Impact Analysis: New England Patriots offense

by Cory J. Bonini on September 26, 2008 @ 15:57:09 PDT

 


The New England Patriots' 2008 campaign looked doomed from the get-go with the season-ending injury to quarterback Tom Brady (knee). However, after two wins and the Miami Dolphins on the docket for Week 3, life was heading in the most normal post-Brady direction possible for the Pats.

Said feeling quickly turned toward panic, at least in the eyes of the New England fan base, after a surprising loss to the Miami Dolphins. It wasn't just a loss - it was a beatdown!

New England's offense was sluggish, and the defense certainly didn't uphold their end of the bargain.

With the Patriots headed into a Week 4 bye, the team has a chance to regroup before they travel about as far as possible to play the San Francisco 49ers Oct. 5. If the Patriots lose against the Niners it's fair to sound the alarm, but the Dolphins always seem to play the Pats tough.

Taking a look at what might be in store for the New England offense, we'll start at the most natural point of interest: the quarterback position.

Matt Cassel vs. Kevin O'Connell

Yep, we're at that junction. After a lackluster pair of starts, Cassel could be benched for Week 5. This would give the Patriots the bye week to prep O'Connell for what figures to be a less than brutal opponent. More importantly, it would allow the rookie quarterback to shake some of the first-start jitters that many passers encounter. Allowing him to overcome this can only help his cause on the road against the San Diego Chargers in Week 6.

O'Connell actually replaced Cassel for two series in Week 3, completing three of his four attempts for 25 yards. The San Diego State product stands 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, and he received a fair amount of work in the preseason.

While it wouldn't surprise us for a moment if Cassel were to be benched, it remains anyone's guess as to who the starter will be. We figure that head coach Bill Belichick will keep this one close to the vest - as if we haven't witnessed such before - and not announce his starter until, perhaps, kickoff.

Cassel has more experience within the system than O'Connell does, of course, but the team seems quite high on the rook. Cassel hasn't shown a lot in his limited time as the starter, but, in fairness, it appears as though the offensive game plan has been neutered since Brady went down.

Cassel has thrown a lot of short passes. In Week 3, he averaged 4.2 yards per attempt, which makes Marty Schottenheimer look like Mike Martz. Cassel has been told, in all likelihood, to not make mistakes and take what the defense gives him. He has done a fair job at both, turning over the ball only twice (one fumble) while not passing for more than 165 yards through three appearances.

For comparison's sake, Brady's season-long average yards per attempt never dipped below 6.3 in any year as a starter, and last year's number was a robust 8.3 yards per attempt. His career mark is a full yard longer than Cassel's is this season. While that doesn't seem like a great deal, it shows the confidence the team has in Brady when it comes to opening up the offense. Another comparison: Brady's 2001 season, his first year starting after quarterback Drew Bledsoe went down with an injury, ended with an average yardage per attempt of 6.9. Cassel's season figure in the same category is a very similar 6.2.

Table: Matt Cassel - preseason statistics (2008)

WK
Opp
Result
Comp
Att
Pct%
Yds
Avg
TD
Int
Sck
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
FUM
Lost
1
BAL
L 15-16
1
4
25.0
11
2.8
0
1
1
0
0
0
0
1
0
2
@TB
L 10-27
6
10
60.0
57
5.7
0
0
0
3
8
2.7
0
0
0
3
PHI
L 17-27
8
14
57.1
60
4.3
0
0
3
1
22
22
0
0
0
4
@NYG
L 14-19
4
6
66.7
37
6.2
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
Total
--
--
19
34
55.9
165
4.9
0
1
4
4
30
7.5
0
1
0

Table: Kevin O'Connell - preseason statistics (2008)

WK
Opp
Result
Comp
Att
Pct%
Yds
Avg
TD
Int
Sck
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
FUM
Lost
1
BAL
L 15-16
6
13
46.2
57
4.4
0
1
2
2
22
11
0
0
0
2
@TB
L 10-27
6
15
40
61
4.1
0
1
0
3
9
3
0
0
0
3
PHI
L 17-27
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
4
@NYG
L 14-19
3
4
75
22
5.5
1
0
0
2
15
7.5
1
0
0
Total
--
--
15
32
46.9
140
4.9
1
2
2
7
46
6.6
1
0
0

Evaluating the two preseason campaigns, the numbers are awfully similar. Cassel didn't lead the team to a touchdown on any drive, but he was more protective of the football than O'Connell. The rookie threw one touchdown, and Cassel was sacked more. Their yards-per-attempt average was virtually identical, and the only really telling sign of Cassel's experience in the system comes down to a difference in completion percentage. Cassel was 9 percent more accurate than the rook, and that makes perfectly good sense.

