Typically, when a team starts the season 8-0, there isn’t much cause for concern. But for the New England Patriots, despite a suffocating defense and averaging nearly 30 points per game, there is a general sense of worry over the production of the offense.
And rightly so. Although the Patriots have been putting up points, the defense has already scored four touchdowns this season and is carrying much of the weight for the Patriots’ strong start. There are several issues on the offensive side of the ball resulting in empty drives and inefficient numbers.
Whatsmore, rookie punter Jake Bailey is among the league leaders in punts this season, a rarity for any Patriots’ punter. There is something to be said about the number of empty drives or plays resulting in no gain or a loss this season. Here are five reasons why New England is struggling on offense.
Injuries Have Mounted
Since before the season began, the Patriots have been battered on the offensive side of the ball. Center David Andrews‘ injury is still being felt by the team for his run blocking and identification of coverages. This isn’t meant to knock Ted Karras, however, who has been an admirable replacement. But Andrews’ ability is among the top in the NFL and his presence is missed on the field.
Aside from him, left tackle Isaiah Wynn remains out with turf toe but is a candidate to return in the coming weeks. Fullbacks James Develin and Jakob Johnson are both out for the season with injuries, Josh Gordon has been sidelined for the season, and Rex Burkhead, Ryan Izzo, and Matt LaCosse have missed multiple games with injuries.
The lack of continuity creates a problem in and of itself, but the injuries on the offensive line have been palpable in protecting against the run and giving Tom Brady time to get open looks downfield.
Running Game Lacks Variety
It’s a testament to White for the way he gets separation from defenders in the flat, but it’s obvious New England’s offense has gotten more predictable.
The Patriots haven’t been able to get their run game started this season. Most likely, that is due to the absence of a steady fullback presence like James Develin. He was the reason behind New England’s success running the ball so frequently last season. Without him, the Patriots have faltered in this department.
More on that Offensive Line
Injuries abound, the offensive line just simply hasn’t played well when it matters. Picking up blitzes has been an issue and opponents are getting far too much pressure off the edge. Replacement left tackle Marshall Newhouse has born the brunt of this while aging right tackle Marcus Cannon has been a little inconsistent at times.
Newhouse and Cannon combined through seven weeks to allow 5.5 sacks, 12 QB hits, 11 pressures, and two holding penalties. While the interior has allowed better pass protection, the run protection just hasn’t been there.
The Patriots are still adjusting to life without their future Hall-of-Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski. What most fans remember is his larger-than-life personality and his insane pass-catching abilities even in double and triple coverage.
But one element of Gronk’s game that often went unnoticed was his run-blocking and ability to pick up the pass rush. He was as smart a football player as you could find in the NFL, and the Patriots lack that sort of steady presence at his position.
There’s the possibility he comes out of retirement this season, but it seems less likely by the week. And besides, the Patriots might not have enough cap space anymore to fit his contract into their budget for this season.
Revolving Door at Receiver
It’s difficult for the Patriots to get much production out of the passing game given the number of different receivers and the abundance of injuries that have stricken the offense.
Tom Brady’s task of getting on the same page as his receivers has resulted in a bit of a struggle for the 42-year-old, but far from any sort of cliff. First was Demaryius Thomas, then Antonio Brown, and most recently Josh Gordon who has seemingly been exiled by Bill Belichick. Edelman dealt with an injury, Burkhead missed three games, and White was out for a contest on paternity leave.
And that’s not even taking into account the tight end situation. Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo have missed multiple games each, Ben Watson is showing his age while still adjusting to the Patriots offense, and Eric Tomlinson is also still learning. In the preseason, the Patriots went through over half a dozen tight ends and none of them made the roster. That’s a lot for any quarterback to get acquainted with and then have to do it again with a different guy.
There’s hope the offense improves with everyone getting healthy, but the Patriots will need to start clicking soon for a strong stretch run.