Film Room: Martellus Bennett

Film Room: Martellus Bennett
Film Room: Martellus Bennett
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Cian Fahey

The New England Patriots have a great tight end. He is the type of player who completely alters the identity of their offense, expanding their options on every snap and diversifying the ways in which they can execute specific play calls. He is a guy who can excel in every situation, someone who expects to make impact run blocks in one-on-one matchups with defensive ends while still being able to attack every level of the defense from any alignment as a pass catcher.

He's one of the best tight ends in the league -- he's just not the best tight end on his team.

Adding Martellus Bennett to Rob Gronkowski is unfair. It's one of the best moves that Bill Belichick has made over recent years, which is saying something considering his track record. Bennett doesn't have a reputation as one of the best tight ends in the league, but that is more a reflection of the way his career has developed rather than his individual talent. Bennett was trapped behind future Hall of Famer Jason Witten for the duration of his rookie contract with the Dallas Cowboys. While in Dallas, he stood out for his run blocking, but wasn't given many opportunities to catch passes.

The Giants signed him to a one-year deal in 2012, giving him the opportunity to show off his wide skill set. Bennett caught 55 passes for 626 yards and five touchdowns while continuing to impress as a run blocker. His performances there earned him a big deal with the Chicago Bears, where he continued to excel over the next two seasons. Due to the offense in which he played, his numbers in the Windy City never fully reflected the quality of his play. Jay Cutler isn't the most consistent quarterback, especially not with Marc Trestman's play calling, while the target pool was being split between Bennett, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, and Alshon Jeffery. Over those two seasons with Trestman, Bennett played all 32 games. He only played 11 last season, though, while being frustrated with his contract situation and playing on a team that never threatened to contend.

Belichick is buying in on this rationale as the reason for Bennett's down year. He recognizes the risk involved in adding a player who has been labelled as a problem, but he will have witnessed first-hand the rewards that the New York Jets reaped from signing Marshall last year after the Bears jettisoned him under similar circumstances.

Adding Bennett isn't solely about adding a quality player though. Pairing him with Gronkowski should allow the Patriots to alter the identity of their offense. When the Patriots traded Chandler Jones away for a second-round pick in this year's draft, it looked like Jonathan Cooper was just a piece who was thrown into the deal. However, with the subsequent trade for Bennett, and if you keep in mind that offensive line coach Dante Scarrnechia was convinced to come out of retirement, it looks like Belichick is about to zig while the rest of the league zags.

Cooper is a guard who has done little in his career. He suffered a broken leg before his rookie season and has been inconsistent at best since then. When he came out of college, he was taken high in the first round of the draft because of his ability as a crushing pulling guard in a power scheme. Bruce Arians had enjoyed great success with a similar type of player, Chris Kemoeatu, in Pittsburgh. Cooper may not even make the Patriots roster, but the only reason you acquire him in the first place is because of his potential as an impact run blocker.

With the whole league trying to get faster and smaller on offense, Belichick looks like he is about to re-emphasize size by relying on the run. Bennett isn't going to be an Aaron Hernandez-type of complement to Gronkowski; he won't be relied upon for his quality as a receiver only. He is going to be a second Gronkowski.

On this play against the Detroit Lions from last season, the Bears are going to toss the ball to Forte. Bennett is lined up as the right-side tight end, highlighted in red. He is responsible for clamping down on the defensive end in front of him while the right tackle pulls behind to lead the way for Forte. This isn't an easy block for Bennett to execute because the defensive end across from him begins the play on his outside shoulder. He needs to get outside of him without over-extending to allow the defender to penetrate too far downfield. Bennett needs to show off strength and precise feet to seal off the edge.

To adjust against the defensive end's alignment, Bennett pushes his right foot further outside of his center while keeping his left foot in its original position. This invites the defensive end infield and creates leverage for Bennett to use in his favor. He can still keep his body between the defender and Forte, meaning that he is in the perfect position to seal the edge. Bennett typically shows off very precise footwork to maintain his balance and concentrate his strength. On this play, he is too aggressive in lunging towards the defensive end, allowing the defender to deliver a heavy blow while his right foot is off the ground. This forces his right foot into the air and puts a huge amount of pressure on Bennett to maintain his position with his left foot.

Bennett is officially listed at 6-foot-6 and 273 pounds. Despite his weight, he carries a slender frame. He has very little weight that works against him, instead showing off huge upper body power. That power could be seen on this play because even without his feet planted on the ground while going against a defensive linemen, he could prevent the defender from penetrating upfield. Bennett wrenches the defender inside and controls his positioning as he brings his right foot back to the ground.

