Evaluating the 3 Most Dynamic NFL Offenses Heading into 2012
Offense has seemingly taken over the NFL. Whether it's spreading defenses out like the Green Bay Packers or pounding the ball like the Houston Texans, the NFL has turned into an offensive explosion over the past few years.
Defense no longer wins championships. Just look at this year's Super Bowl champions; the New York Giants were bottom dwellers in most defensive categories and had numerous injuries at every defensive position.
So what carried them? Eli Manning and their talented cast of wide receivers. The offensive line played about as bad they could without getting Eli killed, the running game was ranked dead last and by season's end they didn't have a healthy tight end left.
Will defenses catch up in the coming years, or are the offenses out in front for good? Let's take a look at which teams will have the most dynamic offenses heading into 2012.
New England Patriots
When Tom Brady is your quarterback, it's safe to assume your offense will always be in the upper echelon. In 2011, one would have a hard time picking apart their offense and saying, "This area of their team was a real weakness."
Brady has his favorites just as any other quarterback does. And there isn't anyone he trusts more than Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski is an absolute monster on the field, one of the rare tight ends who blocks as well as he catches the ball.
According to Pro Football Focus, Gronkowski was the best tight end they had ever graded—not really a hard argument to make considering he set the record for most touchdowns and receiving yards in a season by a tight end. He is also the first tight end in NFL history to lead the league in touchdown receptions.
Out of Brady's 611 pass attempts, Gronk was targeted 121 times and caught 74.4 percent of the balls thrown his way. His counterpart, Aaron Hernandez, is no slouch either as he finished as the fourth highest graded tight end at PFF.
Even though Gronkowski ate up a lot of targets, Hernandez still managed 108 with a catch rate of 73.1 percent. He also forced the most missed tackles by any tight end and caught seven touchdown passes. Between both players, they logged 1,984 snaps, caught 169 balls and piled up 2,237 yards receiving.
It's obvious the Patriots offense runs through these guys. The spread offense of 2007 is long removed in favor of the two tight end sets.
I don't expect to see numbers like these repeat this year, but I do expect New England's offense to be just as explosive. Expect plenty of targets for the newly acquired Brandon Lloyd, even if that does mean fewer targets for Gronkowski and Hernandez.
Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are the pieces that make the Patriots offense dynamic.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers, over the past two seasons, has been on a mission to prove why he is the best quarterback in the league. By looking at accolades and stats alone, it's hard to argue otherwise as Rodgers has compiled a Super Bowl victory, a Super Bowl MVP and a league MVP award in that short time span.
His numbers stand for themselves as he has had one of the most impressive two-year stretches in NFL history. It's almost like he was playing a video game in 2010 and 2011 as he has racked up 8,565 yards through the air with 73 touchdowns and only 17 interceptions.
There is no question Rodgers fires the engine up, but who are the guys who keep the engine running? It's their outstanding group of wide receivers, most notably Jordy Nelson. Nelson has very few flaws in his game as he is the Packers' best route runner, has the best hands on the team and seems to get off the jam with ease.
When thinking of downfield threats, people are quick to think of players like Victor Cruz, Calvin Johnson and Mike Wallace, but really you should be thinking of Jordy Nelson.
Pro Football Focus has a signature stat that looks at who's doing the most damage downfield. Their numbers are all based on targets of 20 yards or more.
Nelson tops this list as 22.6 percent of his targets are 20 yards or more downfield. On 21 downfield targets, he caught 15 balls for 637 yards and seven touchdowns. No player had an average that came close to Nelson's 42 yards per catch mark on downfield targets.
Just imagine the production numbers of Nelson if he had more opportunities. He only was in on 633 snaps; in comparison Roddy White and Brandon Marshall both logged over 900 snaps and had similar seasons statistically.
Would an increase in snaps cause Jordy to be less effective, or would it make him the top receiver in the NFL? We may never know, considering the Packers' plethora of talent at the wide receiver position. The only thing we know for sure is that he is easily one of the most underrated receivers in all of football.
Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson and the rest of the Packers' wideouts make up a truly dynamic offense.
Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels, three names that put together one of the most consistent and exciting offenses in the NFL. Daniels is one of the top pass catching tight ends, Johnson is arguably top five at his position with a healthy Matt Schaub and Foster, in my eyes, is the best running back in the league.
A torn ACL at the end of 2009 was the cause for a down year in 2010, but in 2011 Daniels proved he was back to his old form as he caught 54 balls for 677 yards. A pretty impressive number considering T.J. Yates started the last five games of the season.
On 79 targets, Daniels only had two drops, it was one of the lowest rates in the league for tight ends. When the Texans quarterbacks threw in his direction he had a catch rate of 68.4%. In comparison, Jimmy Graham had a catch rate of 67.8%.
After an injury marred 2011 season, Andre Johnson will look to regain his form from 2010 where he was arguably the best wide receiver in football. A healthy Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson can truly do damage as they hooked up 86 times for 1,216 yards and eight touchdowns in 2010.
In 2011, The Houston Texans were one of only four teams to run the ball more than they passed it. A rookie quarterback at the tail end of the season and impressive offensive line play helped the Texans become the most run heavy team in the NFL.
Ben Tate had his fair share of success in limited action, but we all know Arian Foster is the bell cow. Foster has totaled over 4,000 all purpose yards in the past two seasons while breaking just about every Texans franchise rushing record. He now holds the franchise record for the most rushing yards in a single season, the most rushing touchdowns in a season and the most career rushing touchdowns.
In his first two full seasons, he has been selected to the Pro Bowl twice and has been nominated to the NFL All-Pro team twice.
It's hard to find an offense that is this talented across the board. Most offenses will have certain positions that are stacked, but the Texans have difference makers at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end and on the offensive line, which is why they are one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL.
Where Are the Saints?
I know many will be clamoring for the Saints to be on this list, but for excess reasons I have to keep them off the list. Just because they aren't in the top three doesn't mean they won't have a good season, it just means the offseason hasn't been kind to them and the loss of a couple of key parts might be what holds their offense back from finishing at the top.
The biggest offensive loss will be the mastermind himself, Sean Payton. Drew Brees has plenty of control of the offense himself, but no one is more responsible for the Saints offense than Sean Payton.
Payton is such a hands-on coach, he will be missed during valuable preparation time. Meetings, practices and film study are where hands-on coaches are missed the most. It almost seems as if Brees and Payton have their own language as they constantly challenge each other.
Will Joe Vitt and Pete Carmichael, Jr. be on the same wave length as Drew Brees like Payton was? Doubtful.