Brady, especially, has looked off these past few weeks. He has been uncharacteristically throwing interceptions, taking sacks, and failing on third-down conversions.
The solution to Brady's problem is pretty simple: only throw the ball to wide receiver Wes Welker or tight end Rob Gronkowski.
It seems silly to suggest, and I obviously don't mean only, but there is no reason for Brady to be forcing passes to a declining Deion Branch or a confused Chad Ochocinco when Welker and Gronk win their matchups almost every single play.
Welker's quickness makes him a defensive coordinator's nightmare. His only weakness is his inability to get off the line against a strong defensive back. Still, Welker can get open better than anyone in the NFL. It's pretty clear that Brady to Welker is unstoppable unless you double or even triple team the little fella.
Gronk can't be stopped because of his superhuman strength, gigantic size, and otherworldly hands. He is practically unguardable without doing something illegal like holding or shoving. Because of his size, though, most teams can get away with the penalties (think about Shaq in the NBA).
Despite all the uncalled penalties, Gronkowski has still managed to surpass his 2010 totals in just eight games in 2011 (except touchdowns). The man is a beast, and people around the NFL are finally starting to take notice.
The instructions for a receiver are two-fold—get open and catch the ball.
For the Patriots, it seems that Welker and Gronk are the only ones capable of completing that task. Branch has good hands, but his lack of explosion almost always leaves him in airtight coverage. Most plays that Brady runs with Branch are timing routes where Brady's pinpoint accuracy and Branch's precise route running are imperative.
Outside of Welker and Gronk, who should Brady throw to?
Aaron Hernandez has been pretty good this year, but has also had some untimely drops and a drive-killing fumble. Out of all of the receivers and tight ends not named Welker or Gronk, Hernandez is the only one with high-level talent and big-play ability. If Hernandez can remain healthy, which has been a problem for him, he too can join the group. Until then, he should remain a third option, and one of Brady's favorite targets near the end zone.
With Chad Ochocinco, the problems have been in so many different aspects of his game; it is hard to discern which flaw is causing his ineffectiveness. I would guess that it is a mixture of not knowing the playbook and dropping passes, but that would barely be scratching the surface.
Brady may have guys like Branch or Ocho or even Julian Edelman open in certain situations. However, even when they are open, the success rate of those passes are low. They drop more passes, they run worse routes, and they don't have that great connection with No. 12 that Welker and Gronk have (minus Branch, who would be out of the league if it weren't for his connection with Brady).
The bottom line is that Welker and Gronk make plays.
There is a reason why they lead the offense in snaps week after week. There is a reason why Gronk leads the NFL in red zone touchdowns since 2010 with 14. There is a reason why despite the high volume of passes thrown their way, they still manage to hold on to an exceptionally high percentage of those passes.
Which offensive tandem is best in AFC?
Most importantly, however, is the fact that out of Brady's 10 interceptions this season, only two were intended for Gronk or Welker (both happened to be to Gronk). The others were either tipped at the line, or intended for Branch (twice), Ochocinco, Hernandez and Danny Woodhead.
Those numbers become more astounding when you consider that Welker has been targeted about the same amount as all of those players combined.
Against the New York Jets this Sunday night would not be the best time to test this idea, as they are one of the very few teams in the NFL with the personnel available to cover Welker and (kind of) cover Gronkowski.
However, after this game, the schedule really opens up. Once it does, Brady would be wise to limit his attempts outside of the dynamic Welker and Gronk duo.
It's not that he can't succeed if he passes to other players—it's that there is no reason to pass to other players when your two most reliable receivers are almost always open.