The New England Patriots looked good on opening day against the Houston Texans, but their season has taken a turn for the worse ever since: the team struggled against the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Detroit Lions and now sits at 1-2 and two games behind the Miami Dolphins in the division. One of the reasons for that is the offense’s inability to consistently move the football down the field.
Against the Lions, this was again a major issue as the Patriots finished the game with just 10 points, 209 yards of offense and 12 first downs. Only 120 of those 209 yards came through the air, which makes for one of the least productive outputs of Tom Brady’s career as the team’s starting quarterback. But despite some questionable decision making at times, the blame for this should not solely be placed on the 41-year old’s shoulders.
Brady has to play with the weapons he is given, after all. And against the Lions, it was obvious that the weapons as they are currently assembled are not getting the job done – especially at the wide receiver position. Neither Chris Hogan nor Phillip Dorsett are able to carry New England’s offense as number one receivers, while Cordarrelle Patterson’s skill set appears to be limited despite his outstanding athleticism.
The Lions attacked the group with tight man coverage – and it was unable to beat it, which took the wide receivers out for most of the game: Hogan had three catches for 31 yards, Patterson one for 12. Dorsett was targeted five times but failed to come down with a catch. The wideouts’ inability to generate consistent separation against defensive backs hurt New England all game long and had a trickle-down effect on the rest of the offense.
Without a true threat at the position, Detroit was able to focus on other areas: Rob Gronkowski and the running backs. While they had their moments, the Lions did a good job of limiting the other weapons’ impact. Gronkowski finished the game with a team-leading four catches for 51 yards, while the three-headed attack of James White, Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel combined for six receptions for 39 yards and a touchdown.
It is not too big a leap of the imagination to say that Gronkowski in particular would have had a bigger impact if not for the wide receiver issues. It was clear that he was Detroit’s defensive priority and nobody else stepped up with the NFL’s best tight end constantly double-covered. The Brady-Gronkowski connection never got off the ground tonight as a result, while the rest of the offense didn’t pick up the slack.
Who is to blame for this? Well, the Patriots’ personnel decisions and drafting history at wide receiver certainly did not help and led to the present state of the position. But the problems extend beyond that as Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt and Malcolm Mitchell all suffered injuries severe enough for the team to cut ties. This combined with Julian Edelman’s four-game suspension made for a bad mix that was presented to a national audience tonight.
Maybe it will all look different next week, though, with Josh Gordon potentially active. Or maybe the week after that, when Edelman returns from suspension. The Patriots offense will be drastically different once all the missing pieces are back on the field. Until then, however, the unit will not strike fear into the hearts of defensive coordinators – despite the greatest quarterback of all time leading it.