Versatile Offense Is New England Patriots' Ticket to the Super Bowl

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With a full complement of its weapons available, the New England Patriots offense showcased its versatility last Sunday against the New York Jets. The Pats overcame a sluggish, sloppy start and pulled away in the second half to improve to 8-3 on the year. Though still a work in progress, with Rob Gronkowski and Sony Michel back in the mix, the Patriots showed flashes of what this offense can become.

Photo courtesy of nesn.com
The Pats moved the ball up and down the field on Sunday, racking up just under 500 yards of offense. Most drives that ended without points were by their own doing. A sloppy first half, highlighted by penalties that brought back plays of 25 and 13 yards, stalled a few drives. The offense hit their stride in the second half, showing the Jets, and the rest of the NFL, that they have the ability to beat you multiple ways. 

With the score tied at 13 midway through the 3rd quarter. The Pats flashed a quick strike ability; going 75 yards in four plays. It went 27 yard pass to Chris Hogan, 27 yard rush by James White, no gain for White and then ended with a 21 yard touchdown to Julian Edelman. 

In addition to the aerial attack, the Pats also flexed their muscle on the ground, primarily on the back of Michel -- though White also had a strong day. New England pounded away at the Jets defense, racking up 200 rushing yards. They wore the Jets down up front, controlled the line of scrimmage and time of possession.

In the mid stages of the second quarter, New England logged a drive that lasted 11 plays and 5+ minutes. They ran the ball just 4 times on that drive, but picked up 30 yards on the ground; a healthy 7.5 per carry average. On the opening drive of the second half, the Patriots logged another long drive. They ran the ball 9 times for 54 yards on a drive that lasted 15 plays and ate up nearly 6 and a half minutes of clock. 

The one issue with each of those drives? Both ended with field goals. Red zone execution is an area this team absolutely has to improve upon moving forward. To do that, they may need to rethink their approach. 

Naturally, the first choice is to put the ball in Brady's hands. Last year, Brady led the league in both passing touchdowns and yards when in the red zone. In those situations in the past, he has leaned heavily on Gronkowski. In 2017, Brady threw 90 passes, and Gronkowski was targeted on about a quarter of them (22); fourth most in the league. He caught 11 of those 22 targets, 6 for touchdowns. 
However, that hasn't been a viable option this year. While it's great to have him on the field again, you can't watch Gronkowski and think he's 100% healthy. Brady is middle of the pack in red zone passing; completing less than 50% of his attempts this year. A main cause of that has been a failure to connect with Gronkowski. With injuries nagging him, Gronkowski has only been targeted five times in the red zone, and all have fallen incomplete. 

This year, White has been Brady's go to guy in the red zone. He has caught 11 of a team-high 17 targets. While I love White, and though he is one of Brady's top pass-catchers, at 5' 10" he's not exactly your prototypical red zone target. Josh Gordon would seem to fit that mold, but he has yet to be targeted in the red zone, as he continues to assimilate into the Patriots offense. On Sunday, Brady completed just 1 of 6 passes for 16 yards inside the red zone.

The red zone has typically been an area of strength for the Pats. They have consistently been ranked in the top 10, or top 5. This year though, the Patriots currently sit at 13th in red zone offense - in terms of percentage of trips that end in touchdowns. With the passing game not as effective this year, the Pats would be wise to run the ball more when inside the 20. Running the ball effectively, both in and out of the red zone, will be paramount to the team's Super Bowl hopes this year.

Are the Pats the most talented team in the NFL this year? No. Do they have enough talent and coaching to make, and win the Super Bowl? Yes. They will do so by having a multi-faceted offense. The old adage "defense wins championships" only goes so far in today's NFL. 

This year, a defense will win you a championship by getting a couple of stops throughout the course of the game. As a matter of fact, last year's Super Bowl champion won because it put up 41 points. It's "top rated" defense was shredded by the New England offense, but managed to make one play in the fourth quarter which turned out to be the difference. 

All of the teams that could potentially stand in New England's way this year are built to win by lighting up the scoreboard. The defenses are all vulnerable. This Patriot team went into Chicago and against an "elite" defense, put up 24 points on offense (38 total) and racked up 381 yards. They did this despite turning the ball over three times - twice on offense and once on special teams. They've got the firepower.

The Pats proved they could win an offensive shootout in its victory over Kansas City back in October.  However, that type of game doesn't favor New England. Their best bet is do what opposing teams have tried to do with Brady in the past - keep him off the field. You do that by running the ball, and sustaining drives.

New England needs to continue feeding Michel, and stay committed to the run. Time of possession and the ability to produce time consuming drives will be key. More importantly, producing and finishing time consuming drives will be key. Seven or eight minute drives that end in a field goal won't do them any good against top competition. Long drives that result in field goals are okay against teams like the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. Against the likes of the Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers, etc., you better put the ball in the endzone.

Follow me on Twitter - @mcvay34

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Boston Sports Syndicate: Versatile Offense Is New England Patriots' Ticket to the Super Bowl
Versatile Offense Is New England Patriots' Ticket to the Super Bowl
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