FOXBOROUGH — The outcome of the Patriots’ 2019 season may ultimately be decided by how much the offense can improve in the postseason.
The defense undoubtedly is one of the best in the NFL, but while the offense is eighth in points scored, it is ranked 18th overall, averaging 350 yards a game. The running game really is what it is at this point, so it’s going to come down to how much Tom Brady and the passing game can improve.
Right now, New England is ninth in the league in passing yards, but 19th in yards per attempt. Brady himself is having one of the worst years of his career. He is completing 60 percent of his passes (tied for 29th in the league) for an average of 6.5 yards per attempt (tied for 28th) and has a quarterback rating of 86.5 (21st).
It certainly is not all on him, but he factors into the equation. The offensive line has struggled, but Brady has been able to overcome that in the past. He hasn’t been able to do that this year because of the lack of depth at wide receiver.
To help overcome that, the Patriots gave up a second-round pick for Mohamed Sanu at the trade deadline in a deal with the Falcons, which Brady reportedly had some say in. But through six games, Sanu hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations.
Since Sanu was acquired, he has 148 total receiving yards on 37 targets (four yards per target), three drops (including two on fourth down), fewer than 25 yards in five of the six games he's played, and just 0.91 yards per route run, which ranks 73rd among 85 qualified wide receivers (according to Pro Football Focus).
Even worse for Sanu is included in those numbers is his game against Baltimore when he had 10 catches on 14 targets for 81 yards. Given a second-round pick was the compensation, much more was expected and he can easily be labeled a disappointment as of now.
When Sanu was brought aboard, the thought was he would be a great complement to Julian Edelman out of the slot and he would help take some of the pressure off Phillip Dorsett, N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers.
That hasn’t been the case, as the wide outs besides Edelman have had difficulties winning 1-on-1 matchups, and that includes Sanu. It is worth noting he suffered a high ankle sprain against the Eagles in his second game and missed the Dallas game, but he’s played three games since and has just six catches for 40 yards in those games.
Sanu hasn’t had more than 14 yards receiving since Week 9, which comes following having at least 29 yards receiving in five of his seven games with Atlanta to start the year.
An argument can be made that he’s still getting over the ankle injury, but he’s been taken off the injury report this week, so that’s no longer an excuse.
With Edelman as banged up as he is, and Dorsett and Meyers playing 16 combined snaps against the Bengals, it seems in order for the Patriots offense to take any step forward it’s going to come down to Sanu.
Brady seems to agree somewhat based on the comments he made last week on The Greg Hill Show.
“I just love the way he has come in with his attitude, and he’s been a very hard-working guy,” he said. “I am going to keep finding ways to get him the ball, because you have to get the ball to guys who can make plays, and he’s one of them.”
Of the receivers not named Edelman, it seems because of Sanu’s experience, he is the most likely to be able to make some improvements in the coming weeks. It’s important to remember he joined the team in the middle of the season and it’s not the easiest thing to get caught up to speed with the Patriots offense.
While the chemistry appeared to be there in the Ravens game, it hasn’t been there since with Brady. Some of the incompletions have been on the quarterback making poor throws, but there also appear to be some cases where he’s ran the wrong route/done the wrong thing.
If Sanu can find something that clicks with Brady, the Patriots offense has a decent chance to be better than it has been. But if not, it could be an unusually early offseason in New England.