So, who’s most to blame for the regression?
Tom Brady has underperformed relative to his usual high standards, but some will argue New England’s receivers, tight ends, running backs and/or offensive line deserve far more criticism than the 42-year-old quarterback.
Rob Ninkovich, a former defensive end/linebacker who spent eight seasons with New England (2009-16), believes the loss of fullback James Develin, who suffered a season-ending neck injury in the Patriots’ Week 2 win over the Miami Dolphins, has been especially devastating.
“The biggest thing that happened this year is you lose James Develin,” Ninkovich said Thursday on WEEI’s “The Greg Hill Show,” as transcribed by WEEI.com. “That was the biggest blow to the offense, the fullback position. The fullback position and a blocking tight end, if you’re not able to go into 22, 21 personnel … you lose that guy, it is hard to run your power plays, your counter plays, it is hard to run the plays that you love, your bread and butter.
“Then, you mix in your play-action pass, you’re softening up the defense running the football and then it is an over route with Julian (Edelman), it’s a snag, it’s a go route. That is the game within the game that they have done so well and then you lose Develin, I think that has been the biggest blow to the offense because they can’t run the ball like they want to.”
The Patriots leaned heavily on their rushing attack down the stretch and in the playoffs last season, but they’ve failed to generate much success on the ground this season, ranking 21st in rushing yards per game (96.3) and 29th in yards per rushing attempt (3.5).
While the natural inclination might be to blame New England’s offensive line, which has dealt with both injuries and up-and-down performance to this point, or the running backs, one definitely shouldn’t overlook the loss of Develin, a highly respected member of the Patriots’ offense who consistently has made an underrated impact in his seven years with the organization.