The New England Patriots may be 5-1, but all is not well. For the first time in the Tom Brady era, it is not the offense winning the games.
After six weeks, the Patriots are 19th in passing yards per game, 16th in scoring, and 15th in yards per game.
This is a huge drop off from last year. Last year, they were in, at least, the top four in each of these categories.
This fall does not come as a shock to many. Everyone knows that the Patriots lost many of their weapons this past offseason, one of which being Tom Brady's security blanket, Wes Welker.
Welker is still being Welker elsewhere, whereas Brady seems to be a shell of himself. In fact, Welker currently has as many touchdowns (8) as Brady.
So far this season, Brady has two games where he was held under 200 yards passing, the first time since 2010. He, also, was in jeopardy of going two straight games without a touchdown, if it was not for the last second touchdown against the New Orleans Saints. Something he has not done since the 2006 season. Over this year's six games, Brady has a QBR of 52.7, which is his second worst six-game stretch since 2005.
Some people, however, call foul on these stats, and rightfully so. The stats are skewed a bit. The Patriots went into Week 6 with 17 dropped passes, only the St. Louis Rams had more (18), and in Week 6, the receivers were still all thumbs.
The Patriots, also, played in two very rainy halves, one against the Jets and one against the Bengals, and most of Patriots' receivers are young and unpolished. However, Pro Football Focus rated Tom Brady 25th in quarterback accuracy, which includes dropped passes in their formula. Brady, is currently behind Ryan Tannehill, Robert Griffin III and Terrelle Pryor in this ranking. So, not all the blame can be put on the skill players.
Many analysts and fans believe these hard times will soon be over. Once Rob Gronkowski comes back, everything will be back to normal. That may or may not be true. The Patriots are getting back their Pro Bowl tight end. At 6'6”, 265 pounds, Gronkowski is a walking mismatch who has 187 receptions for 2,663 yards and 39 touchdowns in only 43 games.
Gronkowski will single-handedly revamp the Patriots' slumping red-zone offense. The Patriots have 9 touchdowns in 22 red-zone appearances, for a percentage of 40.91. Only the Steelers and Jaguars have a worse percentage. In 2012, Gronkowski caught 10 passes on 17 targets in the red-zone. Eight of the 10 were for touchdowns.
The case can be made that Gronkowski will not cure all of their woes. Gronkowski is not superhuman, he too drops passes. As a matter of fact, through the first seven games last season, he had four drops. Additionally, if he returns and dominates, teams will soon game plan to shift Brady's focus back on the other receivers. Gronkowski, also, has recently created some tension in the locker room.
One unnamed player told ESPN's Ed Werder that “there's curiosity and resentment, and hes creating it by going out and kicking ass during the week and then he doesn't show up on game day and help the team win.” More than likely this animosity shall pass. However, this would not be the first time Gronkowski's heart has been questioned. Lastly, Gronkowski will not be a leader or a teacher for these young players. He is just not that type of person.
When there is ever a doubt, always look at the stats. When Gronkowski has played, the Patriots are 35-8. When he has not, they are 9-2. With Gronkowski, Brady completed 1,003 out of 1,532 passes for 12,395 yards, 98 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. Without Gronkowski, Brady completed 259 out of 444 passes for 3,047 yards, 19 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. With, Brady has a QBR of 107.2. Without, he has a QBR of 75.1. Practically every aspect of Brady's game has declined since Gonkowski was injured.
The Patriots' offense will most definitely improve when Gronkowski returns. But, no one should see Gronkowski as their saving grace. If they want to have a playoff run come January, they should continue to stress defense. The Patriots give up the fifth least amount of points per game this year, which is key because, with or without Gronkowski, the Patriots can no longer win solely with their offense.