Having watched quite a bit of the Patriots this year, the absence of Randy Moss has appeared to be pretty big. That is why I was surprised to see some of their offensive numbers aren't much different from last year. Tom Brady is averaging 7.6 yards per attempt this season and completing 66.3% of his passes. Last year he averaged 7.8 yards per attempt and completed 65.7%. New England's run game averaged 4.1 yards per carry a year ago. It's actually up to 4.3 per carry this year. The pass-run ratio is 56%-44% this year. It was 57%-43% last year.
It would be tempting to say there hasn't been much of a change in the New England offense. That wouldn't really be accurate, though. See why after the jump.
New England's offense has been as good on the averages this year but is far less prolific relative to 2009. They are averaging over 40 less yards through the air each game and just under 50 total yards. The biggest blame might go on the defense, though. The Patriots' defense does not look good when it comes to numbers. In fact, they rank as the second worst in statistical terms. The unit's inability to get off the field has limited the offense's opportunities. The Pats had the ball over 33:00 per game last season. This year they hold the ball on average under 29:00. Time of possession is often a chicken and egg endeavor to figure out which unit is more responsible. Considering the constant averages, though, a great deal must fall to their defense. I would argue that unit isn't as bad as the numbers would indicate, but that is for a different post. Needless to say, their defense does hold a great deal of responsibility in the drop off in production.
There are substantive differences, however, in the way the New England offense works. It is becoming more diversified. A year ago, 28% of Tom Brady's passes went to Wes Welker. He's leaning on Welker even more in Moss' absence. Welker's balls have stayed consistent at 25%, most on the team. Brady is spreading the ball out better, though. Old friend Danny Woodhead ranks sixth on the roster this year with 8% of the targets. Julian Edelman ranked third a year ago with 9% of targets.
Tight ends in particular have become more of a staple in the offense. Benjamin Watson and Chris Baker combined for 10% of Brady's passes last year. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez combine for 23% of Brady's targets, this year, over double the action the tight ends were getting a year ago. Brady couldn't help but get more people involved. He had to distribute the 24% of targets he lost when Moss left. Moss is certainly missed, but one cannot help but wonder if his absence will help New England a bit in this game. Brady had a tendency to force it to Moss even when blanketed by a corner like Darrelle Revis did a year ago or Antonio Cromartie did this year to his offense's detriment.
There are obvious drawbacks to losing Moss, however. Nobody is better at stretching the field. He either drew double coverage or took up Darrelle Revis and opened the field for somebody else. We will talk more about matchups as the week goes on, but suffice it to say, freeing up Revis to play somebody like Welker has its advantages. The Pats do not have a deep threat as consistent as Moss. Nobody does. Part of the reason the targets are more spread out is it takes more than one person to replace what Moss brought to the table. He was the focal point of any defense's approach and still had 1,348 yards, 13 touchdowns, and an average of over 15 yards per catch. Deion Branch has looked good since returning to New England, but he cannot do what Moss does. Brandon Tate adds a vertical dimension, but he is not putting up the numbers Moss put up.
The Patriots are also less apt to go to spread formations with multiple receivers. They show a lot more conventional formations like the I and double tight single back sets (again because of the focus on the tight ends) than I can remember. Even when they split the athletic tight ends wide, they often only stand up like receivers adjacent to the tackles.
The end result? The Patriots are just about as good as they were offensively. Isn't it funny how an offense can adjust without losing much when an all-time great is under center? They are more diverse, which is good. They lack a singularly dangerous weapon, though. We'll talk more about how this will help and hurt the Jets as the week goes by.