The New England Patriots are 2-1 on the young season, but it has not been because of the offense. New England is currently last in the entire league in yards per play after facing the Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, and Oakland Raiders. The passing game is 31st in net yards per attempt, behind only the team that beat them in week 1, Miami with Ryan Tannehill. The Patriots are averaging 3.5 yards a carry on the ground (26th in NFL). They also rank 26th in yards per drive, and 22nd in points per drive. The one thing that New England has not done is turn the ball over, but the consistent offense that moves the ball down the field and converts in the red zone has been lacking.
The defense is the opposite, ranking near the top in nearly every category, though so far they have taken advantage of the murderer’s row of Ryan Tannehill, Matt Cassel, and rookie Derek Carr. The passing offense, meanwhile, has averaged 5.5 yards per attempt against teams that have allowed 7.7 yards per attempt against other offenses (quarterbacked by Drew Brees, Austin Davis/Shaun Hill, E.J. Manuel, Alex Smith, Geno Smith, and Ryan Fitzpatrick).
After the week 1 loss, I took an in-depth look at the Patriots for the Read Option. The line played horribly, and Brady struggled to connect on the intermediate and deep throws. He completed only 3 of 20 passes that were thrown more than 10 yards downfield. The response from the coaching staff has been to basically limit the deeper throws. In the Minnesota, the passing game was a non-factor, but a blocked field goal return at halftime turned what could have been a contest more similar to what happened against Oakland into a huge swing and blowout, exacerbated by Cassel turnovers. New England had one 44 yard gain to Julian Edelman that was mostly yards after catch, and otherwise had a long gain of 13.
In Sunday’s game, the game plan early on was similar. Brady threw nothing downfield, it was pretty conservative, and with a chance to score near the goal line at halftime, the Patriots went with two runs, then a bobbled Brady snap that resulted in a wild throw.
In the first half against Oakland, Brady completed 71% of his passes for 4.4 yards per attempt, which should give you a sense of what the plays involved.
The line still had their struggles–the first sack of the game was on a simple four man rush, where all four defenders met at Brady in less than 3 seconds. The play calling, though, seemed to change once this hit occurred, and the score closed to 10-9 on the next Raiders possession.
Before that hit, no pass had been thrown more than 10 yards downfield all game. After the Patriots took the field again, 7 of the 14 passes went at least that far. Is this a sign that the offensive play calling might start getting more aggressive again? We’ll see.
Brady hit tight ends Timothy Wright and Rob Gronkowski down the middle of the field. He also got away with a couple of throws that could have been intercepted, off the hands of defenders. Brady hasn’t been the most comfortable in the pocket with the line struggles, but he did make the best play of the season as far as escaping the pocket on this play, in the fourth quarter, which helped set up a field goal.
Brady talked about the offense yesterday, noting that only Julian Edelman is playing well.
“Yeah, he’s done a good job, so that’s one,” Brady said. “We’ve got a lot of other guys on offense. There’s 22 other guys on offense, so I’m not going to sit here and say every single guy is clicking. We’ve had one individual player that’s caught some passes. Great. Does that make a good offense? I don’t think so.”
We’ll see if the offense gets its rhythm, because the change late in the game Sunday was noticeable. So far, it’s been enough to go 2-1 against some less than stellar opposition, and with great defense. The Bengals await in two weeks, though, after a Monday night game with the Chiefs, so the offense better pick it up soon.