Patriots

Reality check: What Patriots do well offensively right now ain't sexy

Reality check: What Patriots do well offensively right now ain't sexy

It's a question we've tried to answer all season: What do the Patriots do well offensively?

They haven't been the ground-and-pound machine they were at the end of 2018. They haven't been the spread-it-out-and-chuck-it attack we thought they might morph into.

So what are they good at?

If you listen to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, he'll tell you. It's not glamorous.

"Taking care of the football has historically been a thing we've done well and certainly is a big factor to winning and losing," McDaniels said this week. "The other night [in Houston] the one turnover seemed to really flip the game a little bit there in the first half. But we've done that decent, and we have to continue to do that well. Certainly, that's going to be a huge factor in this game this week against Kansas City.

"Protecting the quarterback, and not going backwards in the running game, and trying to stay out of long-yardage situations to improve your chances on third down . . . There were times the other day when we were pretty good in that area. We tried to keep it in third-and-manageable and actually converted a decent chunk of third downs the other day, too."

They don't turn it over. They don't take sacks.

Tom Brady throwing the football at the feet of his offensive linemen on a screen isn't going to make a season-long highlight reel anytime soon. Neither is James White holding on tight to the football with a defensive back trying to punch it free. 

But that is the state of the Patriots offense at the moment. What they do best isn't necessarily procuring good outcomes, it's avoiding bad ones.

Whether or not it's enough to get the Patriots back to where they were at the end of last season remains to be seen. Their defense has been good enough, and scored points frequently enough, that the team is 10-2 and sixth in the league in scoring (26.8 points per game).

The numbers do, however, support McDaniels' assessment of where the offense is effective right now.

The Patriots are plus-18 in the turnover department (best in the league) with just 11 total giveaways (fourth in the league). They have seven interceptions as a team, and they've lost only four fumbles.

Their sack numbers are borderline astounding. No one in the NFL has had more pass attempts than Brady (486), and only Jameis Winston has dropped back to pass more (533) than Brady has (508). Yet, Brady has only been sacked 21 times. That's 24th in the NFL.

Aside from a scheme that encourages Brady to get the ball out of his hands quickly (he's seventh-quickest to get rid of the football, on average, according to Pro Football Focus), Brady also leads the league in throwaways with 30. That number is already the highest Brady's posted going back to 2006, per PFF.

"I’m throwing it away because I don’t want to take a sack," Brady said when asked about his throwaway total last week. "So, I think part of it’s just you feel like you have an opportunity on the play, and if you don’t have that, then I think negative plays actually have a big impact on the game. Turnovers and negative plays I think really keep you from winning games. 

"So, if you can drop-back pass, because I’m not really a scrambler...I mean, I have scrambled in the past. I wouldn’t say I never scramble, I’m just not really that much of a scrambler. But, if I’m going to hold it back there, then usually good things aren’t going to happen. So, I try to throw the ball away to save plays and live for the next down."

Avoiding those negative pass plays has helped the Patriots maintain reasonable down-and-distance scenarios over the course of the season -- even when their offense hasn't been as potent as Brady would like. 

They're fourth in the league in terms of the number of manageable third-down situations they've faced this year. (For our purposes, we'll define "manageable" as third-and-5 or less.)

The Patriots have run more plays (840) and more third-down plays (176) than any offense in football this season. So when looking at their third-and-manageable situations as a percentage of their overall third-down plays, they're 18th in the NFL when it comes to staying in manageable situations.

That ranking would indicate that keeping themselves in good third-down scenarios is not exactly a strength. But that they've had that many plays to begin with, that they've been able to maintain possession as they have, speaks to a certain level of offensive effectiveness. 

It's just not the type of effectiveness that Brady, McDaniels and the Patriots are used to. They've been a top-six offense each of the last four seasons in terms of yards per game. They've been a top-10 team in that category almost every year going back to 2004. The only two years they weren't -- 2014 and 2006 -- they were 11th. 

This year, they're 14th.

"I think there's a lot of things that you could look at that you could say we could improve on," McDaniels said. "Certainly, that's the truth. I think it's been the truth most seasons that I've ever coached. But, at the end of the day, there are certain things that we have to do well in order to give our team the best chance to be successful, some of which we've done decent throughout the course of the year and some of which we certainly need to do better."

