Pulpiteer Tim Kavic and I have been holding a discussion via e-mail and I thought it was worth throwing up on the front page. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comment section!
The e-mails started after the Patriots held onto a win against the San Diego Chargers. The Patriots nearly gave the game away and the offense was not clicking. There was no production from the passing or running game and it did not look like the Patriots could move the ball. Looking at this conversation after the Vikings and Browns game, it's interesting to see what information is still relevant and how the information is applicable.
TK: I think more teams like San Diego can prepare for us in the future; the short to medium distance passing attack can be slowed, especially if the opposing team has a decent pass rush (like Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Minnesota,etc). We have no running game to speak of (the Buffalo game was an aberration, where BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a monster game) and Fred Taylor is washed up for all intents and purposes, due to recurrent long term injury. The Steelers will be a big problem- I know their style very, very well and Dick LeBeau's defense will be very stingy. The Patriots cannot expect to have a running game.
Read the Rest of the Conversation After the Jump!
RH: While I agree that the Patriots' short passing game can be stopped, it's supposed to be so quick it eliminates the threat of an opposing pass rush. If you watch some highlights from the Chargers game, you'll notice that they usually only rushed 3 or 4 players at a time. The rest dropped into coverage. We'll be seeing that a lot more frequently, especially if those rushes can continue to beat our offensive line. If the opposing team crashes the quarterback, look for quick passes. If the opposing team sits back, look for mid-long range passes to Aaron Hernandez.
While the offense can be stopped by certain defenses, there are still offensive counters that just need to be worked out. If you look at the offense, it features Wes Welker, new acquisition Deion Branch, rookie Aaron Hernandez, basically a red-shirt player in Brandon Tate, new acquisition Danny Woodhead and quiet BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Welker is the most experienced player on that offense. Much like how the defense is expected to grow in chemistry over the season, the offense needs the same benefit. It's easy to forget out young/inexperienced this offense is, but it's the truth.
TK: Looking at the short passing game, the Patriots are going to see only a 3 or 4 man rush in future games, but that does not necessarily mean the field will open up for Hernandez or any other receiver. The other team can be dropping as many as 6 or 7 defenders on our 3, 4 or 5 wideouts. Again, there can be counters as you said, but think of how much better those counters would be with at least a nominal running game.
RH: If the offensive line fixes its issues, a 3 or 4 man rush will give Brady all day to find an open receiver- but that's only if the O-Line performs well. Give the offense long enough and the shifty receivers will get open. You're right, though- a running game would definitely help out.
Looking in retrospect at this conversation, Tim Kavic is absolutely correct. I believed that the Patriots offense would be able to run a passing offense that could set up the run game, as long as the offensive line would give Brady enough time. I even mention that teams are only rushing a couple players at a time, which shows the utter lack of respect for the Patriots' run game, but also gives future teams a game plan on how to slow the Patriots offense. With so many defenders in the backfield, defenses can place the safeties over the top, cornerbacks on the receivers' hips and linebackers underneath. This eliminates almost every passing lane and forces Brady to throw the ball into double coverage. The only way the ball will be completed is if the pass is perfect- and if Brady's foot is truly injured, then he will not be able to complete those passes.
Opposing defenses are roughing up the receivers at the line, preventing them from getting free releases and using their shifty abilities (taking note Patriots' defensive coordinator? Giving opposing receivers free releases is NOT a good idea). The offense relied upon two rookies to make all the plays against the Browns (Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski) and it's hard to keep in mind that they're young and still prone to mistakes. This vanilla offense, with no big threat at any position, is allowing opposing defenses to dictate how the offense is run. If the run gets stoned early on, the Patriots abandon the run altogether, forcing Brady to throw the ball the rest of the game. As a result, the defense can sit back in coverage and prevent plays.
Can this offense improve over the course of the rest of the season? Of course it can and it absolutely needs to improve. The Patriots need to develop some plays that best harness Brandon Tate's speed and ability in order to open up lanes underneath and force safeties to shift their coverage. The Patriots need to throw to their tight ends down the field, and not just on 3 yard out routes and screen passes. They're big players who can get yards after the catch- if they're given the opportunity. Instead, it appears that Gronkowski's only been used outside the red zone on quick dump off passes. Hernandez needs to be given at least 8 looks a game in order to give more space to the other receivers.
As Kavic mentions, the Patriots don't have a consistent run game to speak of. As a result, the Patriots must develop their passing game early on in order to open up their running game and keep opposing defenses off balance. Even though the offense has been performing poorly the past couple weeks, there's still time for improvement. With the meat of their schedule occurring over the next couple weeks, the young players need to shake off their growing pains and play like veterans.
So I pose these questions to everyone reading:
Do you think the Patriots will be able to generate a passing offense without consistent help from their running game?
Do you think the Patriots can create a consistent passing offense without a deep threat drawing away coverage?
Which offensive skill group is most vital to offensive success: the running backs, wide receivers or tight ends?