Prior to the 2012 campaign, we had many questions about this New England Patriot’s team—more so, of course, with the defense than the offense. However, the offense quickly boasted its fair amount of concerns and shared just as much fault as the defense for New England's early season woes.
Here are some initial questions many asked before the season began—some have been answered, while the jury is still out on others:
- Would the offensive line hold up after Matt Light retired, hold out Brian Waters failed to report and Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer rested with injuries? Would long time reserves, Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly, as well as 2nd year player Nate Soldier, steady an unsteady line?
- Would Steven Ridley take the next step and become the feature running back?
- How would receiver Wes Welker's contract situation affect his in-game performance?
- How would tight end Rob Gronkowski perform after his ankle injury and his "Summer of Gronk?"
There were other noteable questions pertaining to the additions of Brandon Lloyd and new (old) Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels, but let us hone in on just a few.
The Patriot's offensive line has become one of the team’s strongest aspects, allowing only 14 sacks this season for 7th best in the NFL. They have furthered their importance by paving the way for running back Steven Ridley who is well on his way to a 1,000 yard season. New England trusts their offensive line and Ridley's stats prove it. The Patriot's lead the NFL with 276 rushing attempts and 12 rushing touchdowns (ESPN Stats and Information), and they hold one of the NFL’s top rushing attacks.
It is incredible to think that just over two months ago we questioned whether the line would hold strong during the changing of a guard. Yet, replacements Nate Soldier and former practice squad player Ryan Wendell have played 100% of offensive snaps and been the line’s super glue. Reserve players Donald Thomas, Nick McDonald and Marcus Cannon provide key depth.
Next to the incredible play of Tom Brady, the offense’s firepower lies in the legs of Steven Ridley who has amassed over 700 yards, 5 touchdowns and 4.8 yards per carry at the season's half way point. He has also collected 239 of those yards after contact. Ridley's numbers are not skewed either. He has played 45% of the offensive snaps, while his closest competition, Danny Woodhead, has played only 32% of the time. Ridley has become New England’s first lead back since Corey Dillion in 2004.
On the negative, one of the main gripes against the offense is its inconsistency. It often charges down the field in seconds or looks sluggish for numerous possessions. Its often lack-luster style of play has cost the Patriots games because, when it does stall, it fails to convert key first downs.
Nevertheless, be patient. The Patriots are slowly (and quickly) forming their offensive identity. Their running attack will become more potent as the season wears on and any team with Tom Brady at the helm will succeed.
Other notable standouts, per usual, have been receiver Wes Welker and tight end Rob Grownkwoski. Both have faced their share of struggles, but have been key cogs in the Patriot's offensive juggernaut. Remember when many called for the Patriots to trade Welker? Well, since then, he has played in 82.8% of offensive snaps, which is good for 2nd on the team behind only receiver Brandon Lloyd (ESPN Stats and Information).
Gronkowski is also picking up momentum and has hauled in 43 targets, for 580 yards and 7 touchdowns. And make note of this: He had similar numbers at this point last year and then went on a tear to record a historical season. If he can stay healthy, his numbers could be close to last season's record setting performance. More importantly, however, is that he provides Brady with an extra blanket of comfort in the redzone and middle of the field. Gronkowski is second on the team, behind only Welker, in converting 1st downs (34).
Although it can be argued New England's offense has helped cost the team a couple of games, it is still ranked first in the NFL in most categories. It will continue to expand, evolve and be the Patriot's sturdy pole to lean on. The question, then, is two-fold:
How good can it get? And, will that be good enough to bring the 35 year old Brady another coveted Championship ring?