NEPD Staff Writer: Jason Cappell
With 105 receptions for 1,056 yards, Julian Edelman proved in 2013 that he’s more than just a capable NFL receiver. Rob Gronkowski’s 46 touchdowns in 56 career games indicate that he’s no slouch either when it comes to the New England passing attack. But the Patriots need more. They need more than just Gronk and Edelman catching passes for their offense to truly take shape.
In some cases winning can mask a team’s flaws. Because they defeated the Minnesota Vikings 30-7, Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense were given a pass for their lackluster performance. Though Stevan Ridley managed to rush for 100 yards, it was the Patriots’ stout defense that covered for their poor passing attack.
For only the 13th time in 195-career regular season starts, Tom Bray attempted less than 23 passes in a game. And to make matters even more disconcerting, when he did throw the ball, it predominantly went to either Edelman or Gronkowski. The two standout pass catchers caught 67 percent of Brady’s completions.
Getting steady production from your best players is not a problem per se, but when it comes at the expense of your role players, it can become one. For the second consecutive week, newly signed receiver and former Carolina Panther Brandon LaFell was completely shut out of receptions. In fact Brady, didn’t even throw in his direction once in 38 snaps. And only two throws were aimed at last season’s prized signing Danny Amendola.
Wide receivers like Brandon Lloyd and Chad Johnson struggled to fit into the Patriots’ offense in recent years, and it seems as if LaFell is also falling into that pattern. It’s no secret that the Patriots offense is complicated in nature, and it’s only a matter of time before Brady loses trust in his secondary targets altogether.
Phasing out targets like Amendola Dobson and LaFell will only cause problems for the Patriots in the long run. Last year Brady was far too focused on throwing to Julian Edelman, and his dependency of Edelman was made readily apparent as the Patriots’ offense struggled at times after Rob Gronkowski was sidelined.
It’s rare that a team can have so many issues moving the chains and yet have a 1-1 record, but the Patriots hold themselves to high standards offensively.
The Patriots have ranked in the top three teams in points scored for five of the past six seasons, all of which were led by Brady. But if the Patriots want to transition back to the high-octane offense we are accustomed to seeing, they really have their work cut out for them.
The first two weeks have been a grind, as the Patriots’ offense has looked completely out of sync. The Patriots rank 27th in the NFL in total yards, which is not a surprise given that they are committing far too many penalties, can’t convert third-and-short, and they have absolutely no downfield threat in their offense.
In Week 1 against the Dolphins, Brady was 2 for 18 on passes of 15 yards or deeper. And in Week 2 against the Vikings, Brady didn’t even bother trying to stretch the field, as he only tried four passes of 15 yards or more.
Traditionally, Patriots’ receivers are blamed for not knowing the offense well enough and not being on the same page as Brady. But after promising reports from training camp maybe its time to start considering if Brady should be blamed for being addicted to his go-to receivers.
In Week 2 Edelman was targeted seven times, and to make matters worse Aaron Dobson was the only other wide receiver targeted. After a 44-yard pass to Edelman, the Patriots’ next longest completion went to Dobson for 13 yards; who is supposed to be the team’s deep threat.
With a defensive unit that showed signs of life against the Minnesota Vikings, the Patriots should be able to continue stalling their opponents’ offense. But with Andrew Luck’s Colts and Peyton Manning’s Broncos coming soon, the Patriots will need to sort out their problems offensively to keep pace with some of the league’s best offenses.
After all, when Brady distributes the ball evenly, defenders can’t key in as much on Edelman and Gronkowski, and as a result the running game opens up too. And while there’s plenty of time left in the season, Brady needs to begin trusting all his pass catchers. After all even the great Tom Brady would be the first to selflessly admit his favorite receiver is the one that’s open.