The Patriots are 2-2. Tom Brady is quietly on pace to throw for the third most yards in his career. They're running the ball better than they have in all of Bill Belichick's tenure and look to surpass 2,000 team rushing yards for the first time since Brady was out in 2008. To be honest, this feels a little 2003 to me.
Four players (Stevan Ridley, Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, and Rob Gronkowski) are on pace for over 1,000 yards from scrimmage- and you'll note that doesn't include Aaron Hernandez. In fact, the Patriots have never had more than two 1,000 YFS players in a single season under Bill Belichick. This year might change that.
However, I might be getting ahead of myself. The offense played well for the last 25 minutes of Week 4. It definitely took some time for the Patriots to change their offense. Josh McDaniels forgot tight ends existed once Aaron Hernandez went down and Gronk was a ghost for a couple of weeks. Brady was forcing throws to Lloyd to show some semblance of a connection, even though back-shoulder after back-shoulder throw continued to be swatted away by cornerbacks. Wes Welker even appeared to fall down the depth chart behind the larger Julian Edelman in two receiver sets which, while understandable in theory as Edelman can provide a larger outside target, unquestionably stalled the offense.
Well now it seems as if the Patriots have it figured out. Have short passes to Wes Welker force the linebackers to drop away from the line of scrimmage to set up the run game. Have the run game with Stevan Ridley take what yards are given to force the safeties into the box. Use Lloyd as a complementary piece, not a central piece, on the outside to force the safeties outside of the hashes. Have Gronkowski tear up the seam for a big play.
The Patriots have such a ridiculous arsenal of weapons; it seems painful to misuse them.
I love seeing Lloyd tear up the side line on a non-back-shoulder throw- those circus catches are his bread-and-butter. But don't force him the ball to prove that he's not the next Chad Ochocinco (fact: Lloyd has already surpassed Ocho's 2011 production).
I love seeing Ridley and Brandon Bolden crash the line of scrimmage in match-up scenarios. Like Lloyd, they aren't the centerpiece of the offense- don't run the ball purely for the sake of trying to establish a run game; see what the opposing defenses lay out and take advantage of smaller defenses to establish the run and set up the big pass.
I love seeing Welker as the go-to guy again; he's definitely earning an extension. He is able to start drives and dictate how defenses react. He may not be the big play guy- he shouldn't be- but he is the engine that fires up the offense.
I love seeing Gronkowski as the big play guy up the seam. It was as if McDaniels forgot that's where Gronk was most devastating last season and I was glad to see the offense scheme to open up the center of the field for a home run play.
I love seeing how the offense plays off each other and how they are able to write their own story as they march up the field. One play leads to another and one player perfectly complements the next.
That's what the Patriots were missing during Weeks 2 and 3. Week 2 was a story of jilted series where the offense was never able to develop an identity- and that can definitely be attributed to the early loss of Aaron Hernandez. Week 3, while the offense racked up plenty of points, never felt as if the offense was truly on the same page.
Looking to Week 5 against the Denver Broncos, I'm hoping that the Patriots are able to hold on to the momentum they found in the last 25 minutes against the Bills. The Patriots have the personnel to be great and they now have the knowledge of how to attain that greatness. And they've been able to find that place without Aaron Hernandez.
Add him back into the mix? If he comes back soon, there might be five 1,000 yard players.
But that's getting ahead of myself. Right now, I'm just crossing my fingers that they'll hold on to that momentum for the next week. If they can take that step, I'm going to buckle up for the rest of the year.