As Forte follows his lead blocker outside, Bennett has the perfect angle against his defender. He is controlling his position and pushing him away from the football. Bennett is using his hands and setting his feet, so there is no risk of him sliding off the block or allowing his weight to drag him out of position. The best blockers in the NFL, whether they are tight ends, offensive linemen or running backs, understand how to use their feet and hands together. They maintain their balance with their lower body while concentrating their power with their hands. Everyone in the NFL is big and athletic, so it's this precision that sets the stars apart.

Bennett consistently shows off these traits regardless of what the offense asks him to do.

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This play comes from the same game against the Lions. Bennett is working on the edge again, but this time he doesn't have to seal the edge defender inside on an outside run. He has to hold the defender outside, as the ball is designed to go inside of him. Bennett needs to make sure that the defender doesn't work across his face. He does this by aggressively engaging the defender at the beginning of the play to hold him in place. Bennett is strong enough to hold the defender at the line of scrimmage without losing his balance. As the defender reacts to the initial contact, Bennett resets his feet to position himself between the defender and the ball carrier.

Once he has established this position, Bennett is able to extend his hands so that he could repel the defender if he tried to fight his way through the tight end.

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Bennett's strength at the point of contact and his comfort resetting his feet while engaged is impressive, but as a tight end you are always more likely to be asked to work in space. On zone runs and when working outside the tackles, you have to be able to move laterally to mirror defenders in front of you without losing your discipline. On this play, Bennett doesn't execute his block perfectly, but he is quick enough to move with outside linebacker Melvin Ingram, who lined up as a defensive end with his hand on the ground. Ingram is an impressive athlete, and considering Bennett's size, the tight end does extremely well to move with him and stay on his outside shoulder.

Even while moving at the line of scrimmage, this creates a cutback lane for running back Ka'Deem Carey. Carey had to show off quick feet and some fluidity to arc his run, but he wouldn't have had that opportunity if Bennett had been sluggish in moving with Ingram. The linebacker would have been able to redirect or penetrate directly towards him if Bennett had not been there.

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This GIF from the same game has been purposely slowed down. This shows how the tight end shifts his weight and moves his feet without standing tall or leaning too far forward. He doesn't rush to engage the defender across from him, instead holding his position on the edge of the line. When his defender moves inside, Bennett doesn't panic and follow him. He shows off awareness and intelligence to locate the second linebacker to that side of the field before engaging him in space. Bennett shifts his weight and advances towards the defender before concentrating his power to drive him out of the play. This wasn't an easy block to make against an inside linebacker. It required Bennett to show off comfort moving in space, as well as the controlled aggression that allows him to be so effective in one-on-ones against defensive ends.

When the Patriots have Bennett and Gronkowski on the field together next season, they will essentially be running the ball with two extra offensive tackles on the field. Matching up to that personnel package will be extremely difficult. If you come out in a base defense that is better suited to stop the run, the Patriots can split Bennett and/or Gronkowski outside to throw the ball. This is something the Patriots attempted to do at times last season with Scott Chandler and Gronkowski in the red zone. Chandler is a good player, but he didn't live up to expectations in New England. Even if he had, his overall level of talent is nowhere near that of Bennett.

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Bennett will suffer from drop issues. He has done so throughout his career. Those drops shouldn't overshadow his overall quality as a receiver, though. On this play against the Denver Broncos, Bennett initially lines up in the slot and runs a deep curl route against man coverage. He uses his quickness and strength at the top of his route to create separation, giving his quarterback a window to hit. The pressure in the pocket disrupted the timing of the play, so Bennett never saw the ball go his way. When Cutler broke the pocket, though, Bennett showed off the work rate and intelligence to work his way across the field. He gave his quarterback an outlet that would result in a first down. This was not an easy play to make. Bennett had a defender on his back who was grabbing him with one extended arm. Still, Bennett caught the ball away from his body with his hands. His arms were extended in front of him, leading him directly into the path of the arriving safety. T.J. Ward didn't have his weight perfectly balanced, but he was still able to deliver a strong hit on Bennett. Not only did Bennett hold onto the ball through contact, he bounced Ward off of his body so he could continue downfield.

