By Jeff Kane, Follow Jeff on Twitter @BostonFatGuy
The New England Patriots have had a run of good fortune and good play since Tom Brady stepped onto the field to replace an injured Drew Bledsoe on September 23, 2001. The history has been made as Brady has tied Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw with four Super Bowl victories, and has started a record six at quarterback. The Patriots again are off to a hot start, the question is how special can this offense be?
The Pats will be taking on a weakened Cowboys team this weekend in Dallas. The Cowboys rank in the middle of the back in stopping opposing offenses. What will Brady be able to do after a week off? Right now the Patriots have three players that are leading the team and moving the chains for Tom. Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and Dion Lewis, are the big name players in the passing game. Looking deeper into the game plans New England has used in the first three weeks, the team is hitting on all cylinders. Against the Steelers, without LaGarrette Blount offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels opened up the middle of the field by moving Rob Gronkowski all over the field. This allowed Edelman to work the underneath to the tune of 11 catches and 98 yards. Gronkowski is such a match up nightmare that his presence alone makes the underneath throw unstoppable vs zone and he kills man to man coverage.
Against the Bills, the Pats all but abandoned the run, having Brady drop back 59 times as opposed to 15 runs. Conventinal wisdom says this is a great way to lose a game, but with Brady getting the ball out in under two seconds Rex Ryan’s exotic blitzes didn’t work. With the Bills coming back with 19 fourth quarter points to the Patriots three, the Pats learned a valuable lesson that they need to create clock killing drives with the short passing game as well as the running game. The Patriots seemed almost scared to run against the Bills, forgoing two fourth and short runs for deep pass plays that turned the ball over to the Bills. The final fourth down failure lead to a Bills touchdown, that was followed by a strip sack that again lead to Bills points.
In week three against he Jaguars the Patriots used a much more balance attack and this helped the Patriots score their most points of the season 51. Balance was the key to the game. Brady and the offense opened up again throwing the ball, and mostly underneath as 13 catches went to the duo of Edelman and Danny Amedola can attest. Once the Patriots built their big lead they turned to Blount who killed a worn out defense by rushing for three touchdowns.
Josh McDaniels has done a fine job the first three weeks of the season in developing game plans that have put his offense in position to score. In an interview I did with Heath Evans, former Patriots Fullback and current analyst for the NFL Network, I asked Heath about McDaniels the second time around in New England. Heath explained how Josh has always had an ability to “think outside the box” and figure out how the opposing defense will try and attack the Patriots. (You can listen to the entire interview with Heath Evans Here) The next two weeks will be very interesting for the Patriots going up against a depleted Cowboys team followed by a weak Colts team. McDaniels will put his teams best interest ahead of all else and the chameleon offense will continue to strive for the Patriots. The scary thing is reinforcements are on the way.
The offensive line has been downright amazing with seven players getting solid play time. Rookies Dave Andrews, Shaq Mason and Tre Jackson have been very good. With veterans Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Josh Kline and Marcus Cannon moving in and out of the line up and staying fresh. Brian Stork will be back half way through the season he was a great center last year. Ryan Wendall will also be back. This will give the Patriots eight to nine offensive lineman that they trust to open holes for the running game and protect Brady. It will be an embarrassment of riches for the Patriots. Most teams are looking for four or five solid lineman the Patriots will have some back ups that could start for any team.
The skill position is only going to get better as well. We saw what Blount was able to do last game out. He will be your closer and tone setter in the running game. With surprise new comer Dion Lewis doing his best to be the next Kevin Faulk or more likely Danny Woodhead, the Patriots now have that pass catching back that can also run between the tackles, something that was lacking from Shane Vereen’s game. Branden LaFell will be coming back and that will only help the outside the numbers game as his 78 receptions last year were a career high. We still have not seen the Patriots utilize Scott Chandler to his full ability. With the trade to acquire Keshawn Martin from the Texans, the Pats have another weapon that caught a TD versus the Jags. They also have a player with huge upside in Aaron Dobson. I still expect big things from Dobson and against the Cowboys, I believe he will have a huge game. The Patriots have shown a lot on tape so far, but not nearly as much as what is in their bag. The sky is the limit for this team to be every bit as dynamic as the 2007 team.
By comparison the Patriots of 2007 were one of the best offenses of all-time. Brady set a then record for touchdowns with 50 and Randy Moss set a record of 23 touchdown catches. Through three games this year Brady is on pace for 48 touchdown and Gronkowski is on target for 21 touchdown receptions. While the offenses are different, the passing numbers through three games are eerily similar. In fact the 2015 offense as a whole is actually gaining more yards 1339 to 1323 and scoring more points 119 to 113. The 2007 team was more balance out of the gate, rushing for more yards than this years team 455 to 261. As the season wears on the Patriots will need to create more balance to continue to keep the defense guessing. While the Patriots may not have a Moss like receiver, they do have the parts to be special.