Predictability a Problem for the Patriots

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.









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21 Responses to “Predictability a Problem for the Patriots”

  1. Kevan says:

    Maybe now is the time the pats make that Fitzgerald trade everyone’s been talking about for years.

    • MaineMan says:

      Probably a couple-three years late for that. Fitz is 31 now and has 10 catches on 21 targets for 107 yards in 3 games. And, no, it’s not Stanton. He’s actually been more productive with Stanton in wks 2 & 3 than he was in wk-1 with Palmer.

      • Kevan says:

        Exactly. Buy low, just like they bought Randy low. Watch him get a pep in his step when he signs with the pats and is catching passes from Brady. Arizona got Floyd and that kid Brown is good too. Pats got the money. Chances are it won’t happen, but if it was ever going to now is the time to do it. Buy low

    • steve earle says:

      I’m more worried about the O-line to tell the truth. If brady doesn’t have the time to throw it doesn’t matter if we hav a dozen probowl receivers.

      • Kevan says:

        Fair point, but I think the oline will improve. Sometimes I can be a blind optimist, maybe I’m just hoping, but cannon will hold down that lg spot. Stork will take over at center, moving Conolly out to RG. Should try Flemming at RG too. Cannon stork and Flemming will be the biggest interior line has ever had, to go with the giants at tackle. Size isn’t everything though, they do have to get better, I think they will. Trade for Fitz! Do it! Super Bowl in Arizona. Pats r going back to right a wrong.

        • steve earle says:

          Hoping your right about line improvement and personal changes. Sounds right to me. Now about Fitz, who do we trade or what do we offer because I’ve heard nothing to encourage me that they want to trade him. Have I missed something?

        • Kevan says:

          Maybe amendola and a pick

        • steve earle says:

          Yea maybe, but which pick do you have in mind? I’ll bet Arz’s idea of a pick(s) would be lots different from ours.

  2. steve earle says:

    After yesterday’s game it appears those who said the Pat’s draft last spring should have focused on the O-line, may have had a point. Both Miami and now Oakland put pressure consistently on TB with a 4 man rush. I’m sure trading Mankins hasn’t helped but even so these O-linemen should have and must step it up or they will need to be replaced somehow by others who can do the job. I don’t have the answer, any suggestions out there?

    • MaineMan says:

      While Mankins’ actual play had been declining for a couple seasons and he’s not exactly killing it with the Tampa OL, the “intangibles” that Mankins brought to the OL locker room are certainly missed – the leadership, getting everybody on the same page, etc.

    • acm says:

      yup, oh well …

    • GM-in-Training says:

      They drafted Stork, Fleming and Halapio in the 4-6th. Quality interior lineman can often be had in those rounds. Sure, they could’ve grabbed more highly rated linemen higher up.

      Did they know Solder was going to struggle at the start of this season? Apparently not.

      Reasons for pessimism about the line abound:
      They’ve lost experience and nastiness. They keep rotating packages…which is not what you do when you know who your best 5 guys are.

      Reasons for optimism about the OL include;
      They’re healthier/younger. They’re cheaper. We have 3 centers, and the rookie Stork is probably the most talented, but it’s a complicated position to play so they’re easing him in. Solder has to get used to working next to Cannon. Cannon has to get used to being a left Guard. Between Kline, Connolly, Wendell they ought to be able to get one stable right guard.

      That’s ultimately the biggest reason for optimism about the OL…they’re tweaking the pieces and spreading the workload until they get the best unit used to working together.

  3. Russell says:

    The Patriots play design is a question in my book, as they pull and move OLineman very often on running plays. Then not moving on pass plays, and alot of zone blocking. I watched one play where Connolly (at OC) had no one to block as the DLine pushed the OG’s and OT’s and got to Brady. Watching the Steelers run the ball at a good Carolina run D, strait ahead blocking, with double teams, and OLineman getting to the second level, had very good produtive run plays.
    I though the OLine played better with Stork at OC, but it was later in the game. I also did not see plays that “set-up” other plays later in the game? It was almost like the Patriots were working with a set number of plays. I would like to see the Patriots run a set of scripted plays to start the game, maybe #8-10 depending on field position.

    • MaineMan says:

      I agree that the blocking schemes so far are worth a deeper look, although, whatever they’ve been trying to do, they haven’t been executing well. I have to wonder, then, if the scheme hasn’t been kind of a vanilla version of what they want to do simply because the execution has been poor so far.

      BTW, the Panthers’ run-D hasn’t really been all that good this season. Before getting run over by Bell and Blount, they’d allowed an average day to Tampa’s decidedly average ground game and only stifled the Lions’ pretty crappy ground game, so there was more vulnerability there than most folks realized.

