The Patriots offense…should I just stop now? Before you decide to stop reading this, be aware that I’m not here to spew the same information you keep hearing. For those that want to focus on the past, well, move on, because the Patriots offense is never going to be exactly the same as it was the year before. Welker and Hernandez are history, and although they were talented contributors to a great offense, they’re replaceable.
People ask, “Ok, how are they going to replace all the production in the passing game?” My reply is simple- Who says they have to replace the yardage and production through the air? The New England offense is going to look different in 2013, but by no means are they going to have trouble moving the ball. The keys to the New England offense lay in two areas- the quarterback and the offensive line. That hasn’t changed since 2001 and when one of those areas drop off, that is when we MAY see the Patriots slow down. Tom Brady’ play hasn’t slipped while Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer are healthier than they were last season when both were returning from major surgeries.
There is a lot of turnover when it comes to the receiving core, with Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater being the only returnees from the 2012 roster. When the Patriots went through similar wholesale changes at the receiver position in 2006, they didn’t have the talent in the backfield that they have today. Steven Ridley proved that he is capable of being an explosive back and an X-factor, while Brandon Bolden, Shane Vereen and Leon Washington also showed flashes of being not only solid backups, but rotational backs.
The Patriots also traded Jeff Demps and a 7th round pick to the Bucs for LeGarrette Blount, which at the time looked like a depth move but now appears to be a potential stroke of genius. Blount is only 26 years old and comes to New England with something to prove. Blount has only 426 attempts in three seasons, but he has made the most out of those attempts, rushing for 1939 yards and thirteen touchdowns. If the Patriots can get Blount 150 rushing attempts, he’ll is most likely run for about 750 yards. New England has one of the best offensive lines in football, and Blount has the patience and talent to flourish in their system. For those who prefer the passing game over the running game, you may not like how the production of Aaron Hernandez will be replaced, but if Ridley, Blount and friends can pull it off, it will be a huge boost for the offense.
Using the running backs in the passing game is another way to ease new receivers into the system, and Shane Vereen has a chance to make some serious noise. In 2012, Vereen showed flashes of brilliance catching the ball and gaining extra yards, but Josh McDaniels didn’t dial it up enough. Sometimes being forced to run your best plays can be a positive, and that is going to be the situation in 2013. When New England was winning consistently in the playoffs, they won by playing sound defense and smart offense. Obviously having a talent like Tom Brady allows you to open things up and throw more, but the Patriots play in a cold weather outdoor stadium; at some point, you are going to need to rely on your backs, offensive line and play some real football. If anything, it makes Brady even more dangerous. Screens, draws, and play action to complement the running game will be the theme of 2013.
In the Patriots Super Bowl winning seasons- 2001, 2003, and 2004, Tom Brady had 413, 527 and 474 passing attempts in those respective seasons and ran more than they threw each of those years. 2001 is an outlier because Brady was essentially a rookie, but the passing attempts in ’03 (527) is a good number to shoot for. In 2012, the Patriots had 641 passing attempts and 523 rushing attempts. The no-huddle offense allowed the Patriots to run more plays (1,164) than anyone else in the league, but there is still room for balance. Assuming the pass/run balance is 50/50, the number of plays most likely will drop back to just over 1,000 because of their personnel, but this will give them the best chance for sustained success.
As the season wears on, rookie receivers Josh Boyce and Aaron Dobson will be better acclimated to the offense and Rob Gronkowski will make his return. Danny Amendola is going to have his hands full, but as long as he is on the field, expect eight to 13 receptions per game. Think that sounds generous? It isn’t; if, and it is a big if, Amendola plays 16 games this season, he will have 100-120 catches. He has great hands, runs great routes and is one of the most underrated talents in the game. He fits well in the New England offense and Brady will find him early and often.
The bottom line is this: a great quarterback with a top-five offensive line and multiple running backs will find a way to make it work, and when Rob Gronkowski returns between Week Six and Week 10, look out, because this offense may be as good as or better than their predecessors.
*Statistics Provided by ProFootballReference.com
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