Patriots Passing into History: Can Pats Win Super Bowl on Tom Brady Alone?

Prior to Monday night’s game in Miami, Cam Newton had thrown for more yards in a single NFL game than Tom Brady ever had. It was shocking Monday morning to read that Cam Newton had edged Brady in an NFL passing statistic.  It was also shocking how short-lived this situation was after Brady went out and put himself 5th on the NFL’s all-time single game yardage list with 517 passing yards.

The Patriots threw the ball 48 times and only ran on 22 plays. They made no effort to run out the clock at any point, instead opting to no huddle and pass the Dolphins into submission.  Perhaps this is how the season will go for the Patriots – pass the ball until a defense proves it can stop it.

This approach will certainly get the Patriots to the playoffs, but is a bit worrisome in that it is reminiscent of last year, which ended when a defense figured out the passing game and the Pats could not do anything else.

If 2007 and 2010 taught us anything, it is that winning the big games requires an offense with multiple dimensions.  Bill Belichick knows this by now; perhaps he knew it then and just lacked the requisite tools. As I explained in my article projecting what the Patriots offense could be, he now has those tools.

Let’s take a quick detour to the NFL Network documentary on Belichick.There was an unbelievably candid moment where Belichick tells his staff that if defenses took Welker and Moss away the Pats are done because they cannot run and have no other receiving threats. That 2009 team was one of the worst of Belichick’s tenure in New England and only due in part to the one dimensional nature of the offense.

Another amazing moment in the film:  Belichick turned to Brady on the sideline of the notorious 4th and 2 game in Indianapolis and said, “I just can’t get this team to play they way they need to play.” That 2009 team was painful to watch due to its complete lack of ability to make plays during crunch time. It was nice to have that feeling confirmed by Belichick. So, two years later…

The Patriots appear to be a team that makes the big plays again.  The defense appears to be evolving even if it does not show up in the stats.  The stats are misleading after a game like last Monday’s shoot out with the Dolphins.  The Pats’ defense was on the field for a large portion of the game because the offense was making so many big plays and scoring quickly.

The Patriots hit Henne 11 times and sacked him four.  There is the possibility that Henne deserves credit for his performance rather than placing blame on the Pats’ defense. It is too early to tell, and I do not have access to the coaches’ film. (Memo to NFL: It would be great if we could get that. I’m sure many of us would even pay a few bucks for it.)

The pass rush looked much more lively than the last two seasons and the pocket was getting pushed back constantly.  Thanks in part to Albert Haynesworth, who can seemingly roll out of bed and dominate offensive lineman.

Week one in the NFL is only mildly more telling than the preseason, so we can only project and theorize at this point. So here goes: the Patriots will likely win enough with the passing game all season to make the playoffs and then surprise teams with the run in the playoffs. Belichick definitely built this offense to be able to pass and run.

At some point, the Patriots will unveil their running game.  It is just a matter of when and to what extent. The Pats are good enough to win while saving some tricks for the postseason. Look for Belichick to implement a season-long plan not just individual game plans, and avoid a repeat of last year’s massively disappointing early playoff exit.

For more explicit and entertaining thoughts on NFL Week 2 check out our podcast at bottom.

Interesting week one notes from Pats-Dolphins and other games:

  • Can Matthew Slater emerge as the Patriots deep threat? He made a nice catch on a 46 yard bomb from Brady on the first offensive series and dropped another later in the game. He certainly appears to have the wheels for it.
  • Can Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski be stopped? This could become the most dominant tight end tandem the league has ever seen.  Both players present matchup nightmares for opposing defenses due to an incredible combination of size and speed.
  • The high pop-up kickoff could be a dangerous tool if executed properly.  Forcing the return from the shallow endzone or one yard line may lead to drives starting inside the 20 yard line.  The Patriots were nearly burned on one of these plays, but the return was called back for a hold.
  • Darren Sproles of the Saints is amazingly fast and dangerous as a receiver and running back. I posed this question on Twitter:  Would you rather have Sproles or Danny Woodhead? In addition to Woodhead’s running and receiving ability, he was effective at picking up blitzers in pass protection.
  • The Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers are downright scary with that back shoulder timing pass. Saints cornerbacks were practically in Packers’ receivers jerseys and Rodgers still completed several of those passes.  It will be interesting to see how defenses cover that play going forward.
  • Jordy Nelson caught a bomb from Aaron Rodgers early in the game versus the Saints and was a constant threat.  He seems to be evolving into one of Rodgers’ favorite targets.
  • Packers fullback John Kuhn may have had the catch of the week when he kept Randall Cobb on his feet en route to a 108 yard kickoff

Photo by Keith Allison.