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New England Patriots Final Season Grades: Pass Offense

Each week after a New England Patriots game, I hand out grades for pass offense, run offense, pass defense, and run defense. Now, it’s time for me to turn back the clock on the regular season and give some final grades in review for 2012. The Patriots graded out well on offense, but the more difficult thing was grading the defense. I am going to be breaking this series up bit by bit since these posts will run long, so here is a look at the Patriots passing attack.

New England Patriots Pass Offense A

Nothing but an “A” here from the explosive New England Patriots passing attack, and it’s ironic that I, and most other people, use the word “explosive” to describe the Patriots pass offense. I mean, we usually think of passing attacks being explosive. But I actually think the Pats offense is more “consistent” than “explosive”, especially when you look at the receivers this team has. Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd are more of the consistent mid-range type, and I look at Tom Brady‘s average of 12 yards per completion and think of the word “consistent” first as well. That Y/C average is good for tenth in the league, and the excellent total of 256 total first downs by this passing offense is a testament to the consistency of the Patriots.

Brady finishes the year as my front-runner in the MVP race with a 1.3 INT% that is tied with Robert Griffin III for the lowest total in the league, a solid completion percentage, 7.6 yards per attempt, 8.1 adjusted yards per attempt, WPA and EPA totals that are in the top three, nearly 302 passing yards per game, a 98.7 QB Rating, and a 77.05 ESPN TQBR that is second in the NFL.

A lot of credit should be given to the offensive line for Brady’s big year, as he was one of the five least-sacked quarterbacks in the NFL on a per attempt basis. Nate Solder‘s development in year two has been outstanding, the interior of the offensive line has been excellent due to the emergence of players like Ryan Wendell, and Sebastian Vollmer was the best right tackle in the NFL despite a few rough patches due to recurring back issues.

Lloyd didn’t have the kind of year some people envisioned, but people had unrealistic expectations of Lloyd from a numbers perspective coming into the year. The Patriots gameplan for Lloyd was to use him as the guy on the outside to take away the opponent’s best corner and focus attention away from Welker, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez in the middle of the field. A few beat writers (I believe Mike Reiss is one of them) hinted at this sort of a strategy in August, but Lloyd still got his. I mean, 74 receptions for 911 yards is still a stat line to be proud of. Lloyd also came up big when he was needed, and I loved his performance against the San Francisco 49ers. That was huge.

As for Wes Welker, what can I say? He’s still one of the best in the NFL, and that whole Julian Edelman experiment at the beginning of the year was a lesson in reverse psychology. He finished the year tied for second in the league with 118 receptions, and that’s including the playing time he missed at the beginning of the year and the fact that both Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall had more targets than Welk. He finished with 1,354 receiving yards and six touchdowns as well. Oh, and one more important statistical note here that I find interesting: Welker led the league in yards after the catch.

Rob Gronkowski had 55 receptions for 790 yards and 11 touchdowns in just 11  games, and that’s not even mentioning the fact that he is easily the best blocking TE in the NFL. With his blocking ability and explosiveness, Gronk is one of the most valuable players in the game. Aaron Hernandez also added over 5o catches and five TDs in just ten games, and Hernandez did exceptional work in the short-range game.

Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui worked perfectly as offseason acquisitions in the blocking game as pass and run blockers, and they also made plays as pass-catchers when targeted. Danny Woodhead‘s contributions were also huge, because 40 receptions is nothing to sneeze at for a backup running back. Woodhead came up big in several clutch situations, and I think he is the most clutch RB in the NFL. He is this team’s secret weapon, and both he and Julian Edelman had the same amount of TDs (3) and yards per reception (11.2).

Speaking of Edelman, his broken foot came at the worst possible time, because he was final finding his footing with the Patriots as a big-play guy after huge games against the New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts. He also broke his hand earlier this season, but that just underscores the need for Welker and his near unbreakability when the Pats and Welker try to bang out a deal this offseason.

Deion Branch provided some solid veteran stability, but it is telling that he was better as a blocker than an actual receiver. Donte’ Stallworth was very impressive in the one game he played in this year, because that 63-yard touchdown catch shows that he brings something else to the table with his speed and athleticism. Stallworth isn’t consistent, but I hope he sticks around as a big-play weapon for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

The Patriots finished the season sixth in the NFL in net passing yards per attempt, which is a stat that accounts for yards lost from sacks. That’s definitely a great place to be, and the Pats were once again a top five pass offense despite dealing with several key injuries to the wide receiver and tight end positions. Heck, the line was banged up too in the middle of the year.

You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.

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