At this time last year, if someone told me that Ryan Izzo would stay on the Patriots, I would have laughed. If they said he would be the Patriots’ only tight end, I would have cried. If they said he would win the Week 10 Game Ball, I would have stopped watching football. But all of those things happened. And I couldn’t be happier about it. Ryan Izzo is a huge asset for the Patriots, just not in the way everyone expected.
For several years, the Patriots favored two-tight end formations. They used these formations for extra blocking on rushing plays, and optional targets on passing plays. Players like Rob Gronkowski, Ben Watson, Michael Hoomanawanui, and Martellus Bennett made these formations extremely successful, But since 2018, they have lacked dependable output from the tight end position. After Martellus Bennett retired, the Patriots were left with an aging, often-injured Gronk and Dwayne Allen. The Patriots thought they were getting a productive tight end in Allen but he only played 16 games in two seasons, with 13 catches and one touchdown.
2019 was even worse. Gronk retired, so the Patriots brought 39-year-old Ben Watson out of retirement. Joining Watson were Matt LaCasse, and Ryan Izzo. After watching LaCosse and Izzo play in 2018, no one thought they would ever have a successful NFL career. They dropped more passes than they caught and struggled to contribute as blockers. But 2020 is a different story.
While Ryan Izzo is definitely not lighting up the stat sheet, he’s an essential part of the Patriots’ rushing attack. Against the Ravens defense he was a stone wall, frequently going up against linebacker Matthew Judon and winning the matchup. If Izzo lined up on the right side, the play would typically be a run to the right or a pass to the left. If he lined up on the left side, they ran to that side or threw a pass to the right.
The best example of this came on the Patriots’ second drive of the game. Izzo lined up on the right as an extra blocker. After the snap, he slipped out on a shallow slant to the left to get open against Baltimore’s zone. Cam Newton threw a dart in front of Izzo, who stretched to make the grab and ran to the Baltimore seven-yard line. This set up the first Patriots touchdown and helped swing momentum to the Patriots.
But it was Izzo’s blocking that gave New England the advantage. On the first offensive play of the game, Izzo motioned to the left side, then blocked defensive end Yannick Ngakoue completely out of the play. This allowed Damien Harris to rush to the left for seven yards. As the game progressed, Izzo made several more key blocks and was on the field for 93% of the total offensive snaps.
It’s clear that Ryan Izzo has significantly improved since last season. Head Coach Bill Belichick had this to say when asked about Izzo:
“…Durability is more important than ability, and Ryan I think is a great example of that. The fact that he’s been out there has really given him a chance to improve and he’s taken advantage of that and given us some good play at that position. Certainly, this has been his best year, but it’s also been his most durable year.”
Coach Belichick emphasized this by pointing out that Izzo has always worked hard but has been limited by injuries. While Izzo stays healthy and the Patriots continue to use him effectively, the offense will only continue to improve.
–Travis Baltes is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @TravisBaltes