A Closer Look at the New England Patriots: The Offense

Max IasconeSenior Analyst IApril 21, 2008

As pretty much every football fan knows, the Patriots' offense last year was among the best in the league, perhaps even one of the best ever. Whether it's the 71 TDs, the 20 PPG scoring difference, or Tom Brady's 50 passing touchdowns, last year's offensive unit broke a slew of NFL records.

However, that doesn't mean that there are no weaknesses on the offensive side of the ball. Here are a few areas that the Patriots need to address, through the draft or via a trade.

The Offensive Line

Sure, the Pats may have sent three O-linemen to Hawaii this past season, but the unit that only allowed 21 sacks during the regular season looked lost and confused against a clearly superior Giants front four. The Giants sacked quarterback Tom Brady five times and managed to hit him nine other times.

Had Brady been given more than three seconds to pass, the game may have ended differently, but more to the point, New York proved in that game that the Patriots could be pressured, giving the rest of the NFL a chink in the Patriots' armor to attack.

The most noticeable weakness in New England's O-line is clearly the right side; RG Stephen Neal is inconsistent and injury prone and RT Nick Kaczur is nothing more then a stopgap solution at this point in his career.

Despite the fact that he only allowed 6.5 sacks in the regular season, Kaczur was noticeably outmatched when he faced elite competition, as was shown by Osi Umenyiora's constant trips to the backfield during last year's Super Bowl.

What is even more worrisome than Kaczur's troubles in the Super Bowl is the fact that Kaczur has to guard Aaron Schobel twice a year; Schobel has racked up 11 sacks against New England in his career and we all know that Kaczur lacks the athleticism to contain a speed rusher like Schobel for an entire game.

Neal on the other hand, will be turning 32 this year and missed half of last season due to injuries, and I hope that Bill Belichick isn't depending on Russ Hochstein to start next season in Neal's place.

The Running Game

Despite the fact that incumbent starter Laurence Maroney ran for 280 yards in three playoff games, he gained only 36 against the aforementioned Giants.

More importantly, Maroney has battled injuries throughout his short career and has at times lacked the drive to succeed in the NFL, as illustrated by the fact that backup Sammy Morris seemed to have won the starting job even while Maroney was healthy. Morris's freak chest injury was the only reason that Maroney even saw the field in the later weeks.

Speaking of Morris, the former Dolphin was quite serviceable in his time on the field, which consisted of five games during which he ran for 384 yards. However, it remains to be seen whether Morris can recover from the sternum-clavicle separation that sidelined him last year.

Finally, scatback Kevin Faulk will be 33 when the season starts and a decent replacement for him in the offense has yet to be found, that is unless second year player Kyle Eckel sees more playing time or the Pats decide to take a gamble on WVU RB Steve Slaton.

Although Faulk's statistical contributions (648 yards on 47 catches and 62 attempts)  seem to indicate a small role in the offense, his clutch play and veteran leadership will be sorely missed when he decides to retire.

The Passing Game

This was clearly the strongest part of the Patriots offense last year and with the exception of fourth receiver Donte Stallworth, every starter is returning. There isn't really much to break down here because this is the one part of New England's roster that seems to be devoid of weaknesses, with the exception of inconsistent play from starting TE Ben Watson.

Watson has shown flashes of brilliance during his short career but his tendency to drop easy passes makes him frighteningly similar to first round flop Daniel Graham.

Other than that, all I can really say about the Pats' potent passing offense is that it seems to break down when consistent pressure is put on the QB. Then again, what offense doesn't?