4 Reasons the New England Patriots Are an Offensive Juggernaut

Rich ByingtonContributor IOctober 14, 2011

4 Reasons the New England Patriots Are an Offensive Juggernaut

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    Bill Belichick has always been referred to as a defensive genius. His championship teams ranked sixth, first and second in defensive scoring, but the past few seasons have seen his defense disappear in an abyss of ineptitude at slowing down opponents.

    This year's version is allowing nearly 24 points a game. None of Belichick's Super Bowl teams allowed more than 17. The Patriots offense, on the other hand, even in a season with Matt Cassel at the helm (they averaged 25.6 points/game), has become a machine of scoring efficiency and production that rivals the greatest offenses of all time.

    Here are four reasons for the metamorphosis:

The Point of Emphasis on Illegal Contact and Safety Enforcement

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    As fans, we've witnessed incredibly efficient offensive teams winning recent Super Bowls—last year's Packers, the Saints, the Colts and even the Steelers, known more for defense, beat the Cardinals with a historic offensive drive. The days of the 2000 Ravens and 2002 Bucs are long gone. What's going on?

    In the 2003 season AFC Championship Game, the Patriots pounded the Colts and their stable of speedy receivers into oblivion. Tony Dungy and Robert Irsay complained emphatically to the league that the Patriots were allowed too much freedom with the five-yard chuck rule. The following season began with the league announcing a "point of emphasis" on the rule. No longer would the Patriots be able to test a referee's knowledge of exactly how far five yards is. 

    Manning broke Marino's touchdown record that year and the Colts increased their average points per game from 27.9 to 32.6. The Patriots themselves increased their scoring from 21.8 points per game to 27.3 in 2004.

    It's much harder for a defense to pitch a shutout than an offense to rack up 40 points in today's NFL. It's almost as if Bill is saying, "Fine, change the rules, emphasis however you want, handcuff our defense—we'll just put up points until we break the scoreboard.'

    The past few seasons have brought fans and players a plethora of unnecessary roughness, illegal hits below the knees and helmet-to-helmet penalties and fines. The league is so fearful of career-ending—or even worse, life-debilitating—injuries that it has gone off the deep end in emphasizing player safety in an inherently violent game.

    Enter offense.

    Offenses this season are taking full advantage of the increased restrictions on their counterparts, and you can bet a coach like Bill Belichick took note of the future impact the new emphasis on safety would have on hampering defenses. More defensive penalties equates to better field position and more scoring opportunities for offenses that they otherwise wouldn't have had.

The Development of Tom Brady

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    In 2001, Bill Belichick kept Tom Brady in the lineup even after his $10 million quarterback Drew Bledsoe returned from injury because Brady took care of the football and remained calm under pressure. Belichick also knew he had a young and inexperienced quarterback that season and therefore limited the load Brady had to carry.

    All Brady had to do was sustain drives and put some points on the board; the veteran-led defense did the rest during that magical 2001 season. Even in the Super Bowl against the Rams, if not for one score by the defense, the Pats would've come up short. The defense had another score called back due to a penalty. As memorable as Brady's final drive was, the defense truly carried the day.

    As Tom Brady has progressed and developed, so has Belichick's trust in him. The trust is now exclusive to the point of shifting the focus from protecting Brady with a strong defense to protecting the defense with a superstar quarterback, thus leading to greater offensive production. The offense averaged 23.9 points per game during Brady's first five seasons; in the last five (not including 2008 where he didn't play) the offense has put up a blistering 29.9 points a game.

Attrition of Star Defensive Players

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    The Patriots built their first NFL champion from a crop of players who were entering the prime of their careers or who were young up-and-coming stars. Willie McGinest was an eight-year vet, Tedy Bruschi and Ty Law were in their seventh years, Lawyer Milloy was a sixth-year pro, Mike Vrabel in his fifth season and Richard Seymour was a budding All-Pro in his second season.

    They mixed that group with experienced veteran castoffs like Bobby Hamilton, Roman Phifer and Otis Smith and they carried a team with a young quarterback at the helm to a title. Rodney Harrison came along two years later in his 10th year but hungry for a championship. By 2007, many of these players were heading out the door either to retirement or free agency on the backside of their careers.

    How do you replace a cast of smart, tough, hungry players? That is the unenviable task Belichick has been desperately yet unsuccessfully trying to accomplish for several years now.

    Jerod Mayo is a great athlete and tackler, but he is not the playmaker Tedy Bruschi was. Devin McCourty gave Pats fans a lot of hope with a phenomenal rookie season, but he's off to a slow start this year and nowhere near reminding fans of Ty Law. Belichick has not even come close to finding someone to replace Willie McGinest in the critical elephant role. Pat Chung is giving fans the most hope for a renaissance of Rodney Harrison.

    So what do you do? You rely on your superstar quarterback and a veteran offensive line that can pass protect and run block and surround them with reliable (Branch, Green-Ellis), highly efficient (Welker, Woodhead) and young and gifted (Gronkowski/Hernandez) talent and you score 30 points a game.

Adaptability and Adjustment

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    Bill Belichick is the master at hiding his own team's weaknesses while exploiting the opponent's and getting the most out of his team's strengths.

    You've got a back who never fumbles (literally) and a quarterback who rarely turns the ball over and who is the best in the game. You've got intelligent receivers who run excellent routes and gifted tight ends. You've got an offensive line that can protect the passer and bulldoze a defense in the run game.

    This offense is Belchick's gravy train and he is riding it to a title. The offense is becoming increasingly complex because Belichick has experienced and talented players who can execute it. This has kept defenses playing the Patriots perpetually off balance.

    On the other side of the ball, you've got a slew of young players and new vets trying to learn a complex defense. The talent level isn't as good as the Super Bowl years. The continuity and communication are in the infancy stages of development. The rules and emphasis on safety are such that your defense stands to be victimized by them on occasions.

    The 2007 season started with the infamous Spygate scandal. The scoring assault the Patriots went on that season was a statement: "We're angry and we're going to take it out on the NFL." I think it was more than that; I think Belichick knew his defense couldn't carry the load they had in the past, so he put it on his offense. By shifting his focus to offense, they scored at a record pace and made defenses one-dimensional, thus masking many of their deficiencies.

    Clearly Belichick realized then that it was becoming increasingly easier to play "catch me if you can" on the scoreboard than "let's hold 'em to a field goal" in the red zone in today's NFL. The defense has allowed 18.8 points per game over the last four seasons (including this year); in their three championship seasons, they allowed 16 points a game. But the offense is averaging 30.6 points per game over the last four seasons (including this year); they scored 24 a game in their three championship seasons.

    Welcome to the evolution of a defensive genius.

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