The Patriots scored only 16 points against the Raiders on Sunday. They escaped with the W, but probably wouldn’t have against a better team. Their offensive performance through the first 3 weeks of 2014 has to be a concern.
It all starts with this group, and boy have they been bad this season. Against the Raiders, New England allowed regular pressure on Tom Brady. Left tackle Nate Solder got handled on several plays and was slow to react to edge pressure on a few others. There were miscommunications in blocking assignments inside, and Brady did not have much time to throw all game.
The Patriots clearly spotted problems on their line in week 1. They went big in week 2 to address this, using 6 offensive linemen on 26 of 60 plays against the Vikings. They maintained a similar approach against the Raiders, preferring to go big throughout the game. The idea was to try and pound the ball on the ground and protect Brady, neither of which they were able to do with much success.
Considering the state of his O-line, you can’t entirely blame Brady for putting up 3 average performances in 3 games this season. However, his accuracy, which was an issue in 2013, has not been pinpoint thus far in 2014. He had a terrible incompletion to Rob Gronkowski on a play that would have gone for at least 20 yards. This wasn’t an anticipation throw. There was no miscommunication. He just flat out missed a wide open receiver. Brady’s struggles aren’t anything crazy like a sign of decline in his skillset. Instead, they’re more of a result of the cumulative effects of pressure he’s already faced this season.
The Patriots’ most explosive player is the oft-injured Rob Gronkowski. To this point in the season, the Patriots have been easing him back into the lineup, so he hasn’t had the full effect we’re accustomed to seeing. Julian Edelman has been Brady’s most trusted receiver this season, and while he’s effective in the slot, he’s more of a keep-the-chains-moving type of receiver, not an explosive playmaker. Because of their offensive line issues, the Patriots have game planned to get rid of the ball early. Edelman has benefited from this approach. The offense has not. They’ve condensed their entire attack, and focused on short throws and running the ball, both with only mild success. It will be interesting to see how they expand their approach as the season progresses.
New England’s issues begin and end with their offensive line. This was an issue against an okay defense like the Raiders. It might be a catastrophe against better fronts, like the ones New England will see in its next 4 opponents – the Chiefs, Bengals, Bills and Jets.