By: Russ Goldman
The lockout has finally ended, and we can start talking about what positional players the Patriots should add to their roster. Outside linebacker and offensive line help are where I feel the Patriots should be upgrading. However, I have noticed several fans, and Boston sports media members, mentioning that the Patriots need to add a deep threat on offense. I couldn’t disagree more with that sentiment regarding the wideout position. The Patriots offense does not need to add an elite wide receiver.
I don’t think it is fair to point to the last game of the season in which the Patriots lost, and say the Patriots need to add a deep threat. Were there struggles in the passing game? I would say absolutely, but if I remember correctly, the first 2 drives of the game were tremendous as the Patriots moved the ball effortlessly down the field. Unfortunately, an interception by Brady on one drive, and a drop by Alge Crumpler, really hampered the Patriots chances in that game.
Sometimes you have to give credit to the other team, and just say they outplayed the Patriots. Rex Ryan deployed a defense that took away the middle of the field for Tom Brady to find receivers. Unfortunately, the Patriots did not make the proper adjustments to counteract the Jets coverage.
Now, you could say a deep threat might have made a difference in this game, and you could be right. I understand why fans, and the media point to this position.
However, what I noticed over the course of last season was an offense that completely transformed itself into a “balanced attack”. Gone were the days where Randy Moss was the first option, and Wes Welker would be Brady’s second target on a play.
In its place we saw Tom Brady bring the offense back to 2003, when he would just find the open receiver. The offense was back to being about Brady’s mind, rather than looking for Randy Moss.
Also, Brady finally had two tight ends that could catch the ball, and get downfield. He could also swing the ball out to Danny Woodhead from the backfield. He also had Wes Welker and Deion Branch to count on at wide receiver.
This variety in the passing game was complimented by a nice running attack led by Benjarvus Green-Ellis. He gained over 1000 yards last season. For the first time since Corey Dillon was in the backfield, the Patriots had a solid running game that complimented the passing attack.
Both parts of the offense benefited from the change that was made after Randy Moss left. If you don’t believe me, maybe these statistics will back up my point. The Patriots were 8th in the NFL in the regular season in total offense with 363 yards per game.
In passing offense, the Patriots were 11th in the NFL averaging 240 yards per game. In rushing offense the Patriots were 8th averaging 113 yard per game.
This next statistic is probably the most important, and might surprise you about the 2010 Patriots offense. In scoring, the Patriots led the NFL averaging 32.4 points per game. Compare that with 2007, when the Patriots broke offensive records and averaged 36.8 points per game.
In scoring there really wasn’t a tremendous difference between the 2010 and 2007. Where the offenses differed was how they scored those points.
The Patriots managed to win three Super Bowls without Randy Moss, and they’ll likely win another one without him as well. (FILE:Icon/SMI)
When the Patriots won their 3 Super Bowl rings they did not have an elite receiver that could stretch the field. They did have receivers that could go long like David Patten, Troy Brown, and Deion Branch. The difference is that the deep ball was nowhere near the focus of the offense like it became in 2007 until Moss left.
The offense especially in 2003 and 2004 was centered around Brady, and his ability to move the ball with a balanced attack. The offense is back to being about Brady orchestrating the offense. There is no reason to go back to that 2007 team.
I am not saying that the Patriots should not have the ability to throw the ball long when they need to. I happen to think they already have the option already on the offense. Brandon Tate is still a young player, and has the speed to go long. I am expecting in his second full year with the Patriots to see improvement. He did average 18 yards per reception last season. He just needs to step up his game, and be more productive.
Tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski both have the ability to stretch the field differently. Hernandez and Gronkowski have shown that they can get down the middle of the field. This is a different type of a deep threat that Russ Francis made famous many years ago for the Patriots.
Most important though for me is that the focus of the offense will be balanced, and I think more difficult to defend. The deep threat should be a part of the offense. I just don’t think it should the main focus of this unit.
I had the pleasure of asking Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston a few questions about the offense, and the wide receiver position. I first asked him if the Patriots needed to bring in a deep threat at the wide receiver position. He feels that the team already has a good group, and that fans shouldn’t overlook some of the talent they already have.
“I lean more toward the line of thinking that they are better off working with what they have, assessing those players in camp, and then deciding,” said Reiss. “The reason I feel this way is that I wouldn’t close the book on what Brandon Tate (2009 third-round pick), Julian Edelman (2009 seventh-round pick) and Taylor Price (2010 third-round pick) can bring to the receiving corps. My feeling is that many are looking to the playoff loss to the Jets and pointing to that as the reason for the need of a big-play receiver. I look more toward the big picture and how the offense was extremely effective over most of the 16-game regular season.
I also asked him if the media, and some fans, were reading too much into the problems the Patriots offense had in the playoff loss to the Jets. He also wonders if the first part of that game had gone differently, whether or not we’d even be talking about it.
“I do wonder if Tom Brady isn’t intercepted on the screen pass to BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Alge Crumpler catches that touchdown pass — both in the first quarter — if this becomes such a big topic of discussion,” said Reiss.
I personally feel too much emphasis has been put on the Jets loss. The Patriots did not just play one game last year.
I think I showed some interesting statistics to back up what I watched last season from the Patriots offense. This unit was very difficult to defend each week, and just got it done differently than the 2007 Patriots.
The Patriots also drafted two rookie running backs that could improve the offense even more. You could see an even greater emphasis on the running game this season. Again, all of the additions, and changes since Randy Moss left could make the Patriots offense even more dangerous to defend.
With a balanced attack like the Patriots are building, opposing defenses will have a tough job stopping all of the options. The deep ball can be a part of the offense moving forward, but the focus will be on balance, and this could be tougher to deal with for the Patriots opponents.
I want to thank Mike Reiss for his assistance in this article.