Extra Points

Words With Frenz Mailbag: Who is At Fault For Patriots' Offensive Woes?

Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe

The Patriots have won two of their three games, but for most fans, that's not enough. Anxiety is beginning to set in over a team that has looked like far less than the potential Super Bowl contender they were hyped to be.

Truth be told, there are some serious issues on offense — some which can be fixed, others which the Patriots' coaching staff will have to adjust to. There's enough blame to go around, but finding the source of the problem is the first step to recovery.

As the Patriots prepare to take on the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football, Patriots' fans have plenty on their minds, so let's open up the mailbag and see what are this week's burning questions.

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You left off one very important culprit: the running game. So many of the Patriots' other problems stem from their inability to gain chunks of yards on the ground, or to even consistently gain enough yards to constitute a successful run.

There's only so much a team can do if its offensive line isn't protecting the quarterback. The same holds true of the quarterback. With that being said, I don't think Josh McDaniels or Tom Brady deserve a lot of blame.

Brady is doing the best he can with the little time he's being afforded, hitting Julian Edelman on short routes over the middle time and time again. Edelman and Rob Gronkowski are a great start for the offense, but they will have to incorporate a third option at some point — and hopefully, one who can get open on intermediate and deep routes.

So here's how I'll hand out the blame:

1. Offensive line (35 percent)
2. Receivers/TEs (20 percent)
3. Running backs (15 percent)
4. Tom Brady (15 percent)
5. Josh McDaniels (8 percent)
6. Personnel moves (7 percent)

Interesting you should ask, Arjuna. I've been wondering this myself. The Patriots have only used a true two-back set on five offensive snaps (not counting snaps with fullback James Develin), and the only combination has been Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden.

Against the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots used Vereen and Bolden as extra blockers in the backfield, and the two would then release into a route in the flat after chipping the defensive end on their side of the field.

Putting both Vereen and Ridley into the backfield would open up possibilities for either a running play or a passing play, although with no true blocker in the backfield, those possibilities would be limited if the Patriots wanted to run out of these formations. They could run a screen play in either direction, though, which would help an offensive line that's struggling in pass protection.

I truly do not believe Nate Solder's early season struggles have anything to do with losing his neighbor, left guard Logan Mankins. Solder has allowed nine combined pressures (three hurries, four hits, two sacks) this season, and most of those pressures have been in one-on-one battles with a defensive end.

There have been a couple of occasions where a defensive lineman has beaten Solder to the inside, but Solder's biggest struggles this year seem to be with edge pass-rushers who have a good first step and can bend the corner. He also got beat by some speed-to-power moves by defensive end Khalil Mack in Week 3.

I'm not ready to say Solder is declining. It's only been three weeks. The best thing Solder can do for now is work on his technique and improve his footwork to get to the edge quicker than the defender. His greatest asset is his arm length, at 35.5 inches. But he can't extend his arms into the chest of the defender to knock them off their desired route if his feet aren't in the right spot.

One other note: Solder is a big dude. At 6-foot-8, he is towering over just about every defensive end he faces. That's the prototype for a left tackle, but in a trench battle where the low man wins, he's at an immediate disadvantage from the moment he gets out of his stance. An increased focus on pad level could help Solder in his struggles, as well.

Chandler Jones is once again having a very solid season for himself off the edge, despite a slow start (which could be blamed partly on how he was used in that game). With 100 pass-rush attempts this season, Jones has logged five hurries, two hits and two sacks. That's nearly one in every 10 passing plays that Jones is creating some kind of pressure.

On the other side, the Patriots have used Dont'a Hightower more as a pass-rusher this year than in years past, but I would argue that there's room to use him even more. Through three games, he's had 46 opportunities to get after the quarterback; he has logged four hurries, five hits, and two sacks. He's getting some form of pressure about one in every four times he rushes the passer.

Chiefs offensive tackles Eric Fisher and Ryan Harris have struggled in pass protection this year. According to stats website Pro Football Focus, Fisher has let up four hurries and seven hits, while Harris has let up four hurries, two hits, and two sacks. If the Patriots let Jones and Hightower get after the quarterback, the opportunities will most likely be there.

That being said, Chiefs' quarterback Alex Smith is known for his ability to break the pocket and scramble. Dolphins' quarterback Ryan Tannehill possesses a similar trait, so the Patriots' conservative Week 1 game plan could be in the books once again for this game. The Patriots may wish to contain Smith in the pocket, which would lead to Jones and Hightower staying at home in their lanes more than pinning their ears back to create pressure.

Adam, this is a two-pronged answer. His long-term impact could be big, as it would be an immediate upgrade to the cornerback spot opposite Darrelle Revis. The Patriots have struggled a bit in that spot this season, with Logan Ryan and Alfonzo Dennard taking turns and yielding mixed results. Dennard (shoulder) has been missing from practice recently, as well, and did not suit up against the Raiders.

His short-term impact, however, may be limited. The Patriots typically don't like to rush a player back to a full workload after he has missed time, regardless of the reason why. Browner will be fully rested and ready to roll, but the Patriots may want to work him slowly back into the mix.

That depends on the answers to a couple of questions: First, how have the Patriots coaches felt about his performance early this season?; Second, how healthy is Ryan Wendell (knee) after missing the past two games due to injury?

As long as Wendell remains sidelined, the Patriots' best bet on the inside appears to be Bryan Stork at center and Dan Connolly at right guard. That is the group that finished the game against the Raiders. Stork also finished against the Minnesota Vikings, but the line looked much different; Marcus Cannon left the game in favor of backup left guard Josh Kline.

From this perspective, Connolly's temporary move to right guard — and Stork's entrance at center — seemed to be the team trying to find an answer to their troubles at right guard. That isn't Connolly's best position, but he played there for two straight years and provides some stability at the position.

Got time for one more.

Wendell returned to practice on Wednesday, and was not listed on Thursday's injury report. If he is healthy, it would be a surprise not to see him in the lineup.

As much as fans would love to see the Patriots "release the Stork," a primetime game at Arrowhead Stadium — with 79,451 Chiefs fans going for a Guinness World Record for loudest stadium — may not be the best time to throw a rookie center into the fray as the starter.

Not only will it be harder to hear Brady's checks at the line of scrimmage, but it will also be harder to communicate protections, hear snap counts, and avoid false start penalties. The veteran Wendell may be better equipped to handle the duties at center this week, if only for his experience in the offense. Beyond that, who knows? Stork could see playing time sooner than later if the offensive line's poor play continues.

One position to watch is left guard, where Cannon has had a rough start to the season. He has allowed eight combined pressures, the second-most on the team behind Solder. Young guard Josh Kline has hardly seen any playing time, despite being the anticipated heir at left guard when Logan Mankins was traded.

As far as Cameron Fleming goes, his only natural position is tackle. The only way I see him moving into a bigger role is if the team has had enough with Solder or right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, and it's still too soon to make a drastic change at those spots.

Thanks for the questions, guys. Feel free to send me any other questions on Twitter.