Tom Brady looked to be back in MVP form at times against the
Ravens on Sunday, spreading the ball around to every possible receiver and
fitting passes into tight spaces with razor-sharp precision. The only thing
holding Brady and the offense back from reaching their typical elite status so
far this season may be the play calling.
Josh McDaniels' return to the Patriots sideline was expected
to make for a seamless transition from the departed Bill O'Brien's offense.
Yet, three weeks into the regular season, there still seem to be some obvious
hiccups on offense.
Brady has struggled at times without some of his primary
targets on the field — more specifically Wes Welker — and the
commitment to the ground game established in the Week 1 win against the Titans
has since been abandoned for a more aerial approach. Some of these decisions
are merely strategic tactics worked into the weekly game plan, but others have simply been inane and seemed to throw the offense off track.
That sort of questionable play calling was on display on
Sunday night, when a locked and loaded Patriots offense began getting away from
the balanced attack that was working for them early.
The most scrutinized play call on the night was a wildcat
handoff to Julian Edelman that went for a 13-yard loss in the middle of the
second quarter. At the time the Patriots were up 13-7 and rolling once
again as they had just moved into Baltimore territory. The botched reverse immediately halted any momentum the offense had built and allowed the Ravens to take the lead
on their next possession.
McDaniels wasn't regretful of the play call, though,
instead standing behind his call.
"No, I don't ever [regret it]. You can't regret calling
those plays," McDaniels said. "I think that if there's a risk and a
reward factor that go into schemes like that, and if you're going to be willing
to call them, I think at times you've got to be willing to live with the result
when the defensive player makes a good play on them."
The risk and reward attitude is something that makes
McDaniels so valuable to an offense and something that only makes Brady even
more dangerous. But the real issue lied in the offense's departure from their more
balanced attack, especially late in the game.
During four of the Patriots five scoring drives on Sunday –
not counting the touchdown drive in the last two minutes of the first half
— the offense dropped back for 23 passes and attempted 22 runs. Yet, on the
Patriots four drives that resulted in punts, they passed the ball 16 times in
comparison to just nine runs.
The difference may not seem all that stark, but considering
the results of each drive it shows that a more balanced attack obviously benefits
New England's offense. Stevan Ridley's increased role during the first six
quarters of the season resulted in 33 carries for 183 yards and some heightened
attention from opposing defenses. Over the past six quarters of play, though,
Ridley has seen just 19 carries, which shows a lack of commitment to the running
If the Patriots are going to be a consistently successful
and potent offensive team, than McDaniels needs to be dedicated to the running game.
Brady dropping back 40-plus times, which he's done in both losses this season,
isn't the answer and apparently won't bring about the anticipated results
McDaniels does at least recognize there are problems and is
taking some of the blame for New England's offensive inefficiencies. But he
remains optimistic about the development of the unit as a whole.
"Certainly not perfect and we all can do better –
coaches and players — and I think that's going to be our focus going
forward," McDaniels said. "But hopefully there were some things that
we can build on in that game."
The Patriots offense has definitely shown a great deal of
promise throughout much of the 2012 season, but with much of the good has also
come some bad and some of that blame belongs on McDaniels' shoulders. There are
still 13 games left on New England's schedule, though, and with more time in
this system, Brady and the offense will undoubtedly reach that elite status