Monday, May 26, 2014

New England Patriots' Offensive Philosophy - heavy on substance, not sexy style

"Merely racking up massive yardage on the field and points on the scoreboard at a break-neck pace isn't good enough any longer - utter domination, a spirit crushing juggernaut unleashed upon the opposition is the only thing that is going to make the nut, complete with perhaps the nastiest power running game in the league to shove down their throats..."  - Foxborough Free Press, May 24, 2014

As Bill Belichick stood watching team trainers tend to a broken Rob Gronkowski early last December, he knew full well that for the third consecutive season, he would have to try to find a way to win a title without his most imposing and impressive offensive weapon.

Gronk.  A beastly man-child who at 6' 6" tall and  265 pounds has 4.62 speed and looks like an old school Sherman tank rolling over defenders and dragging them for as many yards as needed - the best tight end in the game when healthy, scoring a stupid-good 42 touchdowns in the 44 games that he has started in his four seasons in Foxborough.

When healthy.

That is a caveat that applies to as many as half-a-dozen Patriots' offensive players who missed significant time last season, including Shane Vereen (Broken wrist, 8 games), Danny Amendola (Torn adductor, 4 games) and Aaron Dobson (Fractured foot, 4 games), but none were as negatively impactful as Gronkowski's nine games missed with multiple issues - a continuation of a pattern that Belichick had no choice but to break.

In all fairness to Gronkowski, he played in every game his first two seasons, and nearly all of a third before a seemingly innocent point after touchdown attempt in a blow out of Indianapolis late in 2012 started a bizarre string of injuries, surgeries and infections.

At the conclusion of the 2011 season, Gronkowski was a game-time decision for Super Bowl XLVI - and although he ended up playing sparingly in the game, he was rendered a shell of his usually dominant self due to a severely injured ankle, courtesy of infamous Patriots' killer Bernard Pollard in the AFC Championship game...

...then in 2012 a broken arm in the aforementioned blowout of Indianapolis cost him half of the season, and when the Patriots brought him back for their divisional playoff game against Houston, he re-broke the arm laying out for a pass along the sidelines - then last season it was Cleveland safety T. J. Ward going low on the massive tight end, the impact ripping his knee to shreds.

Without a doubt, Gronkowski could have made all the difference between winning and losing in each season, which speaks to his incredible skill set and athletic prowess - the very same skill set and athletic prowess that makes him such a target for both quarterback Tom Brady and the aforementioned head hunting safeties who crippled him... with alleged mass murderer Aaron Hernandez in the clink and out of the picture forever, the thought was that Belichick would target a hybrid tight end that could put his hand in the dirt as an in-line blocker and also stretch the seam like Gronkowski and Hernandez were excellent at.

Instead, he used this offseason to take the team's offensive philosophy in an entirely different direction - and at the same time may have given himself the team that he's always pined for - a balanced, ball control unit that is as methodical as it is powerful, capable of dictating the pace of a game rather than just taking what the defense gives him.

And that's what it's all about, style and substance, not just outscoring your opponents - his Patriots have been doing that more often than any other team in the past decade and a half - but how you outscore them.

In 2007, it was Brady heaving footballs down the field and letting Randy Moss go get them, and New England won all 16 regular season games and both of their playoff games to reach the Super Bowl...

...but their high flying circus act came crashing down under the intense pass rush pressure from the New York Giants, who pulled perhaps one of the greatest upsets in football history in holding New England to a minuscule 14 points and ruining their perfect season.

Why?  Simply, the Patriots went with style over substance - the Giants were hungrier and nastier despite the Patriots' being motivated to make NFL history, and punched Brady's offensive line in the mouth repeatedly and punked his receivers down the field.

The Patriots' defense takes a lot of heat for the team's championship game failures since winning their last title at the conclusion of the 2004 season, the the fact of the matter is that it has been the offense that has fallen short at the most inopportune of times - and with the latest stylish trend of a tight end-centric attack falling flat due to injury and multiple felony, Belichick appears to be scrapping style and going with substance.

How else can one explain why Belichick completely ignored the tight end position in free agency in the draft, going heavy on offensive linemen and bringing in perhaps the most dynamic running back talent in the class, and all in a brief, intense two hour period between the 3rd and 4th rounds where he delivered his manifesto of violent ground acquisition.

His draft was spotted with some head-scratchers, as always, but there is no mistaking the intent.

Satisfied that his talented receiving corps will be mended and that his quarterback has reached a point in his career where his experience lends itself to any style there is, Belichick is taking a page out of last season's regular season crescendo - but adding heft and nastiness to the offensive line and a level of purposeful ambiguity to the backfield to make that grinding style even more effective.

The ring-leader for that style, LeGarrette Blount, is gone, but the rest of the cast of characters remains from a team that managed to win 12 games and qualify for the AFC Championship game despite the injuries, ball security issues and Brady breaking in a brace of new pass catchers...

...and now have added a fine new set of road-grading behemoths and a slick running, ankle-breaking potential feature back who packs such a skill set as to be able to play the game any way Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels choose to play it.

The Patriots' didn't need to make any major moves on the offensive side in the offseason, as their starting 11 from last season were intact and serviceable at the very least - but make moves he did, and in the process has transformed that serviceable unit into what may very well be that old school type of attack that leaves defenders exhausted and bleeding in the dirt when all is said and done.

This is part 2 of 9 wrapping up the Patriots' offseason.  Part 3 will focus on the changes in the backfield and how they positively impact the offense as a whole.

Follow Michael on twitter: @MichaelHammpub

No comments:

Post a Comment