Hannable: No matter what the stats say, Patriots offense needs work heading into postseason

Ryan Hannable
January 01, 2018 - 2:58 pm

Brian Fluharty/USA Today Sports

Bet you didn’t realize this… 

The Patriots offense scored 17 more points in the regular season this year than last year, and its 6,307 yards of total offense is the most it has totaled in the last five seasons.

While the numbers say otherwise, this Patriots offense just hasn’t felt like many of the Tom Brady-led units of the past. There’s been a number of miscommunications, poor throws and stalling than in years past. These don’t show up in the stats, but it’s clear by watching the games.

The Patriots finished the 2017 season ranked first in total offense and second in points scored, averaging 28.6 points per game, but there isn’t an overwhelming confidence with the unit entering the postseason.

Sunday’s 26-6 win over the Jets summed things up perfectly. The Patriots scored 26 points and won comfortably, but it wasn’t a performance the offense will want to duplicate in the postseason.

“We started the game the right way, didn’t turn the ball over, did some good things in the red zone, scored before the half, but overall just not as well-executed as we would like, and we certainly have plenty to work on this week to try to prepare and have our best performance the next time we line up and play,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said on a conference call Monday.

Certainly, the 13-degree temperatures should be factored in, but the Jets defense was playing in the same conditions. Also, the Jets were a team that didn’t have anything to play for. In addition, Rob Gronkowski appeared to be a decoy most of the contest — not registering a single target — but even so, the offense had its fair share of struggles.

After the Patriots went 75 yards in 13 plays for an opening drive touchdown, the offense gained a total of 18 yards on its next three possessions, all resulting in punts. In the postseason, this is where opposing teams could take advantage and completely take over the momentum of the game.

Brandin Cooks seemed to be an issue on the second drive as he stopped running on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown reception from Brady, and then dropped a wide receiver screen, which was set up for a big gain.

He’s another example of the numbers saying one thing and the eye test saying another. Cooks finished the season with 65 receptions for 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns. He finished 11th in the league in receiving yards and tied for 29th in receptions. While he had another 1,000-yard receiving season, he still doesn’t appear to be in total sync with Brady.

This appeared to be a focus down the stretch of the season, as Brady looked Cooks’ way a lot, but Brady was just 12-for-30 targeting him in the final four games. For the year, when targeting him on third down, Brady was just 7-for-26. 

“I think we’ve got some work to do,” Cooks said of the state of the offense. “We are not where we want to be and that’s what practice is for. The great thing about it is we’ve got one more chance to be able to go out there and play our best.”

Brady, who likely will win the MVP, hasn’t looked like the same quarterback we’ve seen in recent years — at least down the stretch. 

In his last five games, the 40-year-old had a completion percentage of 61.3 percent, averaged 240.6 yards per game, and threw six touchdowns compared to five interceptions. He ended the year going six straight games without a 300-yard passing game, which was the first time he’s done that since the start of 2010 when he went eight straight games.

Whether it’s related to the weather, his own injuries, or a banged up offense, we’ve seen an uncharacteristic number of poor passes on throws he typically completes.

So, a quick glance at the stats — No. 1 ranked offense, No. 1 seed in the AFC, winners of 11 of their last 12 games, coupled with a below average AFC this season — some may say the Patriots are well on their way to another Super Bowl appearance, but objectively analyzing what we’re seeing says the team has some work to do over the next two weeks.