Playcalling and protection for Brady were obviously issues for the Patriots in their recent loss in the home opener against the Arizona Cardinals. Playcalling in particular seemed less than inspiring in third down situations where they were a mere 4 for 14.
The Offensive struggles have only been made more apparent by how dominating the Defense has been throughout the past two games. It was the Defense that put the Offense in position to win yesterday in the final two minutes.
The game was all but over, all Arizona had to do was run out the clock, when Cardinal's running back Ryan Williams, looking to put the game away for his team, took a pitch, turned upfield and was met by linebacker Brandon Spikes, who forced a fumble that popped right to the Patriots at the Arizona 30-yard line.
If you really want a gauge on how things are going with the offense, all you need to do is check out Rob Gronkowski who wore the look of disgust. A look he's worn far too often in recent weeks.
There hasn’t been much evidence of joy in the "yo soy fiesta” man, for much of this young season. He had been irritated during practices in Foxboro throughout the pre-season, and even the season opening win against the Titans didn't really seem to change things. And now, in the Patriots' final drive against Arizona, what would have been a game winning touchdown by Danny Woodhead was nullified by a Gronkowski hold.
‘‘We’re not playing well as a unit,” said Gronkowski, whose efforts had little meaning in the game, “and when we’re not playing well as a unit, you’re never really happy.”
The offense isn’t where it should be at this stage. And Gronk clearly isn’t pleased about that development. He doesn’t see the offense clicking like it did last year. He doesn’t see the chemistry it had with all the parts on the same page, moving as one.
The Difference? Josh McDaniels' determination to install his own Offense, complete with emphasis on outside receiver Brandon Lloyd running routes twenty to thirty yards deep. Complete with complexities and variations that make it impossible to do what this Offense did best last year, run the Hurry Up offense with such devastating effect.
But don't take my word for it, just look at McDaniel's past. When he left the Patriots after the 2008 season to become the new head coach of Denver, he jettisoned his #1 QB Jay Cutler, his #1 WR Brandon Marshall, and his #1 RB Peyton Hillis. Josh couldn't work with what he had, he couldn't alter his schemes and system to best suit the talent he had on hand, he had to scrap the whole thing.
When McDaniels was fired as Denver's coach with an 11-17 record he was then hired by St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo to jump-start an offense on what had been considered a team on the rise, the Rams were 7-9 in 2010, played for a postseason berth in the regular season's final week and had a franchise quarterback in Bradford, a former Oklahoma star and the No. 1 pick of the 2010 draft.
Yet the Rams opened up 0 and 5 in 2011 and the offense floundered under McDaniels, his offense ranked last in the 32 team league in scoring, averaging only 9.8 points. Bradford was a limping injured mess after only five games, a young kid in only his second year, who had gone his entire rookie season without major injury.
He had been sacked more than any other quarterback in the league, at that point. In one game the Rams gained 424 total yards against the defending Super Bowl champions but failed to score a touchdown, against a Defense that would end up dead last in the NFL, the worst in NFL history even.
McDaniels said of the beatings his star QB was taking: "Every quarterback gets hit. And we want ours to be hit less, there's no question about that. We've got to do a better job of making sure that happens. But that's part of his job. He's going to take some shots, and as a quarterback I don't think there's anything more satisfying than getting hit and making a play at the same time."
But honestly, that mentality isn't going to work when you have a 35 year old QB, one that has a laundry list of former injuries that make him susceptible to being more easily injured than he was ten years ago. It doesn't work so well when players like Gronk and Welker know how successful their Offense had been, how easy it had all seemed, before McDaniels arrived and began making his changes.
The Patriots only had the most successful Offense in the NFL the past two years, since tossing out Moss and Maroney (who McDaniels eagerly traded for while HC of Denver) and going with an Offense that worked to Brady's strengths while limiting his exposure to taking hits.
‘‘We’re just not doing well as a whole. It’s everyone,” Gronkowski said. “It starts with myself and goes around. You have to have the whole offense clicking as a whole. You gotta have blocking. You gotta have a run game in order to have a passing game. So we have to put it all together, and we just haven’t done that yet."
And if history teaches us anything, going into Baltimore next Sunday to play the Ravens, who are coming off a tough fought loss to the Eagles, won't make things any easier.