Brandon Lloyd Won’t Fit Into Patriots’ Attack Until He Can Earn Team’s Trust by Fighting for Yards

Brandon Lloyd Tom BradyWhen the Patriots announced this week that Julian Edelman was out for the rest of the season with a broken foot, few people were too concerned.

Edelman is a helpful part of the Patriots’ offense, but he’s not a huge cog. While New England will have to adjust its schemes and look to other players to step up in the little things that Edelman handled so well, he’s mostly a piece the Patriots can replace — except for one area.

Has anyone else noticed that Edelman had sort of become New England’s biggest downfield threat?

With Wes Welker doing his work in the slot and Aaron Hernandez taking care of the intermediate catches and longer post routes, Edelman has been sent streaking down the center of the field several times in recent weeks. Tom Brady has had his trouble making connections in large-yardage situations for some time, but for a few brief plays this season, Edelman was there, and the timing was good enough to pull off some long passes.

Now Edelman is out. And while that shouldn’t be a concern for the Patriots, who are stacked on offense, it means the team will have to turn back to the player who was supposed to solve this problem in the first place. Brandon Lloyd will be called on to step up across the board in the passing game, and especially in long-yardage situations.

That means there’s no room for error this time. Lloyd needs to do what he was brought into New England to do.

Now, Lloyd was never expected to go all Randy Moss and blow apart opposing defenses, but he was expected to be a little more helpful in the offense, whether it be on long passes or just throughout the game plan. But he just hasn’t shown up much at all this season. And in an offense that depends largely on Brady being comfortable with his receivers and developing better timing as the season go on, Lloyd’s steadily decreasing production is not a good sign.

Lloyd was targeted just once last week against Miami. While he was targeted 57 times over the first six weeks of the season, he’s been thrown to just 30 times in the six weeks since, leading to 34 catches and 16, respectively, according to ESPN. He’s been in every game — even on the field for 85.8 percent of the snaps, as much as Welker — but has seen his numbers drop, with no more than five catches or 45 yards in a game in the second half of the season.

Lloyd’s numbers for what should be his strength — yards per catch, and 20-plus-yard receptions — are also down compared to his career stats. Without him being targeted or the throws paying off, he’s failed to stretch the field or use his speed to get his teammates free.

But the worst knock against Lloyd this season isn’t his production. Lloyd has been the company man since coming over from the Rams, accepting his role and saying he’ll do whatever part, big or small, to get the Patriots where they want to be. If he doesn’t rack up the big numbers, it’s not the end of the world — especially if New England keeps winning, as it has.

But Lloyd is coming up short in one area that the Patriots value, and it’s this one area that is reason for concern as Lloyd’s numbers fall at a time when the team needs him most. Lloyd is averaging just 2.2 yards after the catch per reception, a statistic that plays into the thought that this receiver doesn’t like to get roughed up or take extra hits.

Lloyd seemed to say as much recently, telling ESPN, “I pretty much pattern my game after Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, and those guys had long, prolific careers.” What he means is that Bruce and Holt weren’t throwing themselves into excess pounding or taking unnecessary hits. They were finesse players, unlikely to drag tacklers down the field.

But what that may sound like in New England is a lack of effort.

The Patriots, after all, are a team built on grit and getting the most out of limited resources. Welker is a great receiver, but his true ability lies in taking the first hit and then running some more. Hernandez’s ability to break tackles is what fuels his long-yardage catches. Edelman’s propensity for charging through scrums and then buying up extra yards is what makes him so helpful.

But playing like that is rough. Hernandez, Edelman and Welker — not to mention tight end Rob Gronkowski — have all dealt with the injuries that come from trying to eke out those extra yards.

It’s smart to try to stay healthy — but, then again, that’s not necessarily the Patriots’ priority. Health cannot be valued over doing what the team needs.

Lloyd will get his latest chance to shine in the offense Monday night against the Houston Texans, as the Patriots’ thin receiving corps will give him his best chance in weeks to show what he can do.

But, statistics aside, Lloyd has four games remaining this season to show something else. While it’s never been in doubt that he could be that speed threat that could add something to this New England offense, the question of whether Lloyd fits with the Patriots in a larger way will only grow if his involvement doesn’t increase.

Brady, his teammates and the New England coaches want a player they can trust. They want a guy with not only skills but also the scrappiness that has done this team well in recent years. They at least want a guy who can take a hit or two to claw for yards that will soon be hard to come by as the playoffs approach.

Lloyd has been mostly tight-lipped about his role in the offense, and it’s difficult to draw hard judgments just from his numbers and what he’s appeared to do on the field.

But with his biggest testing ground coming Monday, Lloyd should consider himself warned: There’s an idea out there that, for all his talent, he may not have that extra punch that could make him truly part of this Patriots offense.

Moss-like production aside, it’s time for him to at least prove he has that.

Photo via Facebook/New England Patriots

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