Patriots

Patriots

The losses of Dion Lewis and Julian Edelman will obviously change the way the Patriots offense attacks.

Those two – and Danny Amendola – have the quickness, toughness and hands to be almost uncoverable from the line of scrimmage to about 10 yards downfield. When the three were on the field at the same time and Rob Gronkowski was threatening the seam and dragging coverage with him, it was easy pitch-and-catch football. Not just for completions but for run-after-catch yards because the three would be running complementary routes to drag defenders out of zones.

Now, with Lewis done for the year and Edelman not back until at least January, the short part of the field is going to be easier to defend.

Here’s why: James White and Brandon Bolden don’t require a convoy of tacklers rallying to the ball to get them to the ground. Lewis did. As a result, the defender responsible for the third down back can now pay token attention to him and he probably won’t require too much assistance.

Meanwhile, with Edelman on the field full attention couldn’t be paid to both him and Amendola. Neither could be covered effectively on short option throws. And the play designs put in on those throws allowed for plenty of run-after-catch yards to move the chains. Amendola will still be a very tough 1-on-1 cover, but without Edelman, linebackers and safeties can be shaded to him to make sure he’s put on the ground fast and with a purpose after the catch.

The Patriots went 7 for 14 for the game on third down but after Edelman went out at the end of the first quarter, they went 2 for 8.

How can the Patriots loosen things up? Going downfield.

On Monday, Tom Brady was asked on WEEI’s Dennis and Callahan about the offense opening up a bit more with downfield throws on first down plays.

“We had a few of them,” Brady agreed. “It was good to be able to hit a few of those. It’s tough to get into so many third down drives like we had and connect on third down as much as we did. We ended up doing a good job on first down more in the second half and that was pretty critical to our success.”

One way to stay away from having third down conversion problems (and “problems” is probably an overstatement since the Patriots are first in the league in that stat) is by simply staying out of third down and being more aggressive on first and second down.

It is demoralizing for a defense to experience drives like the one the Patriots began the game with – 14 plays, 80 yards, six first downs and 3-for-3 on third downs – but it also requires a lot of offensive precision to carry that off.  

Downfield throws are lower percentage plays and the Patriots don’t have elite downfield, outside-the-numbers players. Brandon LaFell is as tough a wideout as you’ll find, but that’s his greatest asset – fighting for the ball. Not top-end speed, acceleration or leaping ability. The Patriots best downfield threat in terms of ability is Aaron Dobson. He’s long, fast and jumps out of the gym. If he can play with enough toughness and shows he’ll be dependable, don’t be surprised if he starts seeing a lot more throws.

Brady practically announced the Patriots will be going deep when he said, “You know we're gonna have to do a good job continuing to threaten the deep part of the field and make those guys cover. We need (defenses) to respect that area and it hopefully can open up more for some of the things underneath.”