I recently rewatched the offense's performance in last year's playoff loss to the Ravens on Youtube and it got me thinking, with how different this offense is from last year, are we still destined to be shut down by the elite defenses in the playoffs b/c of our weaknesses. Are we any better than the offense that was held to 13 pts in the biggest game of the year? Well we don't know yet and we won't yet until that day comes, but here are a couple things I noticed from re-watching the game..
It wasn't as bad as it looked. We moved the football on the Ravens, they had really no answer for Hernandez and Welker, they both had good days underneath.. Wes had 8 catches for 117 yards and Hernandez had 9 catches for 83 yards. Not only that, Brandon Lloyd had a good day. He ran good routes, got open. and caught the ball usually for a pats first down to the tune of 7 catches for 70 yards. Pretty solid for a #3 option. The thing that killed us on offense was the failure to finish drives once we got inside the Ravens 25 yard line. Some of that was just bad luck. Tipped balls, bad clock management, indecision by Brady, but some was just not having your best red zone threat in franchise history to finish off drives for you.
To give you guys a better idea of how that game went on offense I'll break down the critical plays on each drive.
1st drive: 3rd and 2 at the NE 42. Brady sees Welker deep, Welker has a step on the defense downfield, Brady passes it but it goes through WW's fingertips in a diving attempt. Results in Punt.
This particular play, is a play we can point to say Danny Amendola would be a clear upgrade in this area over Wes. Welker is a better player than Amendola but one of the areas where Dola beats out Wes is when it comes to making these types of difficult deep catches. Dola has shown more adept at reeling in these types pf difficult deep balls than Wes in his career. The slight increase in speed you'd get in Amednola would have been the difference in this play and giving the pats a 35+ gain. But aside from that, a player like Josh Boyce with his deep speed would make this play more of a stable in our offense. Something we can actually rely on when the D is leaving their safeties and CBs susceptible to the big play downfield.
2nd drive: 12 play drive, moved all the way to the RAV 12, had the no huddle going, run game wasn't really working well on that series, especially in the no huddle, but on 3rd and 2 right after we get a 6 yard catch from Ahern, we run to the line and snap it to Ridley for no gain. Drive ended, Results in FG. No TD
3rd drive: We move the ball 30 yards and are edging into FG range at the RAV 35. It's 3rd and 8, Brady gets the snap, throws to Lloyd on the slant route, Lloyd gets jammed but still gets inside position and has a clear path to football. Unfortunately, Lloyd stumbled to the ground on his release and therefore had to make a diving catch attempt to an otherwise easy 1st down catch, he gets the ball into his body, but once his body hits the ground he loses possession and the balls pops outs. Drive ended. Results in Punt. No FG
Now I'm not really holding this play against Brandon Lloyd, he stumbled on his route and that messed up the timing. it's a mistake, you run a billion routes, it's happens to everyone occasionally, but it does allow me to bring up another point. Beating press coverage. There was really no one on the 2012 squad that opposing teams looked at and said, "this guy could really hurt us if we press him". Kenbrell Thompkins could be that guy in 2013 to take advantage of press coverage for big plays down the sideline with some consistency. He showed that ability pretty fully vs the Lions. Now that was just one game against pretty average CBs, but he has showed that ability in training camp a vs our CBs as well.
4th Drive: 3 and out. Carry WIlliams has a really good pass defense on Lloyd on a 3rd and 2. Lloyd can't make the tough contested catch.
This is another component, that we really didn't have in the AFC Championship Game. The guy that can make tough contested catches consistently. This was a good play by the CB, but the WR could have still came down with this if he was a little better at making those types of catches. A guy like Dobson has the potential to give us this component. That was his MO coming out, he has nice strong hands and can go up and out compete DBs for the ball. He has shown little snippets of that in the pre-season, but has struggle to do it consistently. He will have to improve if he will become Brady's go to guy in those situations.
5th Drive: 11 play TD drive culminating in a 1 yard TD pass to Welker.
6th Drive: 1st and 10 at the RAV 10 with 26 seconds left. Brady can't find anyone open and runs for 3 yards. Pats try to get the spike but are too slow and ended up having to use their last TO. Only 4 secs left after that. Results in FG. No TD
7th Drive: 3rd and 8 at RAV 34, pats knocking in FG range yet again. Brady finds an open Welker who drops the pass that hits him right in the hands and kills the drive. Results in Punt
8th Drive: 3 and out. Brady's misses a covered Hernandez on a 3rd and 12. Ball might have been tipped. Results in Punt
9th Drive: This drive had promise, but was killed in NE territory on 1st and 10 when Benard "Patriot Killer" Pollard knocked Stevan Ridley unconscious and forced a fumble. Drive killed. Results in TO.
10th Drive: Pats get into a nice little rythm, but after a Shane veeren drop, an incomplete pass to Welker, and some indecisiveness by Brady on 4th and 4 the pats stall at the RAV 19, and turn the ball over on downs. At this point they needed a TD and the fact they couldn't get 4 yards on from the last 2 passes was pretty sad imo. Results in TO. No TD
11th: After a big 36 yard play by Welker, the pats are inside the RAV 25, for the 5th time in the game with just under 7 minutes left on the clock. This is realistically their last chance to get back in the game and potentially win the AFC Championship. On the very next play the ball is tipped in the air and intercepted. Drive killed. Results in TO. No TD
12th: The pats get into a rythm and start driving downfield. Game is pretty much out of reach at this point. Brady gets them all the way to the RAV 22. However once they get inside the RAV 25, Brady is picked off. Drive ended. No TD Game Over. This is the 5th time, the pats drove inside the Ravens 25 yd line and were kept out of the endzone entirely. They were a shocking 1/6 when it came to scoring TDs inside the Ravens 25.
Comparing the personnel we had in that game vs the personnel we have now, it does seem we have the potential to be better than the AFCCG offense. But potential just means you haven't don't it. Ras-I Dowling had potential , Patrick Chung had potential, Laurence Maroney had potential. You have to actually go out and do it for it to mean anything. Amendola has to stay healthy for the playoffs. Gronkowski has to recover fully and be 100% for playoffs. The rookies have to progress along and develop as planned. It's all ifs and potential at this point. One thing's for certain though. The Patriots are as hunrgy as ever for that 4th Lombardi Championship and they have the talent to get it.