FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots have played eight games, half the season, and usually by now teams have a good idea of what they are.
Well, that isn’t exactly the case when it comes to the Patriots offense.
The unit has played exactly half its games, but yet it still doesn’t have an identity.
“I think every year is different, in many regards, and then every year is similar in that you’re never really where you want to be at the beginning of the season for a number of reasons,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said on a conference call Tuesday. “Whether that’s players coming back off of injury, or different combinations working together, whatever it may be. I think you’re always trying to kind of figure out exactly the right way that your team plays best.
“I think we’ve certainly had stretches where we’ve played good; we’ve had stretches where we’ve kind of shot ourselves in the foot a little bit. But, our goal is always to try to continue to try to improve. As long as you keep your focus on the process and continue to try to do the right things one day, after another, after another, and everybody’s working hard and has a good attitude about it, then I think you have a chance to continue to make progress, improve, and then play your best as the season goes along.”
It also hasn’t been as productive as some think.
While, the Patriots lead the league in points per game with 31.3, they can thank their defense and special teams for that. The defense and special teams have combined for 44 points on the year. Taking those away, the Patriots would only average 25.8 points per game, which would have them tied for the Lions for 11th in football.
Obviously, it is a team sport and you can’t just take away those points, but it shows the offense hasn’t been as productive as it may seem. Another stat to prove that is Jake Bailey has punted 43 times so far this season, which is tied for third-most in the league. For reference, the Ravens are second in points per game and their punter Sam Koch has only punted 18 times.
Through eight games, it’s clear their struggles begin up front and some of it is to no fault of their own.
Starting center David Andrews was lost for the year in the preseason due to blood clots in his lungs, which has left Ted Karras to slide in. Then Isaiah Wynn suffered a toe injury in Week 2 and that has forced Marshall Newhouse, who joined the team after the season began, into the starting left tackle role. In addition, veterans Jared Veldheer and Brian Schwenke retired over the summer leaving the team with not much depth up front.
Dante Scarnecchia’s crew hasn’t been able to make holes for the running backs (3.2 yards per carry, 30th in the league) and while Tom Brady hasn’t been sacked all that much, there have been a number of throwaways because he feels the pressure.
There has also been a revolving door when it comes to Brady’s pass catchers.
Since the start of the year, 16 players have caught passes from him. But of those 16, only 11 are currently on the roster. Some of those being big names like Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon.
With all the inconsistencies, the unit finally appears to have a group it will have for an extended period of time. Mohamad Sanu was added at the trade deadline, N’Keal Harry is eligible to return from IR this week and then Wynn can return Nov. 24 against the Cowboys.
Now that the offense is pretty much finalized in terms of players, McDaniels can figure out what it does well and go with it. And to be fair, the offense last year didn’t really find its identity until right before the playoffs when it rode the running game all the way to a Super Bowl win over the Rams.
This year, it doesn’t seem like it will be the running game, rather the short, quick passes to slowly, but methodically move the ball down the field.
Brady’s leading pass catchers are Julian Edelman and James White, who have been part of 41 percent of the passing yards this year, and catching short, quick passes is what they do best. The same goes for Sanu, who is a terrific possession receiver.
On top of that, the Patriots defense is the best in football.
The Patriots do not need to score 30-plus points on a given week. Their primary goal on offense is what it was in the early 2000s, take care of the ball and score when the opportunities present themselves.
Even Brady acknowledged this just a few weeks ago.
“One thing we talked about this week was having reasonable expectations and not feeling like we have to go out there and score 50 points," Brady said to Jim Gray prior to the Patriots taking on the Jets on Monday Night Football. "We have to go out there and take care of the ball. We have to play a good, smart game and take advantage of our scoring opportunities when we get them.”
So when the question is asked, what is there to make of the Patriots offense at the midway point of the year? The answer is a unit that is still finding its way, but starting to realize what it is and now working to make that the best it can be.