      The flipside is the analysis of Oakland’s supposedly “worst in the league” run-D and the erroneous consensus prediction that the Pats would be able to run all over them. As I posted earlier, Oakland’s run-D was never as awful as the total yardage numbers if one took the time to breakdown how the yardage was gained (a huge percentage on a handful of long runs due to breakdowns by LBs and DBs) and by which teams. Secondly, the Pat’s ground game isn’t very good right now. About 50% of that is poor blocking (and not just by the OL), but half of it is the fact that Ridley, when he’s carrying the ball securely, is actually a pretty ordinary runner.

      • Russell says:

        I agree, and also wonder if the Patriots are only running some plays, saveing plays for other games. (To not show to much of thier O?) I’m NOT a fan of Ridley and would have cut him, as I doubt Bill resigns him next year. With RB White, Gaffney, and drafting another RB in the 2015 draft, ( 3-4th round) I think Bill looks to improve that area. OL Stork and Flemming look prominsing, but its unlikely Connolly is around another year, so drafting another OLman will be high (2-3 round in the 2015 draft). I look for a LB drafted early (1-2 round in the draft.
        I wrote alot the last two years on this site, about drafting for the OLine, (Bartlett Jones , Brain Winters, 2013 draft) (2014 draft Stork, Bodine (Starting in Cinn.) and think VERY highly of Reid Fragel 6’8″ 295 Ohio State RT/ TE Cleveland,and know the Colts P-Squad.

    • MaineMan says:

      While we’re on the subject of opponents’ run-D, the Chiefs have given up substantial yardage (303 yards) to two very solid running teams, Miami and Tennessee, while stifling Denver’s ground game that’s just been just about as poor as the Pats’ (maybe a little worse). IOW, unless the Pats’ run-blocking miraculously improves over the next seven days, I doubt that Ridley & Co. will be killing it in Arrowhead, either.

      And that could be a problem.

  4. MaineMan says:

    This whole “Brady doesn’t trust” thing is just wrong.

    1) Over the first two games, Brady has targeted everybody at least once – all 12 of his potential targets:
    Gronk – 17
    Edelman – 15
    Vereen – 9
    Thompkins – 9
    LaFell – 6 (zero receptions)
    Amendola – 6 (actually, it’s 8 or 9, but he’s had a couple good catches wiped out by someone else’s penalties)
    Six others have split 13 targets for 10 receptions – “secondary targets” including Bolden, Develin, Ridley, Hooman, Wright (still learning the offense) and Dobson (still working back from injury).

    2) The tape breakdown of the Vikings game clearly shows that, of the 13 times that Brady targeted Edelman and Gronk, other guys were open on only three or four of those throws – and they weren’t his first read on those plays, nor necessarily his best target. IOW, he’s been consistently throwing to the first open guy in his progression (which is about all he’s had time for, given his shaky OL protection so far). Even LaFell has attested to this in recent interviews (while also noting that Brady grabs him for extra practice on routes and catching every chance they get, trying to make them both better).

    3) And this is the most important part – the guy who Brady looks to first on a given play is NOT an arbitrary, spur of the moment decision on Brady’s part – it’s designed into the play. The play design is a cooperative effort on the part of Brady and Josh with input from BB and the rest of the offensive coaches. Brady’s read progression for the play is determined by which potential target has performed best in practice on that play. IOW, if there are “trust issues” with a particular pass-catcher, they aren’t Brady’s alone by any means. This is why everybody from BB on down has publicly taken responsibility for doing a better job on getting more potential pass-catchers involved. On the coaching side, this means helping guys with their technique and their reads so they can get open at the right time more often. It also means designing more plays that fit what these other guys CAN do well right now. It’s a work in progress for everybody, not just Brady.

    Brady “not trusting” a receiver is a worn out cliche that was never accurate to begin with. It pushes “analysis” into the realm of shallow melodrama, helps no one understand football any better, and makes Brady sound like a primadonna. I really wish folks would just let it go.

    • Bobthebuilder says:

      Still, it’s an issue that our only productive receivers are Jules and Gronk.

      • MaineMan says:

        It’s certainly an issue, but it’s not exclusively – or even mostly – with Brady.

        – Other potential pass-catchers running incorrect routes or failing to gain separation.
        – The OL not consistently giving Brady enough time to get further in his read progression than the first or second guy.
        – Offensive holding penalties (two by Lafell, one by Dobson) negating 60 yards worth of receptions by Amendola.
        – The ground game being ineffective and, in turn, reducing the effectiveness of play-action.

    • Russell says:

      Tom missed open guys early in the game that were secondry recievers, on those plays. Thompkins is ALWAYS a target on slant passes on the left side for about 10 yds.
      Patriots need to get a shuttle pass, with Tom moving to his left, (a fake hand-off on a stretch play), and shuttle pass to guy coming back into the middle from the right, ( TE-Wright).

      • MaineMan says:

        I gotta say that, with the way the OL is screwing up blocking assignments, especially on the interior, a shuttle pass seems like it would be about even odds to end up as a pick-six.

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