The offense has not been great this year. "Good" might be pushing it for a team that ranks 27th in yards per game (or 32nd if you adjust for penalty yards). But Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings was exactly what the doctor prescribed to get the team back on track.
In the opening week against the Dolphins, quarterback Tom Brady threw 53 pass attempts, with 10 of them going 20+ yards down the field. The Patriots completed only one of those attempts, meaning that they saw a 10% success rate on those throws.
That's not ideal. Brady also completed a mere three of 14 passes with a depth of 10-20 yards down the field. Add those together and Brady was 4/24 on passes 10 yards down the field, a make-up of nearly 50% of the offensive throws.
Factor in a weak offensive line and the decision by Brady (or coordinator Josh McDaniels) to stand in the pocket for extended time to attempt throws he wasn't converting seems like a questionable decision.
The lone bright spot in the passing game? The team completed 25 of 29 pass attempts shorter than 10 yards. The fact that the short throws, to compensate for the weak offensive line, wasn't a greater part of the game plan was scrutinized after the game.
We also questioned the play calling. The team's passing-to-rushing calls were an astonishing 60:20 in week 1. While the offensive line struggled in pass protection, they were adequate enough to earn 4.5 yards per carry in those 20 attempts.
After the game, the coaching staff had to go back to the drawing board and it's clear how the offense was built;
1) The pass protection is weak. They should not draw up plays that extend Brady's time in the pocket.
2) Brady's deep ball was not accurate. His short game was fantastic. They should start throwing more quick passes to match his skill set.
3) The offensive line was solid as run blockers. They should probably balance their passing/rushing attack.
We were able to see these adjustments in week 2 against the Vikings.
1) In week one, Tom Brady attempted his pass after 2.5 seconds in the pocket on 23 of his 60 passing plays, or 38.3%. In week two, Brady got rid of the ball after 2.5 seconds on a reduced 30.4% of his attempts. Brady has ranked 6th fewest rate of 2.5+ attempts each week, but he's definitely working on getting the passes out more quickly. This is directly related to point two.
2) Brady stopped throwing the deep ball. Only two of his 21 attempts were for 20+ yard throws, and he was 4/6 on throws between 10-20 yards. More importantly, he was 11/13 on passes shorter than 10 yards. While Brady threw roughly the same percentage of throws in the 10-20 range, he substituted some of his longer throws for short, quick throws.
3) After rushing on only 25% of the plays in week 1, the Patriots recallibrated and ran on 62% of the plays in week 2. The offensive line was more successful in this role and it established the running game as a threat to open up the field for the quick passes.
No, the Patriots offense was not pretty. But neither is the current state of the offensive line, or the football-readiness of big threats Aaron Dobson or Rob Gronkowski. The coaching staff adjusted to make due with what they had available and they were able to capitalize. That's what a good coaching staff will do.
There's still a lot of work for the offense to do before it reaches a place of comfort. Players have to get healthy, the pass protection has to improve, and Brady needs to stop telegraphic throws to Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. But there's time and the coaching staff is working on creating other means of moving the ball and scoring points.