Scrambling - for answers
Brady's target is to find what ails Patriot offense
FOXBOROUGH - Tom Brady is Tom Brady because he rarely wilts in the face of pressure.
So, when pressured for answers yesterday on why the Patriots offense has been operating at less than peak efficiency, Brady hung in against the steady rush of “What’s wrong?’’ questions. But, just like last Sunday against the Jets, the quarterback didn’t have the answers.
“We’re all trying to understand the reasons why we haven’t performed as well as we’d like in the last two games,’’ said Brady. “It’s a number of reasons, and I think the only thing we can really focus on as players is what we can do. I can certainly make better decisions with the ball and throw it more accurately. That’s where it starts for me.’’
Brady is back from his knee surgery, but the offense is limping along heading into Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons at Gillette Stadium. They were held without a touchdown last week by New York, and save for one inspired 4-minute-35-second stretch against Buffalo, the offense has been uninspired. The Patriots have three touchdowns in eight trips inside the red zone. That ranks 26th in the NFL.
While the entire offense has seemed a little off-stride, so has Brady, with some of his throws sailing high or wide.
“That’s something that I’m always working on and focusing on and trying to improve on,’’ Brady said. “There were some positive things that I took out of last game in terms of my mechanics and driving the ball. Still, I don’t think I’m 100 percent comfortable with where the mechanics are at, but that’s why I’m still working at it.’’
The issues for the offense go beyond Brady, according to former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer. They are tied in part to repetitive play-calling, a lack of dedication to the running game and the screen game, and a lack of chemistry between Brady and new No. 3 receiver Joey Galloway.
Dilfer said Brady, on film, is fundamentally the same as he was during the record-setting 2007 season, but the offense is not.
“This is not a very dynamic passing game the way it’s being called. It is far less dynamic than 2007,’’ said Dilfer. “By making it more dynamic and getting more ‘chunk yardage’ [which, according to Dilfer, is yardage gained after the ball is in the air for at least 15 yards], that will take the burden off executing at a high level on multiple third downs, the hardest down in football.’’
(Brady is the 20th-rated third-down passer in the league, completing 13 of 24 passes.)
“What there is not evidence of in the two games is a commitment to throw the ball down the field,’’ said Dilfer.
Under quarterbacks coach and de facto offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, Dilfer said, the Patriots are not running as many bubble screens (inside) and slip screens (outside) to wide receivers. He said those are plays that throw off the timing of the defense, prevent the quarterback from being hit, and give the offensive linemen a break from a protection standpoint.
They’re also pseudo-running plays for a pass-happy team. The Patriots have sent Brady back to pass 101 times (including one sack) and run the ball 43 times in two games.
Dilfer said the Patriots have abandoned the running game too quickly and gone too heavy with their three-receiver set. By doing these things, New England has allowed defenses to dial up the pressure on Brady and left little margin for error.
“You have a quarterback that hasn’t played football in a year,’’ said Dilfer. “You’re averaging 50 throws in the first two games of the season; the majority are the controlled, precise passing game, putting a tremendous burden on timing, rhythm, feel, and intuitive relationship with receivers when your quarterback hasn’t played football in a year. You’re relying so much on precision that you’re leaving no room for error.’’
“I think when you throw it as much as we’ve been throwing it, they’re going to get in there,’’ acknowledged Brady, who never mentioned the play-calling during his session with the media.
Brady said part of the solution is making the right read and the right throw to make the defense pay for blitzing. That is where timing with receivers comes in.
Brady and Galloway don’t seem to have the same rapport that the quarterback had with Jabar Gaffney, who served as the team’s No. 3 receiver the last two seasons.
“Every relationship with a receiver is different,’’ said Brady. “Some people it’s very seamless, other players you got to put extra work in.
“Joey and I, we have a great relationship. He works extremely hard. He has been in the league for a long time. He has been in the league for a long time for a reason, and that’s because he is very professional. He adds a lot to this offense.’’
Dilfer said part of the disconnect could be that Galloway is not as precise a route-runner as Gaffney.
“Joey has never been the best in and out of breaks,’’ said Dilfer. “He is fast and strong, but he has never been sudden getting in and out of breaks. Tom has always had receivers that are sudden at the top of their route stems, Gaffney, Troy Brown. I would guess that’s part of it.
“Part of the quarterback’s job - and this is why him, Peyton [Manning], and [Drew] Brees are the three best - is they will learn their guys’ subtle differences.’’
Regardless of the reasons for the lag in offensive production, Dilfer is confident that Brady and the Patriots will rediscover their rhythm.
“Trust me, I’m the last guy panicking on the Patriots,’’ said Dilfer. “I think they will be successful.’’
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at email@example.com.