Throughout the majority of quarterback Tom Brady’s career, the New England Patriots have showcased and maintained a vertical offense where the pass dominated the play selection. With all the offseason maneuverings that have taken place within their organization, they may be forced to alter this philosophy into a more run-friendly approach.
Let’s take a look at all of the happenings on the offensive side of the ball this offseason in Patriot Land:
-The Wes Welker Saga ends with him defecting to Denver on a 2 year/$12M deal
-Same night they sign former Rams WR Danny Amendolato a 5 year/$31M deal
-RB Danny Woodhead leaves NE signing with the San Diego Chargers
-Cut WR Brandon Lloyd after the first year on his 3 year/$12M deal
-Gave Steelers WR Emmanuel Sanders a 2 year for $8M which Pittsburgh matched
-Traded out of Rd 1 in the Draft to select Marshall WR Aaron Dobson and TCU WR Josh Boyce in the 2nd and 4throunds
-Sign RB/KR Leon Washington to a 1-year deal
-Traded for former Buccaneers RB LaGarrett Blount giving up a 7th round pick and RB Jeff Demps
-TE Aaron Hernandez is cut after being arrested and charged with First-Degree Murder among six charges
-Signed former Jets QB Tim Tebow
-Signed WRs Donald Jones, Michael Jenkins and Lavelle Hawkins to add veteran presence
-TE Rob Gronkowski undergoes back surgery in June, his fifth surgery of the last year and is expected by some to open the season on the PUP list
As you can tell, there’s been a flurry of activity during the Patriots offseason. Tom Brady will be without his top five leading receivers from last season on Week 1 at Buffalo (Welker, Hernandez, Gronkowski, Woodhead, Lloyd). With such an overwhelming amount of turnover in the receiving core, Coach Bill Belichick will have to do more to address the pressing/glaring issue than just add a couple veteran wideouts, draft a pair of rookie WRs and trade for a cast off running back. Less than two weeks before training camp is too late to address any position with any real answer via FA or trade as all the good options have been already taken.
Therefore, with the Patriots WR and TE units lacking severely, their strongest unit – Running Back, must be the focal point of their offense this season. With a deep depth chart of Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden,LaGarrette Blount and Leon Washington, this group is by far the strongest for the Red, White and Blue on the O side of the pigskin. This group has the potential to gross over 2,500 yards total together in addition to receiving yards out of the backfield. The only question is – Will Bill be stubborn and stick with Brady’s patented aerial attack amidst a suddenly weak WR core, or will he trust his young RBs to be dependable, gain consistent yardage and reliable in the red zone? This collection isn’t long in the tooth either, but boastmore potential and experience than the others. Ridley, the most proven of the bunch, rushed for 1,263 yards on his way to a dozen touchdowns last year, figures to be the feature back. Vereen, the highest draft of the grouping, is pegged as the “change-of-pace” back, with Bolden, Blount and Washington grabbing carries every so often on third downs, short yardage situations, and in-game situations.
Let’s be honest, supplementing more ground game for less passing plays isn’t sexy. Not in the least bit. The ground game bores even some of the more dedicated football fans. It makes for drivel television the majority the time. But it milks the clock, keeps the games of deficit within reach, and gives a 36-year-old not getting any younger Brady more plays off and less hits to take. It also gives a young defense, which is coming into its own showing more and more promise, time in between series to rest and recuperate.
Odds are the likes of Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce won’t get off to torrid starts to their NFL careers. This puts extra emphasis on the relationship and chemistry between Brady and newcomer Amendola. If he can pick up the bulk of slack left by Welker, then this team has a far greater chance of succeeding this year. But if not, then its puts even more pressure on Belichick and Offensive Coordinator JoshMcDaniels to figure out success somewhere else on the offense – and that has to be via the turf. Tight end is even more of a question mark. No one knows if Jake Ballard can step in filling the void left from Gronk until he returns healthy and when. Will someone step up and perform the functions of Hernandez, a glorified WR. So many questions marks may the staff seeking the most solid/steady, reliable of options – the ground.
The offense itself was centered around their two young star TEs and now, that is all up in the air. Unless Gronkowskicomes back quicker than expected and at full strength, the points New England fans have grown accustom to piling up on the scoreboard won’t really be as frequent this upcoming season. And knowing Gronkowski’s history of injuries, along with his numerous surgeries during the last twelve months, a full recovery isn’t expected until well into the schedule. The Patriots tumultuous offseason has taken them from the top tier of title contenders to a playoff team with numerous question marks on the offensive side of the ball.
Pats fans shouldn’t expect to see 300+ yardage totals for Tom Terrific every Sunday this fall. More than likely they will be looking in the run offense portion of the box score for big numbers - which may yield more games for #12 in the long run and more rings to show for it.
The Patriots dug their own hole in this, however - refusing to give Welker that extra $2 million in guarantees matching Denver’s offer, denying Restricted Free Agent and Steelers WR Emmanuel Sanders a few million more in per years dollars to their offer sheet so cap-strapped Pittsburgh could not match. IfBelichick and Kraft could have sacrificed their egos and opened up their wallets just a bit more, the negative events of the offseason would’ve been a much lesser blow. To get back to their championship level winning ways, New England must not be as obsessed at winning at the negotiating table, and more adept at opening up the wallet to those whom deserve and at positions of need and vital importance to the team’s success.
NFL Contributing Writer