Even though the bye week is upon the Patriots, a time that seemingly would be best for making a switch if one were to do such, making the move to O'Connell could be dangerous. Rookie quarterbacks rarely succeed in the NFL. Granted, there is an exception or two for every rule, but we have little reason to believe O'Connell will fare any better than Cassel has.

Regardless of which quarterback Belichick and Co. choose to lead the team the rest of the way, the offense will likely remain conservative and, perhaps, predictable.

2008 quarterback ranks

  • Attempts/game: 29.0 (T-21st)
  • Competitions/game: 18.0 (19th)
  • Completion percentage: 66.7 (T-8th)
  • Passing yards/game: 183.0 (21st)
  • Passing touchdowns/game: 0.67 (T-20th)
  • Passing interceptions thrown/game: 0.67 (T-15th)
  • Sacks allowed/game: 3.0 (T-7th most)

For what it's worth, Brady averaged the same 29 attempts per game through the first three weeks of the 2007 season. He ranked tied for the 18th most in the league during that time. As far as yardage goes, conversely, Brady was third in the NFL with 295.7 yards per game during that same span. Did we forget to mention that he led the league in average touchdown passes per game at that point, as well? That goes without saying, though, considering how prolific his season was.

Running backs

Look for the team to run, run and run some more. Tailbacks Laurence Maroney (shoulder), Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk and LaMont Jordan are all capable of succeeding in their own right. Maroney has been a huge disappointment for fantasy owners in his short career, and Morris has rejuvenated his career to become a somewhat respectable fantasy play each week.

Table: Laurence Maroney - preseason statistics (2008)

WK
Opponent
Result
G
GS
Att
Yds
Avg
Lng
TD
Rec
Yds
Avg
Lng
TD
FUM
Lost
1
L 15-16
1
1
6
6
1.0
6
0
1
11
11.0
11
0
0
0
2
L 10-27
1
1
7
15
2.1
10
0
0
0
--
--
0
0
0
3
L 17-27
1
1
5
18
3.6
9
0
0
0
0.0
0
0
0
0
4
L 14-19
1
1
4
5
1.3
4
0
0
0
0.0
0
0
0
0
Total
--
--
4
4
22
44
2.0
10
0
1
11
11.0
11
0
0
0

Table: Laurence Maroney - regular season statistics (2008)

WK
Opponent
Result
G
GS
Att
Yds
Avg
Lng
TD
Rec
Yds
Avg
Lng
TD
FUM
Lost
1
W 17-10
1
1
10
51
5.1
17
0
0
0
0.0
0
0
0
0
2
W 19-10
1
1
8
16
2.0
6
0
0
0
0.0
0
0
0
0
3
L 13-38
0
0
0
0
0.0
0
0
0
0
0.0
0
0
0
0
Total
--
--
2
2
18
67
3.7
17
0
0
0
--
--
0
0
0

As you can tell, Maroney's regular season hasn't been all that impressive. He didn't play in the 38-13 shellacking at the hands of the Dolphins in Week 3 after suffering a shoulder injury in Week 2. Maroney, upon returning, figures to share time in the backfield, primarily with Morris.

Table: Sammy Morris - preseason statistics (2008)

WK
Opponent
Result
G
GS
Att
Yds
Avg
Lng
TD
Rec
Yds
Avg
Lng
TD
FUM
Lost
1
L 15-16
0
0
0
0
0.0
0
0
0
0
0.0
0
0
0
0
2
L 10-27
1
0
5
10
2.0
5
0
0
0
0.0
0
0
0
0
3
L 17-27
1
0
5
24
4.8
11
0
0
0
0.0
0
0
0
0
4
L 14-19
1
0
2
5
2.5
4
0
0
0
0.0
0
0
0
0
Total
--
--
3
0
12
39
3.3
17
0
0
0
--
--
0
0
0

Table: Sammy Morris - regular season statistics (2008)

