From the outside looking in, one might think that all is well in Foxboro. The Patriots are 2-1, mostly healthy, and they have the number one rated pass defense in the NFL. With all these positives, there is no way the Patriots are actually playing mediocre, right? Well, the answer is yes. The 2-1 record is good, as is the top billing to date in pass defense, but a strange thing has happened and it seems to be happening rapidly.
The Patriots offense looks old and isn’t very good.
The Patriots are average (at best) when they have the ball. From Brady to Connelly to Lafell to Amendola, it has been an extremely slow start for the typically vaunted New England offense. There have been protection issues, but that isn’t the only problem they’re dealing with. When Brady actually does get protection, the receivers can’t get open, run the wrong route or Brady misses the throw. This isn’t an exaggeration, this is right there for all of us to see. The offense is as out of sync as it ever has been in the Tom Brady era.
This past Sunday was a perfect example of the frustrating Patriots offense. Brady and the offense moved the ball well at times, making three deep trips into the Oakland red zone but stalling out at the two-TWICE, and the 18-yard line. Field goals are not going win games on a consistent basis in the NFL so they better get their red zone issues resolved ASAP.
Not all is bad at Patriot Place; Rob Gronkowski was a positive on Sunday, being targeted six times and making three catches for 44 yards and a touchdown. Take away a horrible Tom Brady throw and a rare end zone drop and Gronk has a typical dominant day; all this while he is far from 100% but steadily improving every week. Most normal pro athletes (Adrian Peterson doesn’t count) take over a year to properly heal from an ACL tear. Gronkowski is close to that point and it shows in his play. When his blocking is back where it was before the injuries, look out.
Brandon LaFell was also incorporated into the passing game although sometimes it did feel forced. Brady wasn’t locking in on receivers like he was in Week One and Two, and that was obvious by looking at the target distribution, but he still left a lot of yards and points on the field. The offensive line is getting more heat than ever, but that is what happens when an offense struggles after a Hall of Fame assistant coach retires. There have been growing pains, which is to be expected, but right now this group isn’t playing consistently enough to score on most possessions like Patriot fans have come to expect and they need to pick up their play.
If the Patriots want to fix their offensive woes, committing to the run is a necessity. Stevan Ridley seems to have fixed his fumbling issues and the truth is, they need to trust him because he is one of their best playmakers. Ridley ran for over 1200 yards in 2012, and there isn’t any doubt that he can do it again. Let the offensive line fire out and get physical and that will start to translate into the passing game, enabling Tom Brady to pick teams apart with play action. It’s time to let the old man hand the ball off to the bell-cow and get the opposing defense on their heels; hopefully Bill Belichick realizes this.