Source: Jim Rogash/Getty Images North America
Last Sunday, we got our first taste of what the Patriots offense could look like going forward without all-pro tight end Rob Gronkowski. Throughout the contest it was very evident that Gronk has left some pretty big shoes to fill. The offense struggled mightily to string together consecutive good drives after the first quarter without their go-to guy, but even though it was an up and down day for Brady and company, I’m still encouraged that the offense can get to where it needs to be in order to win a championship.
Brady summed it up best in his post game interview when he stated; “There were a lot of plays I thought we left out there,” Brady said. “I thought we could’ve done a lot better job finishing drives. I would like to put more points on the board than we did. But it was a good win.”
The Patriots only scored 26 points but they did go up against an above average defense that can take over a game by getting after the quarterback. The offensive line managed to keep Brady clean all game long, not allowing one sack to a stout defensive line of the Rams, so that is definitely a positive to build on. Once again, Brady was also a master in the pocket avoiding the rush and buying time to make plays with his feet. (Yeah, yeah, I know. What else is new?)
Aside from that, the Pats offensive accumulated 402 total yards (133 rushing and 269 through the air) which doesn’t seem bad on paper but if you watch the game back it was a pretty messy 402 yards.
Don’t get me wrong, I love him and he has been an absolute beast all season, but take away LeGarrette Blount’s 43-yard touchdown run on the first drive and the Pats only rushed for a measly 3.2 yards per carry. Dion Lewis is finally seeing the field a little bit more, slowly but surely nursing his way back from a torn ACL that he suffered last season in a game against the Redskins. He carried the ball 5 times for 27 yards and James White pitched in 3 rushes for 17 yards.
Brady was 33/46 for 269 yards but when you’re throwing the ball nearly 50 times and complete 72% percent of your passes, you should accumulate more than 269 yards through the air. Brady finished with an average of just 5.8 yards per attempt. That number has to go up down the stretch.
Without Gronk the offense didn’t look as fluid as it typically does, often leaving themselves in third and long situations and not being able to bail themselves out of that hole. It’s not often that the Patriots stall once they get inside the opposing team’s 30-yard line, but on this particular afternoon they had to settle for a lot of field goals. (Give credit to Gostkowski, who has made 25-27 kicks since week 8, he looks like he is coming out of his slump.)
It should be noted that Martellus Bennett didn’t look himself out on the field this past Sunday. The poor guy has fought hard through a reoccurring ankle injury all season and I think it has finally caught up to him. He tallied only 2 receptions for 4 yards and struggled mightily blocking in the run game. I really think the man needs a week or two off but with the Patriots having nobody of any substantiality behind Marty, I don’t know if that’s possible. The TE situation is something that Patriots fans are going to have to keep an eye on the rest of the way.
When the Patriots drafted cornerback, Cyrus Jones, in the 2nd round of the 2016 draft, I didn’t think he was going to make any plays that stood out on offense, but thanks to his inability to field a punt cleanly, it forced Belichick to put the sure-handed Danny Amendola back deep to receive punts, and wouldn’t you know it? He gets hurt. They are saying it is currently only a high ankle sprain for Amendola, but nonetheless the word out of Foxboro is that he won’t be ready to return to action until the playoffs.
That leaves Brady with only Edelman, Hogan and the quickly emerging Malcolm Mitchell at wide receiver. I thought there was a chance that the Patriots would reunite with either WR's Keyshawn Martin or Aaron Dobson who are both free agents at the moment, but it's being reported that the Patriots just signed former Colts wideout Griff Whalen. For those of you at home he was the guy who snapped the ball during that HILARIOUS fake punt the Colts attemtped agasint the Patriots last season. All joking aside, he does give the Patriots the added depth they need.
Personally, I think the key going forward lies in the hands of the running backs. Having Blount, Lewis and White gives you three different looks out of the backfield that can all be extremely effective. You can go heavy and run Blount down a defense’s throat, or you could have Lewis and White coming out of the backfield catching passes that cause matchup nightmares for a defense. If the Patriots can establish a running game early on in games, that can allow them to go to play action where they typically strive. It will be a tough test on Monday night when the Ravens and the #1 ranked rushing defense comes into Gillette. The Ravens have only given up 4 rushing touchdowns all season and are only giving up 73.8 yards on the ground per game.
So to recap, it certainly wasn’t a great performance by the offense. Brady did have a pretty good game but in large part the offense was missing that spark we are so accustomed to seeing. There are still four more weeks left in the regular reason, albeit four more challenging games, but I think the Patriots will only go up from here. If you give Belichick, Brady and McDaniel’s a little bit of time to tinker with the offense and figure out what works without the best tight end in football, I have no doubt they will come up with something effective that will put the Patriots in a position to head to Houston for Super Bowl LI.