Following a second straight subpar offensive performance by the New England Patriots, onlookers are left wondering if quarterback Tom Brady and Co. need to drastically alter course in order to keep this two-game winning streak going.
That idea could not be further from reality.
Heading into the season, this was the narrative and it's continued much as many expected it would. However, now that the games actually matter, it's almost as if people forgot about the same things being said months ago.
Wide receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd are no longer with the team. Tight end and alleged murderer Aaron Hernandez is under the supervision of the correctional community. Tight end and noted party animal Rob Gronkowski is still sitting out with back and forearm injuries.
To make matters worse, expected top targets—wide receiver Danny Amendola, running back Shane Vereen and tight end Zach Sudfeld—are all missing after injuries suffered in Week 1.
This series of unfortunate events left Brady with a bunch of receiving targets that might as well keep their names taped on the front of their helmets just so their quarterback and head coach Bill Belichick can remember who's who.
Tom Brady had a completion rate below 50% for the first time in regular season since Week 15 in 2009 against Bills— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 13, 2013
What does one do when it's a perfect storm? Easy—one battens down the hatches and goes with the wind.
If you don't spend much time boating, let me explain the analogy quickly. In rough winds, the gut reaction is to fight against them. However, doing so will tear a ship apart. Instead, the crew takes precautions so that the ship is not further damaged and lets the wind take them where it wants them to go.
The Patriots, and their fans, would be wise to remember the analogy and stay the course with Brady's new crop of receivers.
Mistakes Happen, but Trust The Players You've Already Decided to Trust
Who makes personnel decisions? On the Patriots, it's mostly Belichick with a smattering of help from the personnel department. He thought enough of Aaron Dobson to draft the wideout in the second round of this past year's draft. He's thought enough of receiver Kenbrell Thompkins to keep the undrafted rookie on the active roster.
Do you really think a rough Week 2 game changes that?
If Bill Belichick really wanted Lloyd, Randy Moss or any other street free agent receiver on this team, he'd already be in New England.
To continue the obscure analogies, NFL-caliber offenses are a lot like a pricey watch. Lots of moving parts have to work in concert with one another to make the entire object work. If just one gear or wheel gets out of tune, the entire package suffers.
The Patriots offense—complex and built on precise timing—fits this analogy even more than most, so the presence of young receivers and a lack of continuity is going to have a big effect. Moreover, this underscores the fact that the solution is more a question of fine-tuning rather than replacing parts.
Let's look at some tape from Week 2.
Here's a simple crossing route that is a common sight in the Patriots offense. This was, 100 percent, a drop by Dobson. However, simply because one player is at fault doesn't mean another player couldn't have been better as well—effort is not a zero-sum game.
The green circle is where the ball should be placed on a crossing route. Receivers like the ball anywhere from eye to check level in front of them. Instead, the red circle is where Brady put the ball, behind and at the high end of the spectrum.
In case you're not getting the full picture, stand up right now and contort your own body from where the green circle is over to the red. Now, try to catch something. Now, try that running at full speed. If you can do it, the Patriots might need your assistance.
Or, frankly, Brady could be better. He's the veteran. He's the All-Pro. He's the future Hall of Famer. Instead of delivering a high degree of difficulty throw, he needs to deliver a more catchable ball.
On this play, which was actually a reception, Brady under-threw a ball to Julian Edelman and kept his receiver from being able to make a better play toward the first-down marker. It was a reception to the receiver Brady trusts the most of this group, but the timing was still not quite there.
These are fine-tuning things, not throw the baby out with the bath water things.
Treat Rookie Mistakes Like Just That...Rookie Mistakes
Maybe you think I've been tough on Brady (I have), but there's little reason to not expect more out of him than he showcased on Thursday night. As for the rookie drops, misread routes and mental hiccups, that should be expected.
On this play, Dobson gained separation from the Jets secondary, but was unable to reel in the ball when it dropped into his chest. In terms of timing, this was early in the game and public perception had not yet turned against Dobson; so many said that this throw from Brady could have been further in front.
This is true, but it's nitpicking far more than I did above. In the end, Dobson had to adjust to the ball, yes, but it was entirely catchable and it's a clear mistake on his part to not come down with it.
Does anything on Thursday night change the pre-draft grade that Belichick and Co. had on Dobson? Not in the slightest. This is a receiver who showcased plus hands at Marshall and an ability to go up for the football with above-average body control.
In short, he'll work it out. He wasn't drafted for Week 2 in 2013. He's supposed to be a long-term piece to this team's overall puzzle.
That means that Brady needs to calm down when his rookie receivers make rookie mistakes. After the game, Brady was apologetic, saying that he needs to "work on his body language." He also mentioned that his receivers have no problem working hard at practice.
On the field, however, Brady throwing his hands up and shouting at his targets isn't going to help much. Trust me, they get the hint. It's difficult to have the ball hit one's hands or fall in the dirt where one should have been and not understand what went wrong.
This is Brady's biggest test both physically and mentally.
Belichick was asked about Brady ripping receivers: “Tom is probably the best leader I’ve ever been around so I wouldn’t be too critical”— Nick Underhill (@Nick_Underhill) September 13, 2013
Moving forward, Brady better be working on these plays with his wideouts in practice. Yes, Amendola and Gronkowski will be back eventually, but that doesn't mean Dobson and Thompkins are going anywhere. Instead of yelling or sulking, Brady should be going over play-stills on the sideline.
Brady needs to make sure these hard-working but young receivers are allowed to get a chance to build the same kind of chemistry he had with Welker or Deion Branch.
This Patriots offense is going to sort itself out—Brady is still Brady. Belichick is still Belichick. There's still an outstanding amount of physical talent on this team—moreso than can be said about the receiving prospects that are currently sitting on their couches hoping the Patriots call.
A knee-jerk reaction is not going to fix this lack of offensive production. Only patience—from the team and from Brady himself—is going to set this ship back on course.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand by the author.