Hannable: Patriots’ offensive woes vs. Titans aren’t nearly as bad as they seem

Ryan Hannable
November 12, 2018 - 10:14 pm
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Sunday was an uncharacteristically poor performance for the Patriots.

Every good team has a stinker every once in awhile, but for the Patriots it is rare for it to occur in the second half in the season. Usually it’s early on when the team is still figuring things out.

Sunday’s 34-10 loss to the Titans was the worst November loss in the Tom Brady era, and the 10 points tied a season-low with Week 3’s performance against the Lions.

While it’s easy to overreact to the game, things aren’t as bad as they seem.

Don’t forget the Patriots were missing their best offensive lineman in Shaq Mason, All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski and rookie running back Sony Michel was returning after missing two games with a knee injury.

It’s easy to score 31 points against the 17th-ranked defense at home in the Packers without Mason and Gronkowski, but their absence certainly showed up on the road against the No. 1 scoring defense in the Titans.

Obviously, getting these two players back will help, even if Gronkowski isn’t 100 percent. But as it relates to Sunday, the issues can easily be corrected.

Sunday’s beat-down all started with getting off to a slow start, which has been a common theme in all three losses this season. New England fell behind 14-0 in Week 2 against the Jaguars, 13-0 Week 3 in Detroit and 14-3 Sunday in Tennessee.

This makes the Patriots offense one-dimensional, as when trailing by so many points the defense can assume a passing play is coming and attack things that way. This is what happened Sunday. The Titans defense was able to bring pressure at will without having to worry about a running play. It’s no coincidence the offense finished with a season-low 40 rushing yards.

It also takes away play-action, one of Brady's biggest weapons.

Allowing defenses to tee-off on Brady in the passing game is not good news for New England. According to ESPN’s NFL Matchup, Brady has a 59.6 quarterback rating against the blitz this season, the worst in the entire league.

While the Patriots have never been a dominant running team, just making it so the defense respects it has been a big reason for Brady and the offense’s success over the years. That cannot happen when falling behind by so many points early on.

Another issue is Brady’s reliance on just Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon and James White in the passing game. Of the quarterback’s 41 pass attempts against Tennessee, 32 of them were targeted to one of those three players. Brady has been so good at spreading the ball around, and that hasn’t been the case this year.

Overall this year, White has been targeted on 21 percent of his snaps, Edelman and Gordon each 15 percent and then Chris Hogan comes in at just six percent. Hogan has the most snaps of any pass catcher, but yet has only 23 catches on 35 targets.

“Everyone has to get targets and looks,” Brady said on Kirk & Callahan Monday morning. “[Hogan] hasn’t gotten as many as he would like. I have to figure out a way to get the ball to everybody, so that we can all make plays. When everyone is making plays, I think our offense is tough to stop. That will certainly be something we focus on and make sure everyone is getting looks that they deserve and go make the plays when we get them.”

Brady added: “I think a good offense has to go through everybody. There’s a lot of players that have to make plays when your number is called. You know, utilizing everyone that is available.”

A quick review of the tape shows players other than those three getting open, Brady just missed them on some plays. 

Sure, Sunday’s performance was very poor, but it’s not like it’s a mystery to what went wrong.

Also, look around the rest of the AFC. There is no dominant team (except maybe the Chiefs, which the Patriots beat) and as it relates to the Patriots offense, no real strong defense out of the AFC contenders.

Of all the AFC teams currently in the playoffs if they began today, only the Texans and Chargers (seventh and eighth) are in the top 10 in terms of points allowed. And at the top, the Chiefs are ranked 16th, while the Steelers are 13th -- so, nothing to be afraid of.

Following the loss, the Patriots are two full games behind Kansas City for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, but remember the Patriots hold the tiebreaker. This means if the Chiefs lose twice more and the Patriots win out, New England would get the No. 1 seed. This is easier said than done, but not out of the question like many said after Sunday.

Overall, it’s a flawed conference this year. The Patriots certainly are not playing at the level of some past Patriot Super Bowl teams, but compared to the other top teams in the league this year, things aren’t all that bad.

Scoring only 10 points in a Week 10 game is certainly not a good sign, but considering the circumstances, what the issues were, and what the rest of the league looks like, it shouldn’t be cause for total concern.

Related: Patriots reportedly get positive news on Julian Edelman's injured ankle

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