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Although he's not a slow player in a straight line, especially considering his size, Bennett's explosiveness doesn't stand out as much as his quickness. He can change direction in an instant, evading defenders in tight spaces to create yardage downfield. Bennett's ability with the ball in his hands is more valuable for creating favorable down-and-distance situations rather than breaking off big plays. In the above play from the Chargers game, Bennett is faced with two defenders at the line of scrimmage. He should be stopped at the line of scrimmage to set up a third-and-10. Instead, Bennett sets up the arriving defender from the middle of the field by using hesitation before he even gets to the line of scrimmage. Once he is confronted by both defenders at the line, he is able to make a decisive lateral cut infield to cleanly escape into positive yardage. This screen play wasn't well executed. The 4 yards that the offense gained could be completely attributed to Bennett's ability to create with the ball in his hands. He turned a third-and-10 into a more manageable third-and-6.

This isn't an isolated play either.

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On this play against the Minnesota Vikings, Cutler throws Bennett into trouble. His route releases him along the line of scrimmage to a point where Harrison Smith is arriving to hit him. Smith is a hard-hitting safety who can punish receivers when he lines them up in situations such as this one. Here, he recognizes Bennett's strength, so doesn't go for the big hit. Instead he aims lower in an attempt to chop down Bennett's legs before the tight end can turn upfield. Bennett not only shows off great strength, but also the balance to fend off Smith without losing his balance. He comfortably turns the corner and advances downfield to gain positive yardage.

When he is confronted by the next defender, Bennett again uses his footwork to force the cornerback to hesitate. Bigger ballcarriers who dance like this are typically problematic because they negate their physical prowess by destroying their own momentum. Bennett doesn't do that. Bennett understands that he can use his feet to create hesitation in smaller defenders before accelerating forward to the space beside them.

Bennett doesn't simply look to run through the defender, even though he probably could if he wanted to. He understands momentum and how to get the most out of his physical talent by attacking space.

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Cutler throws Bennett into a similar situation on this play against the Lions. This time the safety doesn't have the angle to hit him, so Bennett has a chance to set him up for yards after the catch. Bennett catches the ball in such a way that he can reverse his momentum and cut back infield quickly. He understands where the safety was coming from and uses his momentum against him to find space. Although Bennett stumbles a bit executing the cut, he is so decisive and quick in his movement that he has time to recover. It's not easy for a player of his size to make that kind of movement, so the stumble is less significant than his quick recovery.

Belichick excels at measuring risk versus reward in player acquisition. Bennett is another great example of this. For swapping late-round picks, Belichick got one of the most talented, most versatile tight ends in the NFL who has only just turned 29 years of age. He obviously had his issues in Chicago, but they were the types of issues that are born out of frustration rather than major character flaws. Bennett hasn't had locker room issues throughout his career. He is a prime candidate to benefit from the established culture in New England.


25 comments, Last at 24 Mar 2016, 12:40am

1 Re: Film Room: Martellus Bennett

If the OL is healthy this year along with the return of Lewis, I think we see a seriously explosive offense this year. Can't wait for the season to start.

3 Re: Film Room: Martellus Bennett

I could not agree more. I've been a huge fan of Bennett's -- very good receiver, under-rated blocker (except by Cian) -- just a really complete football player. He does seem to wear out his welcome in short order at every stop, though. At this point its hard to ascribe that to bad luck. From the outside he seems pleasantly weird, but from the inside it must be a lot more intrusive. Still, he's a very good player and adds a lot to the Pat's offense. Very good pick up.

Which kinda makes me sick.

6 Re: Film Room: Martellus Bennett

Yeah, I'm 100% sure that Bellichick, the Patriots locker room, and almost certainly winning at least 12 games next year will quash any complaints Bennett has, even as I expect his total production to go down.

I wouldn't be surprised to see him reduce his drops either.

Damn Patriots.

8 Re: Film Room: Martellus Bennett

Chicago's one thing, but the NYG and DAL dropped him like he was hot, too. Cutler is the worst QB he's played with, which puts his drops issue into an unfortunate light.

He might work out, but maybe let's not start sucking each other's dicks quite yet.

19 Re: Film Room: Martellus Bennett

"Chicago's one thing, but the NYG and DAL dropped him like he was hot, too"


He played his entire contract for DAL, and DAL tried to resign him, reportedly offering him more than NYG did. A guy leaving in FA for less money isn't you dropping him.

He had a one year deal with the NYG, and left for a big 4 year deal with Chicago.

4 Re: Film Room: Martellus Bennett

As a Packers fan, I couldn't figure out why the Bears dumped Bennett. He's a matchup nightmare and had several good games against the Packers. I just thought the Bears decided to tank the season, but I don't think there is an Andrew Luck-level QB prospect out there. In any case, nice move Pats.

