Patriots offense can potentially get jump-started by taking page out of last year’s book

Ryan Hannable
December 05, 2019 - 6:00 am

Everyone knows it, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels included, the Patriots offense needs to be better.

Listen to your team news NOW.

The unit hasn’t scored more than 22 points since Week 8 and Brady has gone seven straight games with a quarterback rating below 100, which is the longest streak of his career. In addition, the Patriots offense has totaled more than 300 yards passing just once since Week 6, and that was this past week against Houston, which was a bit misleading.

The Patriots trailed 21-9 going into the final quarter and Houston sat back in prevent defense, which allowed for Brady to accumulate 137 of his 326 passing yards. The game was also a microcosm of how the season has gone when it comes to the passing offense — Julian Edelman and James White are the only two players Brady trusts.

Against the Texans, the pair combined for 63 percent of the passing yards, and for the year they have combined for 45 percent of the team’s 3,173 passing yards. Besides these staples, there’s Phillip Dorsett, who hasn’t been as dependable as in past years, and then newcomers N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers and Mohamed Sanu.

It’s clear Brady is still working on building chemistry with Harry, Meyers and Sanu, which is part of the reason why the 42-year-old has a 61.1 percent completion percentage, good for tied for 29th in the league. 

It also doesn’t help that Brady has the most pass attempts in the league with 486.

“I love playing with N’Keal. N’Keal is working his tail off,” Brady said Monday on The Greg Hill Show. “He hasn’t had a lot of opportunities out there and he’s learning as he’s going. To expect someone to go out in their third game of the year and be perfect, I think that is unrealistic for anyone. I love what N’Keal is bringing. We’re gaining confidence every week. I love what Jakobi (Meyers) is doing. We’re gaining confidence every week. Gaining confidence with Mohamed (Sanu). Julian (Edelman) and I, we’ve played together for a long time and I think that shows itself pretty well. I think you see, James (White) and I, we’ve played together a long time. 

“That is part of our sport is dealing with new situations and try and deal with them the best way you can and this team has faced some unique ones in of itself just like any team has. We’re no different from any team.”

Since it’s Week 14, it’s hard to imagine Brady’s chemistry with his new receivers suddenly changing overnight. So, if the Patriots offense has any hope of turning a corner, it’s going to have to be through the running game.

Fortunately, the unit can look to last year for proof that it can happen late in the year and then work in the postseason.

Following back-to-back losses in Weeks 14 and 15 to fall to 9-5, the Patriots rode the running game in the final two games — 273 and 131 yards respectively — to earn the AFC’s No. 2 seed in the playoffs. The trend continued in the postseason as the offense ran for at least 154 yards in all three playoff games on the way to winning Super Bowl LIII.

The Patriots took a first step to making this a reality in the loss to the Texans, as it finished with a season-high 145 yards on the ground.

“Hopefully our best football in every phase is in front of us, but I feel like we've made some progress in the running game, and we need to continue to do that as we head into the last four games of our season,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said on a conference call Tuesday.

While the running backs are virtually the same as last year — Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead and Brandon Bolden — there are some differences. 

The offensive line doesn’t have David Andrews at center, as third-stringer James Ferentz will be in that role until Ted Karras can return from his knee injury. And then instead of Trent Brown at left tackle, it is second-year player Isaiah Wynn. But, the biggest difference is in the backfield as fullback James Develin isn’t there to lead the way, as he’s been on IR since the early part of the year with a neck injury.

It will be more challenging than it was a year ago, but it feels like it has a better chance of working than praying something suddenly clicks with Brady and the new wide receivers.

This approach also matches up well with the success of the defense. Relying more on the running game will create longer drives taking time off the clock, which likely will keep the scoring down. With one of the best defenses in the league, the Patriots want to win games 17-13, or 20-13 rather than get into shootouts.

Improving on offense is not going to be easy, but if the Patriots have any chance between now and the end of the season, it feels like it’s going to need to come from the running game.

Related: Report: Patriots tried to claim K Chase McLaughlin