The things they've done well so far have been the things they need to do to win. And they've won quite a bit. But when they haven't, the fact that they can't do more has been readily apparent.

"I think the bottom line is you have to feel like you have an opportunity to improve in each area at practice each week, and each week's a new challenge," McDaniels said. "We certainly want to try to take care of the ball, we certainly want to try to keep the ball moving forward, we certainly want to improve on third down and in the red zone, two-minute offense, those situational plays that can certainly change the outcome of a drive or a quarter or the half of the game. 

"I start with me. I can do a better job of trying to do that and that's what my focus is on, and hopefully, we can make some strides and improve in a lot of areas this week as well."

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Top NFL Draft tight end prospect Hunter Bryant praises 'GOAT' Tom Brady

Top NFL Draft tight end prospect Hunter Bryant praises 'GOAT' Tom Brady

The New England Patriots need to upgrade their talent and depth at tight end before the 2020 season, and a good place to address this roster weakness is in the NFL Draft.

The 2020 class of tight ends isn't as deep as the group of wide receivers available, but there are still a few really exciting tight end prospects for teams to draft in the first couple of rounds. One of those players is Washington Huskies star Hunter Bryant, who Pro Football Focus ranked as the top tight end in this draft.

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He also was among the players to speak Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. When asked which quarterback in league history would he most want to catch a touchdown pass from, Bryant chose the only six-time Super Bowl champion. 

"Any quarterback in history? Probably Tom Brady, because he's the GOAT," Bryant told reporters, as transcribed by 247Sports. "He's the best that's ever done it. He's a great competitor, and I like how knowledgable he is in the game. So I have a lot of respect for him."

Bryant also told reporters he had an informal meeting with a Patriots scout.

Who knows, maybe Bryant will get an opportunity to catch passes from Brady next season? The Patriots are projected to have 12 picks (including compensatory selections) in April's draft, and tight is among the team's primary needs after getting lackluster offensive production at the position last season. 

Bryant isn't likely to be a first-round pick, but it's hard to imagine he lasts too long on Day 2 when the second and third rounds unfold. 

He set career highs with 52 receptions, 825 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns for Washington in 2019. Bryant tallied at least five receptions and 80-plus receiving yards in each of the last four games he played for the Huskies. 

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Thaddeus Moss dreams of catching touchdown passes from Tom Brady just like his father did

Thaddeus Moss dreams of catching touchdown passes from Tom Brady just like his father did

Would the New England Patriots consider drafting Randy Moss' son Thaddeus in the upcoming NFL Draft in April? It's possible.

The younger Moss, who helped Joe Burrow and the LSU Tigers to a college football title this past season, could address a glaring need at tight end for the Patriots. New England gave Ben Watson, Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo a shot last season after Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement, but none really gained the trust of quarterback Tom Brady.

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The 21-year-old was just nine when his father joined the Patriots in 2007 via a trade that sent a fourth-round pick to the Oakland Raiders, and he'll never forget the memories he made while watching his father take the field at Gillette Stadium.

“I don’t know if I’d say [I have] relationships with anybody," Moss said, according to WEEI's Andy Hart. "I’ve talked to Coach [Bill] Belichick before. I’ve talked to Coach [Robert] Kraft [Patriots owner] before. Probably my most fond memories is the undefeated season that they had, obviously they didn’t finish it the way they wanted to. That and on top of that I was in the facility once or twice before. Meeting Tom Brady when I was younger. I was sitting there star struck. Walking down the hallway seeing Tedy Bruschi, seeing Coach [Mike] Vrabel walk down the hallway when I was younger. Those are probably the most fond memories that I have.”

Moss, who was a sophomore last season, put together a solid year for the Tigers in 2019 with 47 receptions for 570 yards and four touchdowns. He was even more impressive in the national championship game against Clemson, adding five receptions for 36 yards and two touchdowns while his father cheered him on from the stands.

The younger Moss could go from one championship title-winning quarterback to another if the Patriots were to draft him, and he admitted that catching touchdown passes from Brady, like his father before him, would be incredible.

“It would mean a lot,” Moss said of the possibility to catch passes from Brady. “Just to catch a touchdown pass period in the NFL would mean a lot. But to catch from Tom Brady knowing that he threw a good amount of touchdown passes to my father, it would be a good story.”