5 Re: Film Room: Martellus Bennett

As a Bears fan, the only complaint I ever had with Bennett is that when he loses focus, he drops a lot of balls, runs poor routes, and doesn't fight for contested balls, the latter two of which lead to interceptions, especially with a QB like Cutler that likes to throw guys open. Lots of other Bear fans, especially those of a certain type, think Bennett is a locker-room cancer that quit on the team, but I see no actual evidence of that.

I wish him the best and hope he has a great career in NE except when playing the Bears.

7 Re: Film Room: Martellus Bennett

I thought there might have been valid salary cap reasons for letting him go, but it's pretty hard to justify keeping Eddie Royal at basically the same salary.

It's also very hard to justify keeping Royal for more money than Forte is being paid

12 Re: Film Room: Martellus Bennett

Regarding took me a while to look up Forte's contract with the Jets, and when I finally saw it I just shook my head. Now maybe Forte would have asked for more from the Bears and they knew it and opted not to negotiate, but 3 years/$12M with $9M guaranteed? On a team that has plenty of salary cap space in the next couple of years? Seems like they would have been wise to keep him for that.

About the only way it would have been a terrible contract would be if he went off a cliff in 2016, and given his fitness regimen I would bet that he will be a highly productive RB for at least one more season.

16 Re: Film Room: Martellus Bennett

I think the implication was supposed to be that at this point keeping him around would hamper the growth of Langford (because he is unwilling to be a third down back?).

Of course, then they went to try to get CJ Anderson, so I guess that was wrong too. I think it probably is the case that he asked for more from Chicago, but who knows.

11 Re: Film Room: Martellus Bennett

I think a lot of the nationwide media out of either ignorance or something worse are conflating the Bennett situation with the Brandon Marshall situation, which is partially understandable in that both are cases of very productive players being traded for peanuts. But like you, I consume a lot of Chicago media and I've noticed that everyone seems to be very careful to stop short of accusing Bennett of truly being a locker-room cancer like Marshall was. I'm not saying there aren't stories that either the media is holding back or that never left the locker room, but even as much as I feel like the official narrative is being tweaked to make the Bears look good, the worst I hear about Bennett is that he's kind of a weird guy and that he had the temerity to ask for more guaranteed money.

In the end, if the Bears think this was the right move for them I have to believe them (or renounce my faith in their leadership, which I don't really want to do yet after the Emery/Trestman era bombed so quickly), so I hope they're right. Like you, I wish Bennett the best.

14 Re: Film Room: Martellus Bennett

It seems to me that da Bears believe they have to hit bottom before ascending again. They've had these very bad deals the past couple of years, with seemingly no concern about their present product. This guy doesn't necessarily agree with the process, but expects it to work.

15 Re: Film Room: Martellus Bennett

Given the investment on defense, I'm expecting to see this team compete for the NFCN next year. Although, if the Vikings figure out blocking, and the Packers have 2 starting caliber receivers, it's going to be a tough road to sled.

It's clear they want to get rid of all the old veterans from the offense, at least at skill positions.

23 Re: Film Room: Martellus Bennett

Agreed, there are some concerns on offense with the losses of Gase, Forte, and Bennett. I doubt most people realise the Bears had the best offense in the NFCN last year. The defense was only better than the Saints on the other hand. So I'm expecting the defense to improve more than the offense gets worse. Whether that's enough is an open question. The Vikings and Packers have fewer questions, but this is the NFL, stuff happens (watch now as the Lions win the division).

10 Re: Film Room: Martellus Bennett

With what you said about Brady in your book it makes sense for the Pats to go run heavy and limit the amount the Brady has to throw. But the ability to run a spread route combination out of a power set with Brady's quickness in throwing is also a huge advantage.

21 Re: Film Room: Martellus Bennett

Take a look at Cutler's pick six against the Cards, Bennett freelanced at the end of his route entirely faking out his QB and basically moves out of the way of the ball at the last second. Times when he would run crappy routes or not bother looking back for the ball were also issues.

The guy made some great plays for the Bears the last three years but he appears to have the attention span of s brain damaged goldfish; drops, lazy routes, free landing and missed blocking assignments all hurt the Bears last year.

25 Re: Film Room: Martellus Bennett

Too bad there isn't a breakdown on his missed assignment for the game tying 2 point conversion against the Broncos. That's right, he quit on the play when he realized he wasn't getting the ball. Good riddance.