Dec. 13, 2018
No MVP-Brady Best for Patriots
In their first game back from a bye, the New England Patriots churned out 215 yards on the ground. In fact, New England ran the ball more than they passed it.
Eight players caught at least one pass.
The defense limited the New York Jets to just three points in the second half, picked up two sacks and picked off a pass.
The offensive line didn’t allow a sack.
Beautiful. Now can New England do this every week?
While there is no such thing as a blueprint for winning (especially not with the Patriots coaching staff that designs new game plans specifically for each opponent), it would be great if this approach could be photocopied and applied through the rest of the season and playoffs.
The best part of this win: Tom Brady didn’t have to save the day. He factored into the win, but Brady didn’t have to carry the team, as everyone pulled their weight. Hopefully this continues for the Patriots.
Let’s be honest. Brady isn’t the same player he was in his prime. Yes his football IQ, which is always off the charts, continues to improve with age. But physically he isn’t the same player. The consistency of his execution has declined slightly over the years. Over time, it adds up.
Brady remains the primary reason for the team’s success and failure, but the best approach would be for the team around Brady to carry their share of the load, with MVP Brady needed for critical times.
This should had been the approach to start the season, and arguably for the past few years. If Brady wants to play until he’s 45, the best way to ensure that happens is by decreasing the toll on his body by demanding less from him.
Think of it as what the 1997 and 1998 Denver Broncos were like in QB John Elway’s twilight two years. Denver built a dominant defense and a run-first offense led by arguably the best offensive line in the league at the time and Terrell Davis the workhorse.
It worked well enough to win back-to-back Super Bowls. For the present-day Patriots to be successful, it starts up front.
Before the season started I stated that the success of the 2018 season depended on the offensive and defensive lines. So far the offensive line has performed dramatically better than last year’s unit. Unfortunately the D-line remains mediocre. That probably won’t change much even after Deatrich Wise Jr. gets the cast removed and becomes two-handed again.
That means the Patriots best chance to win likely is to outscore their opponents every week. The chances are better with the offensive line at full health.
A quick look at Sunday’s game statistics reinforces the offensive line’s importance. The Patriots are 6-0 when they gain at least 90 yards on the ground, 1-3 with less than 90 yards rushing.
RB James White (870 total yards, 10 TDs) has been the MVP thus far, submitting what could be the best season ever by a New England third down back. And Cordarrelle Patterson added running back to his resume, started two games in the backfield and performed effectively against the Green Bay Packers.
The offensive line of Trent Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon should be praised for their play. Besides being the driving force behind the rushing attack, they kept Brady relatively clean, allowing 16 sacks through 10 games.
Keeping Brady upright allows him to get the ball to his playmakers: White, Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon and Rob Gronkowski. The latter two could step their game up.
Maybe that’s harsh to suggest more from Gordon considering his history and being a Cleveland Browns cast-off. Gordon is averaging 18.3 yards per reception as the deep threat/number two receiver. But for someone as physically gifted as Gordon, he’s capable of more production. Maybe we’ll see that when Gronkowski is back on the field.
Speaking of Gronkowski, it was obvious that the offense missed him against the Tennessee Titans. In reality, New England has missed Gronkowski for most of the season. Only twice had we seen the unstoppable Gronk, as he has played through injuries before missing the past two games.
If about four weeks to recuperate gets Gronkowski back to full health, the offense with all weapons available will make Brady’s job a lot easier.
Know what else would make Brady’s job a lot easier? Better defensive play. The Patriots had a bend but don’t break defense for the past few years and that hasn’t changed in 2018. New England’s defensive third down percentage is 25th in the league, a respectable eleventh in points allowed, and 18th in rushing yards per carry with 4.4.
The Patriots need to make up for their generosity by forcing turnovers, though that’s a challenge since the pass rush is inconsistent. Football Outsiders ranks New England’s pass rush 30th, which mirrors the Patriots’ rank in sacks: 30th with just 17.
Maybe the secondary can step up. It was a dominant unit last year, but any secondary can be picked apart when left out to dry by an inconsistent pass rush.
The defensive problems could eventually catch up to the Patriots, but with Brady, New England always has a chance. We were reminded of that when Brady led the game-winning drive against Kansas City, setting up Stephen Gostkowski for the deciding 28-yard field goal with no time remaining.
Under the circumstances above should be when the team would need Brady to be Brady. New England needs to do a better job of protecting big leads and winning going away. A second half of forcing punts/turnovers and running out the clock with an imposing ground game should be the desired script for the rest of the season. If the game is tight and the Patriots need Brady to come to the rescue, then put the ball and the fate of the game in his pliable arm.
Otherwise, the team needs to give Brady easy Sunday afternoons. Run the ball effectively. Yards after the catch. Short fields. Defensive scores.
Brady will always get credit. The supporting cast has to make more plays to help Brady.
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