Extra Points

Words With Frenz Mailbag: Why Does Patriots Offense Look Completely Different?


The New England Patriots offense is a true rags to riches story. They looked like they were falling apart, covered in dirt, and were being wiped off the field by opposing defenses early in the season. Now, the very same offense appears to be an embarrassment of riches.

What a difference a month can make.

What's the reason behind the dramatic change of appearances for the Patriots offense?

We'll explore that and more in this week's mailbag.

That's a pretty optimistic view of things, Will. I'm not sure what to make of what wide receiver coach Chad O'Shea said of Aaron Dobson earlier this week. He was asked about Dobson's response to his lack of playing time, and he said, "As we tell all our players on our roster, at some time, everybody is going to have their time to contribute or they wouldn't be here. Thatís the mindset that heís had every day."

In what way, in what capacity, and in what time frame Dobson will contribute remains to be seen. Bill Belichick has always said that he will do whatever gives his team the best chance to win that week. Dobson has not appeared to favor the injured foot, and he hasn't been listed on the injury report all season, so there's no reason to believe it's still an issue.

In some ways, Dobson is also a victim of the numbers game. With Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, and Brandon LaFell all playing well for the Patriots, it's been hard for anyone else to get going in the passing game. Lately, when the Patriots have been in three-receiver sets, Danny Amendola has been the one on the field with Edelman and LaFell.

I think it's football problems. That's the only logical explanation. The Patriots and Bill Belichick himself already shot down the notion that Dobson was benched for a "loud disagreement" with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. As mentioned before, he hasn't been listed on the injury report all season.

It's most likely a combination of issues. Part of the problem could be his lack of special teams value, another possibility is a lack of understanding of the offense. He missed most of the offseason with that foot injury, and even if it's not hampering him physically, it may have already taken a mental toll in preventing him from working with the offense on the field this offseason.

It's hard to tell. It's probably not an injury problem, since Alfonzo Dennard hasn't been listed on the injury report for the past two weeks. I hesitate to call it a matchup problem; the differences between the two are not that dramatic. Dennard is 5-10 and 200 pounds, Malcolm Butler is 5-11 and 190 pounds. Butler has a bit more speed than Dennard, but Dennard is more physical than Butler.

The one key difference is special teams, where Butler contributes and Dennard does not.

In part, yes. The offensive line has been the one group that has changed the most in the past five weeks, with the implementation of an all-center interior line of Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork, and Ryan Wendell. The communication has been much better, and rarely do you see a defensive tackle or defensive end come free on a twist like they were early in the season.

The emergence of LaFell and the re-emergence of Gronkowski have been the other keys. Early in the season, the concern was a lack of weapons, with Brady "locking in" on Edelman and Gronk (at less than 100 percent). Now that Gronk appears back to full strength and LaFell has emerged, the Patriots offense has suddenly gone from having 1.5 legit weapons to three.

Ever since losing Stevan Ridley for the season to a torn ACL and MCL, the Patriots running game has not looked quite the same. They've also faced some stiff competition in that time. Over the past four weeks, the Patriots have faced three rush defenses ranked in the top 10, including Nos. 1 and 3. They romped the Chicago Bers with 122 rushing yards, but that defense has allowed more than 100 rushing yards in five of their eight games.

But in order to make a run at the Super Bowl, they will have to do what they haven't been able to do for years: run when the opponent knows they're going to run, and do it against stout defenses. That comes down to the offensive line opening up holes, and if that doesn't happen, the burden grows for Jonas Gray, James White, and Shane Vereen to slip tackles and make defenders miss. Ridley was their best back at creating yards after contact, so other guys will have to step up.

Got room for one more.

First, let's not assume Rex Ryan will be back next season ó if anyone is sent packing after this season, it's probably Rex.

Second, while trades are fun to think about, I think this one is pretty far-fetched. The Jets probably wouldn't be willing to give up what the Browns would likely want for a player they just used a first-round draft pick on. The Jets would be better off drafting a player in the first round of this year, and they could be within striking range to grab someone like Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota.

But man, oh man would Johnny Manziel in New York be fun, if only for the steady stream of party pictures that would surely come out of that situation.

Thanks, everyone. Any other questions, send them my way on Twitter.

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