While there are certainly many warning signs surrounding the New England Patriots offense these days, perhaps we’re all underestimating it just a bit too.
In 2019, the New England Patriots had the 15th-best offense in terms of total yards during the regular season. They were a more respectable seventh-best in the league in terms of total points scored, and they finished eighth in total passing yards and 18th in total rushing yards.
The biggest knock on the Patriots offense heading into this upcoming 2020 season is the loss of Tom Brady. It’s an understandable concern and criticism, since Brady is unequivocally revered as the greatest quarterback of all time and arguably the greatest NFL player of all time as well.
When you consider that the Patriots offense was shockingly only average or just above average at best last year with Brady under center, it’s easy to see why pundits, analysts, and fans all alike are pessimistic about New England’s offense this season without Brady.
We obviously don’t really know what we have yet with Jarrett Stidham at QB. Perhaps only Bill Belichick really knows what he has with Stidham at QB.
If so, we should be cautiously optimistic about Stidham’s potential since Belichick elected not to take a quarterback in last month’s draft or acquire a veteran free agent like Philip Rivers, Cam Newton, Jameis Winston, Andy Dalton, or anyone other than Brian Hoyer … at least up to this point.
Bleacher Report’s Alex Ballentine recently power-ranked all 32 NFL offenses as they current stand right now post-draft, and he slotted the Pats at No. 26, ahead of only the Giants, Jets, Jaguars, Bears, Dolphins, and Redskins.
Here’s some of what Ballentine said:
"It feels sacrilegious to have the New England Patriots ranked this low, but the truth is they would be lower if this were just a list of most talented teams. The fact that Bill Belichick has put together productive offenses with the likes of Matt Cassel and Jacoby Brissett is the only thing that props up this ranking. If anyone can MacGyver together a threatening offense with the cast that’s left in New England, it’s Belichick."
I don’t totally disagree with this assessment.
He’s right in noting that the Patriots don’t exactly have the most talented offensive arsenal in the league right now — especially if you’re looking solely at skill-position players who catch the football and at the uncertainty New England faces at quarterback.
But I think he underestimates the strength of the Patriots offense elsewhere.
The offensive line, for example, could actually turn quite a few heads if most of the players along it manage to stay healthy this season — something they couldn’t do in 2019.
I was the first to react to news of Dante Scarnecchia’s retirement and predict even stormier weather was ahead for this unit back in early March, but I’ve since tempered those feelings of gloom and doom quite a bit.
Why? Well, a lot has changed since then.
Yes, Coach Scar is still retired and that’s still a major blow to these players on the O-line — especially since this offseason training program might look very different in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But the Patriots franchise-tagged Joe Thuney and seem committed to working out a long-term deal with him rather than trading him elsewhere. If Isaiah Wynn stays healthy for a full 16-game season this year (granted, that’s a big “if”), there’s enough evidence out there on game tape to suggest the left side of the line could be among the better tackle/guard tandems in the league.
The same can be side about the right side as well. Shaq Mason is widely considered to be among the better offensive guards in the NFL today, and Marcus Cannon is criminally underrated at this point in his career.
Tying it all together in the middle is the return of David Andrews at center. Andrews, who missed last year with blood clots in his lungs, has received a clean bill of health and permission from his doctors to return to football.
A starting lineup of Wynn, Thuney, Andrews, Mason, and Cannon is one of the better-looking offensive lines in the league, with all five players having either a high draft pedigree, significant playing experience, or both.
Moreover, the Patriots have significantly invested in depth behind these five players in the wake of seeing just how much injuries took a toll on them last year.
Yodny Cajuste, Hjalte Froholdt, Michael Onwenu, Justin Herron, and Dustin Woodard have all been taken in the past two NFL Drafts and added to the backup lists alongside current players Jermaine Eluemunor, Najee Toran, and Korey Cunningham. New England also might still come to terms with free agent James Ferentz as well.
Outside of the offensive line, the Patriots have one of the deepest and most versatile running back platoons in the league.
Sony Michel might be entering a make-or-break season in Year 3 simply because he’s a former first-round pick who will be expected to shoulder the offense in the wake of Brady’s departure, but he’s also rushed for over 900 yards in both of his first two NFL seasons and he has a career 4.0 rushing yard average in the pros. That’s not bad at all.
James White is arguably the best pass-catching running back in the league today. Rex Burkhead is a blend of both players, with the ability to run straight up the gut, catch passes in traffic, and contribute on special teams. Brandon Bolden is an established veteran who knows this offense inside and out, offers further insurance as a runner, and really contributes on special teams.
The wild card this season should be Damien Harris, who was surprisingly taken in the third round of last year’s draft after Michel had just posted a terrific rookie season. While Harris barely saw the field as a rookie, he has the talent and the college experience to make a major impact at the professional level if given the opportunity.
Yes, the wide receiver and tight end positions remain glaring weaknesses and areas of concern for the Pats.
Julian Edelman is aging and his chemistry with anyone other than Brady is a major question mark. Mohamed Sanu seriously underwhelmed in limited action last year. N’Keal Harry showed flashes but battled injuries in 2019. Everyone else on the wideout chart is either undrafted/unproven or injury-prone.
New England’s tight end grouping could very well be the worst in the league. Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse were ineffective last season, and rookies Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene will need to overcome the fabled first-year tight end learning curve in the NFL if either wants to make a name for himself in 2020.
And, lest anyone forget, there’s still all the murkiness at quarterback.
But let’s be clear: this Patriots offense shouldn’t be power-ranked behind the likes of the Bengals, Lions, and Raiders, three teams that BR’s Ballentine slotted well ahead of New England entering the 2020 season.
Even some of the other squads higher up on the list — Texans, Eagles, Cardinals — face as much uncertainty this year as the Pats, albeit at positions other than quarterback.
New England’s offense certainly has a lot to prove in 2020 after a modest showing in 2019 that was thoroughly uncharacteristic of them. Whether or not Jarrett Stidham is the man to do it and take over for Brady remains to be seen, for sure.
But he’ll have the benefit of playing behind a superior offensive line and playing with what should be one of the league’s better rushing offenses, even if his pass-catchers leave something to be desired.
These facts alone should be enough to warrant a little bit more respect and optimism with regards to the overall New England Patriots offense in 2020.