The Patriots have put their opponents on red alert when it comes to Bill O’Brien’s red zone offense.
Danger could be lurking for defenders after New England’s latest acquisition, tight end Mike Gesicki (6 feet 6 inches). Gesicki gives the club a trio of tree toppers (6-5 tight end Hunter Henry and 6-3 receiver DeVante Parker are the others) that could give defenders fits in the most precious area of the football field.
The Patriots scored touchdowns on just 42.2 percent of their red zone trips in 2022, last in the NFL. They clicked at a 63 percent rate in 2021.
Matching up against this front line will be a tall task for secondaries, as Gesicki, Henry, and Parker all have the hops — and physicality — to win one-on-one jump-ball battles.
Pairing Gesicki with Henry could give the Patriots a substantial 1-2 tight end punch, something that never materialized with Jonnu Smith, who struggled to find a niche in his two seasons in Foxborough.
O’Brien can move Gesicki and Henry around and scheme up plans to take advantage of size mismatches against defensive backs and speed mismatches against linebackers.
Henry has 91 catches for 1,112 yards over the last two seasons, while Gesicki’s numbers dipped in 2022 (32 catches, 362 yards) after back-to-back 700-yard seasons. A lot of that can be attributed to Miami’s dynamic receiving duo of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle getting the lion’s share of the targets. It’s likely why Gesicki received only a one-year deal.
O’Brien is a big fan of 12 personnel looks (one running back, two tight ends, two receivers) and he’ll likely go heavy with these packages, which can help offset offenses that don’t feature a true No. 1 receiver.
Often times, Gesicki will be motioned to the slot, where he will be marked by either a linebacker or safety. Advantage Patriots. Gesicki is quick, athletic, and possesses soft hands. He can threaten over the middle or outside the numbers.
“Gesicki’s a big receiver,’’ Bill Belichick said back in 2020. “I mean, he’s not really a conventional tight end, but he’s a tough matchup in the passing game.”
Gesicki, whom O’Brien recruited at Penn State (though they didn’t overlap, as O’Brien left for the Texans), isn’t a dominant run blocker, so the Patriots likely will still need to add a widebody in-line blocking tight end either via free agency or the draft. Another option would be to deploy an extra offensive lineman (or jumbo tight end) in certain packages.
Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.