Let’s get the good news out of the way first: The New England Patriots are 2-1 and back where they belong atop the AFC East standings.
Because these are the Patriots and not the Buffalo Bills, however, no one — from the team to the fan base and the media — is happy with these results through three games. The defense looks fine, nearly meeting the high bar set during the offseason, but the offense can’t find a rhythm.
Quarterback Tom Brady even admitted as much Sunday after the Patriots’ 16-9 win over the lowly Oakland Raiders.
The Patriots’ offense hasn’t clicked from play to play, series to series or even game to game. They were supposed to dominate the Raiders in Week 3 and put any concerns to rest, but after the defense bailed out the offense for the second consecutive week, the Patriots essentially are right where they started coming out of the preseason.
The Patriots’ offensive issues aren’t really all that surprising. Bill Belichick, never known for his compassion, is leading the Patriots like a lenient Pop Warner coach, as every skill-position player gets an even chance to see the field. Aaron Dobson was inactive in Week 1, so he was allowed to play in Week 2. Kenbrell Thompkins was inactive for Week 2, so he suited up in Week 3.
Julian Edelman is the teacher’s pet — receiving 72 of the team’s 77 offensive snaps Sunday — but the rest of the reps were spread out evenly — tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui (48 snaps), Rob Gronkowski (46) and Tim Wright (5); wide receivers Brandon LaFell (44), Thompkins (38) and Danny Amendola (28); and running backs Stevan Ridley (43), Shane Vereen (29), James Develin (12) and Brandon Bolden (8) all were in the mix. Even offensive tackle Cameron Fleming played 12 snaps at tight end.
Mixing personnel groups has its place in the NFL. It’s used to confuse and keep defenses on their toes. The Patriots used 36 different personnel groups in 77 offensive snaps Sunday, however, which seems to be a bit overkill for a team that can’t get on a roll.
Perhaps the Patriots should find some order before they try to complicate matters for the opposing team.
Each week, I track the Patriots’ personnel groupings in the hopes of finding some sort of pattern, or to see which alignment is the team’s best. It’s a fruitless endeavor, however, since the sample size of each group is so small each week. It’s also an endless process since a new player or players are coming onto the field each snap.
The Patriots need to find their best grouping for three-receiver, two-tight end and two-running back sets and everything in between. That means deciding on their three best receivers and two best tight ends. From there, they can mix and match personnel and alignment, but it should help to get in a rhythm, improve chemistry and get the offense back on track.
Therein lies the problem with the Patriots’ offense, however. Edelman clearly is the Patriots’ best receiver, and a healthy Gronkowski is their best tight end, but it’s unclear if anyone stands out among the rest of the pack. Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels need to bite the bullet and decide on their starters soon, though, so this team can roll when the real competition comes.
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