AFC East

Who are the Patriots?

We all know the Patriots don’t have the offense in 2013 that they’ve had in the past. That being said, it’s worth asking what exactly their offensive system will be this season compared with what we’ve seen in recent years.

First of all, the 2013 Patriots offense doesn’t exactly step off the bus and create matchup problems from the get-go. Gone is one of the best, if not the best, slot receivers in the league in Wes Welker, along with alleged criminal Aaron Hernandez, who was on the verge of dominating the tight end position for years to come. The team also lost Brandon Lloyd and hasn’t yet seen Rob Gronkowski return to game action.

Over the past few years, Tom Brady was able to get his team in various formations and dictate matchups to opposing defenses. There is almost no way to cover a quick slot receiver, two big and fast tight ends who catch everything, and oh yeah, two running backs who can get chunks of yards behind one of the league’s best offensive lines. It was common to see five different formations on five consecutive plays that confused and dismayed the opposition. Defenses had to pick their poison and live with the result. However, even this was hard to do because of the up-tempo, no huddle pace in which the Patriots offense operated, which didn’t allow defenses to substitute.

So what about this year’s attack? Well, the Patriots replaced Welker with Danny Amendola, another quick slot receiver. When on the field he has the ability to be a solid replacement, but injuries have always been a concern (he’s already out for week 2), so comparing him to Welker is a little premature.

On the outside, Kenbrell Thompkins has become Brady’s go-to guy, at least in the pre-season and week 1 (He was targeted a team-high 14 times against the Bills). Say what you want about Lloyd, who never really became the deep threat New England had hoped for, but he developed a nice chemistry with Brady, especially on those back shoulder sideline throws Brady loves to make. This play was tried with Thompkins several times against the Bills, and it simply didn’t work. The best thing we saw from New England’s offense on Sunday was Shane Vereen, who broke off some big runs and caught 7 passes for 58 yards. Unfortunately, he was placed on IR on Monday leaving New England even thinner on offense.

Where do the Pats go from here? I don’t think any of us know for sure. In the past we’ve seen Coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels get creative, and that might be necessary here. Without Vereen coming out of the backfield as a runner or receiver, and sans Amendola for at least this week, what unique matchups does New England create? Do they go to a power running game with Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount? Is Julian Edelman able to dominate the slot? Do they rely on Brady’s smarts and skill to run the no huddle and keep defenses off balance even without nearly as many skill players surrounding him?

Luckily for the Pats, they face a team on Thursday that has more question marks on offense than they do. New England just might escape the first two weeks of the season with a 2-0 record, but many issues still linger. Knowing this quarterback and coaching staff, they will find a way to improve, but just how they do so remains one of the more fascinating questions here at the beginning of the 2013 season.

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