Blame pie: Who is most at fault for Patriots’ struggles on offense?

Ryan Hannable
December 10, 2019 - 6:00 am
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It doesn’t take a football expert to see the Patriots are struggling on offense this season.

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The team is averaging 26 points per game through 13 games, which is good for eighth in the NFL. But, context is important. The special teams and defense have accounted for 12 percent of the total points, so the offense isn’t really the eight-best in the league. A better indication is being ranked 15th in total offense, averaging 354 yards per game.

The biggest issue is the unit doesn’t have a single thing it does well. A year ago, the team rode the running game over the final few games and into the playoffs, but that doesn’t seem possible this year. The offense is 23rd in rushing yards and 29th in yards per attempt, averaging 3.5 yards per carry.

And the team certainly can’t rely on the passing game considering all Tom Brady really has to work with is Julian Edelman. The 42-year-old has had a revolving door of passing options this year, as it began with Josh Gordon, Demaryius Thomas and Antonio Brown, and now he has Mohamed Sanu, N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers. It’s been a year-long struggle for Brady to get on the same page as his receivers, and overall the Patriots have the ninth-best passing attack in the league.

Clearly, this is not a typical Patriots offense. But, where should the blame be directed? Who is most at fault?

Here is our blame pie and which size piece each people/position deserve.

Bill Belichick/Nick Caserio: 30 percent

The offensive struggles, especially in the passing game, could have been seen coming from a mile away. One of the bigger issues for the offense is the lack of production from the tight end position. After losing Rob Gronkowski due to retirement this offseason, his production was replaced by Benjamin Watson and Matt LaCosse. Sure, Gronkowski announced his retirement a bit late in the process, but there was still time for the organization to address the position. And really, it would have been wise for the team to draft a tight end high in the draft dating back a few years as there were signs Gronkowski’s career was nearing its end.

The wide receiver position wasn’t set up well for success, either. Was going into the year with Julian Edelman, Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, Harry, Meyers, Thomas and Gunner Olszewski really smart with a 42-year-old Brady? That is a major reason why the team went out and picked up Brown once he was released by Oakland. This is right up there with the 2013 group as one of the worst Brady has had to work with. 

Failing to replace players like Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and Gronkowski in recent seasons finally caught up to them. If Brady had more to work with in the passing game, it’s hard to imagine the offense still struggling like it has. That is on Belichick, Caserio and the rest of the personnel department.

Tom Brady: 20 percent

While Brady hasn’t been given much to work with, it is worth noting the narrative with him over the years has been his ability to make chicken salad out of chicken you-know-what. For as bad as his weapons were in 2013, he didn’t rank 30th in the league in terms of completion percentage. Through 13 games, Brady has completed 60.5 percent of his passes, which has players like Jameis Winston, Gardner Minshew, Mason Rudolph and Kyle Allen ahead of him. 

One particular series in the second quarter against the Chiefs summed up the entire season for the unit. On second-and-7, Kansas City blitzed and Dorsett wasn’t ready for the throw. On third-and-7, Meyers dropped a pass over the middle, and then on fourth-and-7, Brady delivered a poor throw to Edelman that would have given the offense a first down. While it isn’t all Brady's fault, there have been plays there to be made and sometimes Brady has failed to capitalize.

Lastly, as quarterback the ball is in his hands the most of any other player, so it is largely on his shoulders to make things work the best they can. It’s seemed at some points this year he’s shown a reluctance to come down to the level of some of his receivers and instead wanted them to get to his level, which is a near impossible ask given the circumstances.

Josh McDaniels: 15 percent

McDaniels has had an outstanding season and has been able to scheme up a few of the most recent scores with tempo and trick plays, but similar to Brady having the ball the most, the offense coordinator is the one who calls the plays. This means he deserves some of the blame for the issues, too.

And the Patriots’ skill position players aren’t THAT bad. Between Edelman, White, Burkhead, Dorsett, Sanu, Harry and Meyers, McDaniels can’t scheme a gameplan up to deliver more than 17 points, which is what it has averaged over the last five games? Given Harry and Meyers struggling to pick up the offense and gain chemistry with Brady, can’t their plays be dumbed down? Harry was a first-round pick for a reason and does have some natural ability.

Offensive line: 15 percent

To no fault of their own, the unit has been forced to use players it did not plan on using going into the year.

Backups Jared Veldheer and Brian Schwenke retired before training camp even began, so their depth was tested from the start. Then came David Andrews being placed on IR due to blood clots in his lungs, which meant Ted Karras was the starting center. And now after a knee injury against the Texans, it’s third-stringer James Ferentz. At left tackle, following Isaiah Wynn landing on IR after Week 2, Marshall Newhouse saw extended time as a starter before Wynn returned a few weeks back. The team did not plan for any of those things to happen, but they have certainly impacted the play of the offense. It is also worth noting Marcus Cannon and Shaq Mason haven't performed to the same level as a year ago.

Below average blocking has not only put Brady under pressure a lot more, it’s also given runners fewer holes to run through. Sony Michel is a running back who gets what his line gives him, and for this season it hasn’t been much at all. If the offensive line was playing a little better, it’s likely the passing game and running game would be that much better, too.

Wide receivers: 10 percent

Similar to the offensive line, the wide receivers group doesn’t have the greatest collection of talent, but it needs to be better than it’s been. Since the bye week, Edelman has 27 catches on 45 targets for 347 yards, while the rest of the Patriots wide outs have 25 catches on 54 targets for 281 yards. Opposing defenses simply do not fear the Patriots passing game any more, and a lack of receivers to worry about is a major reason why.

If one of Sanu, Dorsett, Harry or Meyers would step up and be a player defenses need to focus on, that would free things up for the other players and also make Brady’s life a lot easier.

Running backs: 10 percent

While part of their issues are related to the struggles of the offensive line, more was expected from a group of Michel, White, Burkhead and rookie Damien Harris. One of the biggest disappointments on the entire team has been Michel, who was expected to break out in his second year, and it has been anything but a breakout season. The Georgia product is averaging just 3.5 yards a carry, exactly a full yard less than a year ago, and has only caught 10 passes.

Also, the Patriots being ranked 27th in red-zone efficiency largely has to do with the Patriots not being able to consistently run the ball, especially in running situations.

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