Yesterday’s epic between the Los Angeles Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs was a perfect example for the NFL of the year 2018. The Rams’ 54-51 victory saw both teams score more than 50 points for the first time in NFL history while they combined for more than 1,000 yards of offense. Nine months removed from a Super Bowl that appeared to feature almost no defense, another high-profile game saw offenses dominate at will.
One of the teams at the forefront of the league’s offensive renaissance are the New England Patriots, whose 2007 spread attack rewrote not just record books but also game plans. However, if you fast forward 11 years to today, it seems like the Patriots are a step behind the great offensive units in the NFL — behind the Chiefs, Rams, and a New Orleans Saints team that just dismantled the reigning world champions 48-7.
A lack of talent at the top of the depth chart does not appear to be the reason for that: New England features high-quality starters at quarterback, the skill positions, and along the offensive line. The problem, however, has been getting all of them onto the field at the same time. A look at the Patriots’ different lineup combinations and how often each of them was used further illustrates this.
Tom Brady, James White, Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Rob Gronkowski, Trent Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon
An argument can be made that this is New England’s most potent offensive lineup when disregarding specific short-yardage situations. It is a group that should be able to challenge all levels of a defense in the passing game with five established receivers and a future Hall of Fame quarterback. It also is a group that should be capable of running the football behind six superb run blockers up front and a highly versatile player in the backfield.
However, the group has played only 22 snaps together over the first 10 weeks of the season. Five other combinations have seen more time on the field thanks to multiple reasons. Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon started the year suspended and on the Cleveland Browns, respectively. Rob Gronkowski missed three of the last four games due to ankle and back injuries; Shaq Mason was out two games because of a calf issue.
With New England expected to come out of the bye week much improved when it comes to its overall team health, we should see more of the 11-personnel lineup above. This, in turn, might also allow the Patriots to get back to fielding one of the most dangerous offenses in all of football — a group that, on paper, should be able to hang with the likes of the Rams, Chiefs and Saints in a potential shootout.
Of course, New England likes to mix and match its players to create the best possible matchups. That being said, an argument can be made that the lineup with Brady, the starting offensive line, and James White, Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Rob Gronkowski at the skill positions is by far the most difficult to game plan against due to the sheer quality and versatility the players bring to the table.