A Statistical Look at How the Patriots Have Replaced Lost 2012 Production

Erik FrenzSenior Writer IDecember 5, 2013

Tom Brady (center) has been looking at a whole new cast of characters this year.
Tom Brady (center) has been looking at a whole new cast of characters this year.Winslow Townson/Getty Images

It wasn't pretty, but the New England Patriots' offense has made it through a tough start to the season and is now back in the discussion of the best units in the league as we head toward the 2013 playoffs.

One of the overriding narratives this preseason was the loss of key weapons and how that would affect the offense. Between Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Hernandez, Danny Woodhead and Deion Branch, 75.8 percent of Brady's completions from 2012 were gone before the beginning of the 2013 season.

One look at the production of those players, and it's not hard to see why many had concerns about whether the Patriots offense would make it through so much overhaul in one offseason.

Patriots' departed receivers, 2012
PlayerGmsTgtRecCth %YdsYPRTDDrops
Wes Welker1617411767.2132911.5615
Brandon Lloyd161317456.591112.347
Aaron Hernandez10835161.44839.5510
Danny Woodhead16554072.744611.241
Deion Branch10291655.21459.101
Pro Football Reference; drops from Pro Football Focus

Add six receptions for 160 yards from Kellen Winslow, Donte Stallworth and Daniel Fells, and replacing all that production would not be easy. 

The offense got off to a slow start, putting up more than 23 points just twice in the team's first six games, but the unit has hit its stride recently and has fallen short of 27 points just once in the past six games.

It's thanks in large part to the emergence of new weapons at Brady's disposal.

Patriots receivers, 2013
PlayerGmsTgtRecCth %YdsYPRTDDrops
Julian Edelman121017069.371110.248
Kenbrell Thompkins11693246.446614.644
Aaron Dobson10653553.849214.149
Danny Amendola8553767.341211.116
Shane Vereen4382873.72207.916
Pro Football Reference; drops from Pro Football Focus

This group of five pass-catchers has accounted for 70.6 percent of Brady's completions this year, and altogether, they're on pace to fall 29 receptions, 358 yards and two touchdowns short of the five they are replacing. Not bad considering the expectations of ruination for the Patriots offense.

Sure, Julian Edelman and Shane Vereen were both with the team in 2012, but their roles are much bigger now than they were last year. Edelman was injured for seven games of the 2012 season and played 302 snaps (33.6 snaps per game); he's already up to 740 this year (61.7 snaps per game) with four games left.

Vereen played all but three games last year but accumulated just 162 snaps (12.5 snaps per game); compared to his 178 snaps in four games this year (44.5 per game), it's easy to see how much more the Patriots want to get Vereen involved this year.

Rookie wide receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson haven't lit the world on fire, but each has played a key role in his share of Patriots successes this season: Thompkins with a pair of six-catch efforts against the Falcons and Broncos, Dobson with big games against the Dolphins and Steelers.

The two are better big-play threats than anyone the Patriots lost this offseason, so while they aren't hauling in a high percentage of throws in their direction, they're making defenses pay when they get their hands on the ball.

Brady hasn't needed to go to them as much lately with the return of Vereen and tight end Rob Gronkowski, but the continued development of the rookies could be bringing an end to the idea that the Patriots can't develop talent at the wide receiver position—that is, if Minitron isn't doing that already.

The Patriots offense has taken a step back, but the fact that a "step back" is a season where they rank sixth in scoring says a lot about this team's history, as well as where it stands now.



Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.