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August 05, 2003
No Offense -- If There Is No Balance
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots got the message. Stop the run. Get to the quarterback.

This assumes that offensively, Charlie Weis digs what ails his side of the ball, and how to fix it. For if the Patriots are involved in a season full of 14-10 games, chances are that they'll be the 10 more often than they would like.

Weis was a sought after assistant coach each of the past two offseasons, but his head coaching ship has yet to come in. Given this premise, it is rather ironic that Weis doesn't seem to be doing more to showcase his gameplanning talents. In 2002, the Patriots followed up a Super Bowl season with an offense that completely got away from what brought football's Holy Grail in 2001, and only a porous run defense overshadows this flaming need for the 2003 Patriots.

It's sort of a catch-22, in that if Weis has a bangup season as offensive coordinator, it helps his chances in becoming a head coach some day soon, a job he greatly covets. If Weis does indeed turn the Patriots back into an efficient offensive machine, Bill Belichick won't want to see him go, not that he wants to get rid of him at present.

Weis will be charged with one main task for this season. He needs to bring balance back to the Patriot offensive attack, and re-establish the running game to the level in which it was in 2001. The Patriots have brought in some help in new faces in the backfield and the wideout position, and each of these new faces (with the possible exception of injured free agent running back Mike Cloud and low draft pick Spencer Nead) should provide immediate help.

Here then is a positional preview for the offensive unit of the 2003 Patriots:

Quarterback

Projected starter Much of the season hinges on what Tom Brady is asked to do, and not so much how well he does it. Perhaps the "do it well" part is a given, but there needs to be a change from 2002 in the gameplanning on offense. Quarterback coach John Hufnagel will help, but much of the onus is on Weis and his willingness to balance the Patriot offense in much the same way it was in 2001.

Time to get excited When Brady is not needed to, or made to, win games all by himself. If this isn't what they ever wanted to do with Drew Bledsoe, then why do it with Brady? A return to form from Antowain Smith (or whoever assumes the major load at halfback) will enable Brady to sit back and run the offense, and to find the little runts out there scurrying around the field when needed. It wouldn't hurt things either if Christian Fauria or Daniel Graham starts slightly resembling Ben Coates. (Ed. Note: We did say "slightly", folks.)

Sure sign of trouble Brady's passing yardage total is among the league leaders. If this be the case, it will generally mean that he has been playing catchup too often or that Weis doesn't have confidence in his running game. If this be the case, we'll all be monkey's uncles if Brady's interception rate isn't high, and/or his passer rating isn't low. 2002 showed everyone that Brady is not one of those quarterbacks who can carry the entire offense on his shoulders, and even if he were, you won't find too many of those quarterbacks in the Super Bowl.

Running Back

Projected starters Another year, another failed first running test followed by passing it his second try. This is becoming as much a Boston tradition as the equipment truck leaving Fenway Park in February. Smith has had generally a good camp thus far, and Belichick was far less torqued off at Smith for his running test failure as he was Greg Randall last year. He'll begin once again as the featured back unless Kevin Faulk can't be left on the bench or Antoine Womack plays out of his mind. Belichick jettisoned fullback Marc Edwards and brought in Fred McCrary from San Diego, but the Patriots subsequently signed super pass catcher Larry Centers. These guys might spell the end of Patrick Pass's days as a Patriot.

Time to get excited About 1,200 yards from Smith. By-products of that might include good blocking by McCrary (assuming the offensive line does their thing) and a steady diet of dumpoff flat passes to Centers. An alternate plan might be two of Smith, Faulk and Womack combining for 1,500 -- 1,600 yards if Smith is too tired. That would be some accomplishment, considering that Smith and Faulk combined for 1,253 yards last year.

Sure sign of trouble If the five big lads up front aren't into run blocking. Establishing a run game involves attitude as much as anything else, and how well Smith and McCrary do really won't mean much at all if there is no push up front. This assumes Weis wants to balance run with pass; the Patriots have to hope that Dante Scarnecchia's gang doesn't force Weis' hand.

Receivers

Projected starters It's strange that the Patriots disdain size in the wideout position (and why not? Head case Terry Glenn and Badger busts Tony Simmons and Donald Hayes make a great case for every team to hire midget wideouts), so you have Troy Brown and David Patten at the head of the class, followed by Deion Branch, rookie Bethel Johnson and free agent Dedric Ward. Wonder what Randy Newman was thinking when he wrote this song about height-challenged folks 26 years ago. Fauria looks like he's ahead of Graham on the tight end depth chart.

Time to get excited If Johnson averages only 3-4 catches per game, we'd love it if his average yards per catch was somewhat near fifty-something. This means that the Patriots have finally found a deep passing game. Guys like Harold Jackson and Stanley Morgan had better luck with long bombs than anyone of recent has had. And if it isn't Johnson, let Branch air it out a couple of times a game. If Brown and Patten stay healthy, you know that the short stuff will be there. The long stuff needs to be there as well.

Sure sign of trouble Weis running pass plays ill suited for the personnel he has. Reports coming out of Foxborough have told of Patriot wideouts working on fade routes the other day. That's like trying to get Manny Ramirez to shoot for Barry Bonds and the 500-500 club. Fade patterns are low percentage throws anyway, never mind midget wideouts trying to catch them. The Patriots have plenty of personnel to handle many different high percentage tosses, and plays that have little chance to succeed should be largely ignored.

Offensive line

Projected starters At this point we'll leave it at Matt Light, Mike Compton, Damien Woody and Adrian Klemm. Right guard is unstable thanks to injuries to Joe Andruzzi and Stephen Neal, but free agent pickups Bill Conaty or Brendan Stai look like guys who can slide in if Andruzzi isn't 100 percent when the opening gun sounds. Neal's injury is a blow to the line, in that he was someone who might have done the sliding instead of Conaty or Stai.

Time to get excited This isn't real imaginative, but a repeat of 2001 would be nice for starters. Put in 2003 terms, find a set group and stick with them the whole year if good health allows. The Patriots did have such a set two years ago, and that unit is still 80 percent intact. The right side of the line is the biggest question mark, and if two capable men can be found, it might be the key to regaining the stability the line had two years ago.

Sure sign of trouble There is no one answer here. Lack of commitment to the run, Light getting seared by speed rushers, injuries, and don't rule out the dreaded retirement bug, either. Woody is in a salary drive year, so he isn't likely to flame out. If a right guard can be settled on, the brightest light will perhaps shine on, no pun intended, Light. He has to regain his rookie form in 2001 and then improve his technique against rushers like John Abraham and his ilk.


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