yards in each of his three full seasons with the Patriots — all coming with Watson as the team’s leading tight end.
Although his run-blocking grade, according to Pro Football Focus, has gone down over his career, Watson is still effective at the craft when needed. He took 206 run-blocking snaps in 2018, receiving a grade of 55.5 which isn’t as bad as it seems but also isn’t terrific.
Now say the Patriots decide to use Watson more as a receiving tight end? That’s where LaCosse comes into play. The young tight end has thoroughly improved as a run blocker as his snaps increased from his time in Denver to now in New England.
Looking at his performance against Miami, LaCosse provided an immediate difference in the running game by helping open holes for Michel behind the line of scrimmage. It allowed the second-year back to explode off the handoff and immediately gain positive yardage.
Even a guy like Ryan Izzo, who made his living as a blocking tight end in college, has shown improvement having a second tight end to share snaps with. But adding Watson to the mix will allow the Patriots to get more out of Michel and mix their other tight ends into the receiving game.