Sunday, September 11, 2011

Patriots 2011 Offense: Steady As She Goes

Don't expect much change from the Patriots offense this year. In 2010, they led the NFL in scoring, the only team to top 500 points for the year.  And they lost virtually no one, and added only some complimentary pieces and building blocks for the future.

Here is what you might expect from the 2011 Patriots offense.

Significant Departures: guard Stephen Neal, wide receiver Brandon Tate

Significant Arrivals: guard Brian Waters, tackle Nate Solder, wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, and running back Stevan Ridley.

1. Sophomore receivers

Second-year tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski burst on the scene last year, combining for 87 catches, 1109 yards, and 16 touchdowns. To this point, Hernandez followed that up with an excellent preseason, proving Tom Brady's most reliable target. Gronkowski caught just one pass, but blocked like a beast in both the run and pass games, and according to reports will be targeted often in the red zone once the regular season starts.

Taylor Price played only one game as a rookie in 2010 and had just 3 catches for 41 yards, not much production for a player drafted between Gronkowski and Hernandez. As the team enters the 2011 season, Price represents their best hope for a deep threat. He has the speed to do it; does he have the knowledge of the offense and the work ethic? Stay tuned.

The second-year performances of these three receivers are key, and the Patriots hope to avoid the kind of sophomore slump that has hit some of their successful young starters in the past. Hernandez and Gronkowski look like sure bets; but Price was up-and-down in the preseason. However, if Price can step up his game in the regular season, he possesses the speed to give the Patriots a true deep threat, something they did not address in the off-season.

2. Ridley... believe it or not

Ridley averaged six yards rushing this preseason and learned the pass blocking scheme even quicker than Danny Woodhead. His balance and nose for the end zone make him a threat the Patriots haven't had since Corey Dillon.

And now that I completely oversold him, here is the rub. He didn't play much after the first preseason game. And though he could help the Patriots this season, in crunch time they relied on veterans Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

If Ridley is healthy, the Patriots should ride him as far as he lasts. He has the cutting ability of Woodhead, the burst of a wide receiver, the strength of Sammy Morris, and the nose for the end zone of Green-Ellis. And if used properly, he is the only new player who can provide a different dimension to the offense.

3. Oh no, Ocho!

New wide receiver Chad Ochocinco was targeted 10 times this preseason, and had just 3 receptions for 23 yards to show for it. He often looked lost, and though he improved as the games went on, his grasp of the offense didn't develop quickly enough to help much when the season begins. Not exactly what the team was looking for when they traded for him.

As mentioned he improved from game one to game four, and that improvement should continue. Brady will have to resist the temptation to target Ochochino when he isn't open, and the team might have to run some safe routes for him as he works his way into the rotation.

No questioning Ochocinco's talent or effort. But remember Joey Galloway was a veteran who was sure to help in the passing game, and he flamed out completely and was a non-factor. Don't expect the same from Ochocinco -- he's at least getting better. But don't expect anything spectacular from him until at least game four of the regular season.

One other thing to bear in mind: even if Ochocinco does a great job this year, he is nothing but a slight improvement over Deion Branch. Ochocinco lacks the speed to run past defenders, and though he's taller than Branch, he runs the same underneath, quick out routes as the other wide receivers and tight ends.

4. Summary

The Patriots offense didn't need much improving, but counting on second-year players to duplicate or exceed their rookie seasons can be a risky game. Again, by all accounts Woodhead, Hernandez, and Gronkowski will be at least as good in 2011. However, don't count on Price (or fourth-year wideout Matthew Slater) to stretch the field with their speed.

Ridley and fellow rookie Shane Vereen could be sparks at running back, and the offensive line is a bit unsettled but with plenty of talent and one of the best assistant coaches in the league (Dante Scarneccia). And Brady continues his excellent play, with probably his best campaign in 2010. Don't expect a 9-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio -- no chance he repeats that -- but it's a quarterback's league, so enjoy the show while it lasts.

All of which means more of the same... which isn't all that bad when you think about it.

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS.  0-0!

PPS.  But not for long -- first game tomorrow night!

No comments:

Post a Comment