Weapons Aplenty in New England Offense
At the end of Week One last season, New England's record setting 2007 offense already appeared to be in jeopardy but, with Tom Brady out for the season, Matt Cassel emerged from the bullpen to provide solid relief in place of the injured superstar.
The Patriots' 410 points were second in the AFC and their second highest since 2004. Here's a rundown of some plays and formations that worked well for New England last season.
While the Colts are known for their sweep plays to the outside, New England is known for their draw plays, especially on third down.
Kevin Faulk draws praise for his pass catching ability and pass blocking, but he can perhaps run the draw better then anyone on the team. It's a perfect play to run on third-and-five out of the shotgun to catch the defense off guard.
Faulk has improved his fumbling problems and is shifty in open space. He has a nose for finding the first down marker, but if not, the draw can improve field goal range or help New England win the battle of field position.
When discussing the Patriots' offense with Aaron Schatz, founder of Football Prospectus, this was one play he keyed on. Schatz also noted that New England, one of the best teams in the league at running this play, didn't use it once against the pass rushing Giants in the Super Bowl.
Wes Welker is one of the best in the league at creating yards after the catch. At times in 2007, quick screens to him served as the Patriots' running game.
With Cassel at the helm in 2008, Welker served as an invaluable safety valve. New England runs this play out of a variety of formations, although typically in some form of a three receiver set with Welker in the slot.
He is slippery and daring enough to deal out hits to defensive backs for extra yardage. Faulk is also effective at catching screens out of the backfield and the Patriots' offensive line does a superb job at getting in the open and setting blocks for him.
Again, Welker's agility and toughness come into play here. Similar to Wayne Chrebet, Welker isn't afraid to get popped going across the middle.
These quick passes require a good sense of timing between the receiver and quarterback.
Randy Moss has also proven to be dangerous on these short passes. If the middle is vacant, Moss has the speed to turn upfield and can easily outrun most linebackers and safeties.
A spread formation generally works well at creating open space for Moss and Welker to work in.
What makes the Patriots offense dangerous is its versatility. Case in point; in last year's 41-7 win against the Denver Broncos in Week Seven, New England ran the ball 38 times for 257 yards, a lofty 6.8 yards per attempt.
While some of those yards were racked up after the game was out of reach, Sammy Morris powered the Patriots offense with 138 bruising yards on 16 first half carries, before leaving with an injury.
Cassel threw for 185 yards and three touchdowns, but it was Morris moving the chains that propelled New England to a dominating win.
In Week 11's 34-31 overtime loss to the New York Jets, Cassel gouged the Jets defense for 400 yards and three touchdowns, including a nifty throw to a diving Moss in the end zone as time expired in regulation.
Cassel connected with six different receivers in the game. Take away his 62 yards rushing, and New England only produced 63 yards on the ground, albeit averaging a respectable 3.7 yards a carry.
Bill Belichick's defenses have received praise for showing the ability to adjust to opponents, but as these two cases illustrate, the New England offense can adapt from week to week as well, showing the ability to spread the field from the shotgun, or bunch things in with a heavy formation and pound the ball.
It's ironic that Moss is the last aspect of the New England offense listed here, because it could be argued he is its pulse.
In the Patriots' 11 wins last season, Moss hauled in 10 touchdowns and averaged 74.6 yards per game. Conversely, in the team's five losses, Moss was silenced to an average of 37.4 yards per game and just one touchdown.
Whether on a fly pattern, quick slant, screen, or hitch, Moss has breakaway speed that makes him a threat to score anytime he touches the ball.
His height allows him to win the jump ball battle and lobbing it up to him deep downfield can either result in a big gain or draw an interference penalty from the defense.
Moss was Brady's stalwart in 2007. While it took a while for Cassel to gain the confidence to throw the ball downfield last season, Moss made it pay off handsomely for him.
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