September 28, 2016

More Than A Passing Fancy

logoby Dan Snapp
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It was the most insidiously impressive drive of the game.

Albeit outshone by the wonderfully executed play-action bomb to Randy Moss or the splendid Tom-Brady-to-Moss-to-Brady-to-Jabar-Gaffney flea-flicker, the Patriots drive to open the fourth quarter Sunday was where they most definitively exerted their dominance over the Steelers.

Driving 89 yards in 13 plays, all passes, and leading to a 28-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal, it was an exercise in mastery. The Pats tipped their hand, going empty backfield on all but two plays, but the Steelers couldn’t stop them.

New England went no huddle the entire series, still running the play clock down each time. They completed nine straight passes (the first five to Wes Welker), with the receiver staying in bounds each time, and ran six minutes off the clock. In essence, it was their runless run-out-the-clock squad.

The signature play was the first. The ball at their own one, the Pats had Tom Brady alone in the shotgun. Welker made a quick break outside, Brady caught him in stride, and Welker left James Farrior in his dust for a 22-yard gain.

“How ’bout this?” an awestruck Phil Simms said at the snap. “You’re backed up at the one, and this says it all: ‘We are a passing team.'”

So that’s what it’s going to be. For better or for worse, this is what they are now: the Great American Pass Team.

We’re about to see if the Patriots can do what in any normal year couldn’t be done: win a Super Bowl with a one-dimensional offense.

We warned about the team getting too pass-happy back in August. There are harbingers of this danger every year: Peyton Manning’s record 2004 season gone cold in frigid Foxboro (and him finally winning once he tempered his statlust); John Elway going ringless before Terrel Davis came along ; Dan Marino never winning a title.

So what would make us think things will be different for this Patriots team?

Obviously, nobody’s ever been this good at it. Soon, the Pats will hold the single season scoring record, Tom Brady will best Manning’s passing TD accomplishment, and Randy Moss most likely will surpass Jerry Rice’s season receiving TD mark. Those records might not even survive this week’s Jets game, maybe leaving Eric Mangini’s job on the endangered list as well.

One can hope.

But doing all this, plus maybe going undefeated, plus then maybe winning another Super Bowl, all while running a heavily lopsided offense – it’s just the Patriots thwarting convention yet again.

On first glance at the stats, the Pats look relatively balanced. For the season, they’ve run 43% of the time – pretty decent considering what a pass-happy offense we expected them to be. They’ve also got a respectable 4.0 yards per carry, for a middle-of-the-pack 1,478 total yards rushing.

But the team’s running success the first part of the season skew the results. Through the first five games, the Pats mixed the run and the pass about 50-50, running for 775 yards, an average of 155 a game. The next eight games, they ran the ball only about 37% of the time, running for 703 yards, an average of 87 yards a game.

Dallas seemed to be the turning point. So did the team’s change of MO hinge on Sammy Morris’s injury early in the third quarter of that game?

As the weather’s turned colder, the Patriots have aired it out more. Perhaps it’s just a by-product of situational football, with the recent come-from-behind wins against Philly and Baltimore dictating a pass-first mentality. But why then just the nine carries against the Steelers, a game in which the Pats took control in the third quarter?

When Laurence Maroney talks to the press, it’s usually a bad thing. He doesn’t dance, he says, and we don’t see what he sees. If we’re to believe Laurence, the only things holding him back are the coach’s reins. The team’s choice of plays seems to hint otherwise.

The next two weeks should shed some light on Maroney’s future with the team. The Jets and Dolphins are 30th and 32nd against the run, respectively, a disadvantage the Patriots would love to exploit. If the Pats are still showing empty backfield late into those games, Maroney’s New England days may be numbered.

Then again, they’re only doing what they do best.

Comments

  1. Should we be worried about TFB’s arm getting tired? I mean, they brought it up in camp, resting in in some work-outs to “save” his arm? It seems like all the passing, even if it is screens or long bombs, would start to wear on his arm. Am I crazy? I would like to see some more Kyle Eckel the next two games, if just to give TFB’s shoulder a rest.

    SEP

  2. Sep, don’t worry, be happy

  3. My brother just had the best line for what the Patriots did on that opening fourth quarter drive:
    “Passing out the clock.”

    So what’s the consensus on the issue? Is there a problem with the run game, or are there mitigating circumstances here (tough run defenses, Maroney nursing an injury, etc.)?

    Considering Tomlin was on the sidelines last year for the Vikings game where the Pats went empty backfield all night, maybe it’s a product of a design rather than necessity.

  4. I’m guessing that the 8yds/play gained passing versus the 4yds/play gained rushing, combined with the success of the passing/rushing ratio, suggests there is no issue, except to the people who have to write articles and the fans who needs something to talk about while we wait to watch the next Pats win.

  5. So, no worries as long as they’re winning?

    The heavy winds certainly affected the passing game a couple games ago, and with likely two games in Foxboro in January, weather could play a role. Will there be no time this season where the Patriots will have to run the ball in order to win? And if that moment does come, will they be able to run the ball?

  6. The Patriots running game is fine. On footballoutsiders per play measure, they are the top running game in the entire league.

    For all those fretting about Maroney, he hasn’t tipped toed or danced in a long time. Teams know that when he is on the field it is most likely a running play. He has probably seen the largest % of run blitzes per running play in the entire league. This is also why NE seems to always have someone streaking uncovered when they run playaction.

    In the past three games, NE has played three teams whose run defenses far outclassed their pass defenses. NE also happens to have a historically great pass offense. Since when is it bad to attack a weakness with a strength?

    I have tracked Maroney’s runs since he came back from injury because I like the kid and to see if the criticisms of his play are accurate. They are not. What needs to happen is for him to become more versed with the passing game so NE’s offense isn’t so predictible when he is on the field. That is hard to do when he is competing with one of the top 2-3 receiving backs in the league.

    So, NE keeps offering him up as a acrificial lamb, taking the occasional short yardage run along with the corresponding playaction pass.

    Does anyone really believe that NE would have run much if they had this passing offense is 2001 or 2003? I find it laughable that some feel Maroney isn’t even as good as Smith.

    As far as NE’s offense being slowed down by the elements. If NE’s passing offense is netuered, what passing offense in the league wouldn’t be as well? Didn’t NE put up 27 points on a very good defense on the road with that defense getting away with literally 70+ defensive holds? Wouldn’t even that have been 35 if Moss and Watson held on to the ball?

    Where is the concern coming from again?

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