What makes them good:
It may be a small sample size, but this could be the best, most electric passing offense ever seen. The only thing that I can think of that compares is the Rams during their "Greatest Show on Turf" era, but even they would be impressed with a team averaging 463 yards over their first two games. Everything about the Patriots attack is efficient beyond words, and there really isn’t a blueprint around for how to stop it, outside of getting heavy pressure on Brady without blitzing him.
Possibly the most brilliant thing about the offense is how it has been constructed. Instead of focusing on wide receivers, who are generally overpaid and can easily be double-teamed by safeties if there is only one major threat, the Patriots focused on taking those safeties away with game breaking tight ends.
Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski are two of the top 5 tight ends in the league right now, and they’re playing on the same team. Between them, they have 5 touchdowns and 6 catches of 20+ yards. Not only can defenses not double team New England’s receivers, they more than likely have to allocate one of the better players in their secondary to at least one of the tight ends.
Because of this, New England’s receivers benefit from routinely seeing single coverage, and occasionally getting major mismatches. Wes Welker is 3rd in the league in receiving, and even more telling, Deion Branch is 6th. The same Deion Branch who was little more than a warm body in a cold city in Seattle is now a lethal receiving threat in New England. And that’s because he’s treated as the 4th biggest receiving threat on the team.
Of course, the success of this system probably falls half to those who designed it, and half to those who implement it. By that rationale, about 75% percent of the credit belongs to Tom Brady. As opposed to Peyton Manning, Tom Brady has shown no signs of slowing down. Practically every passing statistic worth keeping track of has “T. Brady” at the top of the list, with the lone exception of completion percentage where he trails Matt Schaub – by 0.1%.
Brady is one of maybe three players (along with Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers) that could be put onto any team right now, and make them into not only a playoffs contender, but a Super Bowl hopeful. With him at the helm, and a healthy offensive line, the Patriots will be able to walk out of almost any shootout with no blood on their shirts.
Last year, the average quarterback against the Patriots completed 63.5% of their passes for 259 yards per game and an 81.2 quarterback rating. The Patriots defense had 36 sacks on the year and 25 interceptions. When comparing those numbers to the pass defenses of the past 8 Super Bowl champions, the Patriots defense ranked last or second to last in every category except for sacks (6th), and interceptions (3rd). This year, the Pats are again struggling to hold opposing quarterbacks in check.
Just last week, Phillip Rivers racked up 378 yards on 29/40 passing with 2 touchdowns and 2 picks. Had he not lost Malcolm Floyd during the game, the damage could have been even more substantial. A week earlier, Chad Henne – the same quarterback Dolphins fans booed during the preseason – conjured up memories of Dan Marino at Sun Life Stadium. He completed 30-49 passes for 419 yards, 2 touchdowns, and a late interception.
Now, it would be biased not to mention that Henne had a similarly monster day against the Jets early last year (26-44, 353 yards, 2 TD, INT). However, the Jets were missing a top 3 defensive player in football. What the Patriots have right now is what they will be working with the rest of the season. This is essentially the same defense that allowed 250+ yards in 8 of their first 12 games last year, and allowed 21+ points in 6 of those games.
They did meld into a borderline fantastic unit down the stretch last year, holding 4 of 5 opponents to 7 points or less to end the regular season. But they went back to struggling in the playoffs when they weren’t able to force a turnover on the Jets offense, and allowed Mark Sanchez to amass his 2nd best quarterback rating as a pro.
Albert Haynesworth was supposed to shore this defense up, and create the pressure on the quarterback that the team was so sorely lacking last year. Well, for a 6’6” 350 lb man, Haynesworth has done an impressive job of being almost invisible.
Of the 22 plays he was in against the Chargers, he was single blocked 15 times, and his stat sheet is completely blank. No tackles for loss, no quarterback hurries, not even a drawn holding penalty. Vince Wilfork has been a one man band one the defensive line, and without having to worry about Haynesworth, teams are free to double team him.
As I said earlier, having Brady means that this team will win 9 out of 10 shootouts that they’re in. But there will be those one or two games this season that Brady has a tough day. Last year he had a bad game against Cleveland (almost completely inconsequential), and against the Jets in the playoffs (the worst possible time). If the defense can improve, the Patriots will be blowing teams off the field. But if they have to keep putting up 28 points to win games, they just have to hope that their bad offensive performances come at convenient times for them.