WK
Opponent
Result
G
GS
Att
Yds
Avg
Lng
TD
Rec
Yds
Avg
Lng
TD
FUM
Lost
1
W 17-10
1
0
10
53
5.3
22
1
5
34
6.8
11
0
0
0
2
W 19-10
1
0
8
0
0.0
3
1
2
7
3.5
4
0
0
0
3
L 13-38
1
1
9
27
3.0
17
0
1
0
0.0
0
0
0
0
Total
--
--
3
1
27
80
3.0
17
2
8
41
5.1
--
0
0
0

Morris hasn't impressed like he did in six games last year. Being the primary ball carrier through the first three weeks, due in part to Maroney's injury and subsequent vacation in Week 3, Morris has scored twice to lead all New England rushers. He has not, however, led the team in rushing yards, trailing Jordan, who has 19 carries for 90 yards (4.7 yards per carry).

The four-headed attack is tough for fantasy owners to count on, because any given week could mean a different leading rusher. The only real constant in this situation seems to be Faulk's ability to catch out of the backfield. The 10-year veteran can be lethal against opponents through the air. He has averaged 2.7 receptions per game during his career (129 contests). While that doesn't seem like much, more recently he has been involved to a considerable degree. From 2006 to 2007, Faulk averaged 45 receptions, 369.5 receiving yards and 1.5 touchdowns through the air.

Of course, New England's backfield mess wouldn't be the same without a fullback touching the rock. Heath Evans has three carries for six yards and has not caught a pass. Last season, he ran 34 times for 121 yards (3.6 per carry) and three touchdowns. Evans added four catches for 43 yards (10.8 per reception) and no scores.

Who has been utilized the most?

Table: Patriots running backs - total utilizations (2008)

Player 
Plays 
Play% 
RZ Plays 
RZ % 
Inside the 5
36
20.0
9
27.1
2
19
10.6
4
12.1
0
18
10.0
1
3.0
1
10
5.6
2
6.0
1
3
1.7
0
0.0
0
Total
86
--
16
--
4

On a per-game average, the numbers look a little different.

Table: Patriots running backs - per-game utilizations (2008)

Player 
Plays 
Play% 
RZ Plays 
RZ % 
Inside the 5
12.00
20.0
3.00
27.1
0.67
6.33
10.6
1.33
12.1
0.00
9.00
10.0
0.50
3.0
0.50
5.00
5.6
1.00
6.0
0.50
1.00
1.7
0.00
0.0
0.00

Maroney, as previously mentioned, missed their Week 3 tilt with the Dolphins, and Faulk was suspended for Week 1 against the Kansas City Chiefs for possession of marijuana in the offseason. Clearly, Morris is the most utilized back anywhere on the field, and we expect this to continue.

The Patriots rank in a three-way tie for the 19th most attempts of any team at 23.7 carries per game. Oddly enough, through the first three weeks of the 2007 season, New England ranked No. 1 in the league with 33.0 rushing attempts per game. Common sense suggests the team should be running the ball more than they are in 2008.

2008 backfield ranks

  • Rushing attempts/game: 23.7 (T-19th)
  • Rushing yards/game: 88.3 (24th)
  • Rushing average yards/carry: 3.7 (T-24th)
  • Rushing touchdowns/game: 0.67 (T-17th)
  • Receptions/game: 4.7 (T-14th)
  • Receiving yards/game: 32.3 (17th)
  • Receiving touchdowns/game: 0 (T-12th)
  • Total yards: 120.7 (21st)

Wide receivers

Wide receiver Randy Moss is struggling without Brady at the helm, and fantasy owners are really hurting as a result. He is tied for 29th in the league with four receptions per game. He has also averaged 54.3 receiving yards and hasn't scored since Week 1 when Cassel found him in the back of the end zone.

Wideout Wes Welker, on the other hand, has flourished since a dismal Week 1 showing. He is averaging 6.33 receptions per game, which is tied for the second most in the league. He has averaged 59.3 yards per game but hasn't scored through the air, or on the ground, for that matter.

Table: New England wide receiver average utilization and statistics (2008)

Player Name
G
Plays
RZ Plays
IN5
Rec
Rec Yds
Rec Avg
Rec TD
Run Att
Run Yds
Run TD
Fum Lost
3
9.67
1.33
0.33
6.33
59.3
9.4
0.00
0.33
6.3
0.00
0.33
3
6.67
1.00
0.33
4.00
54.3
13.6
0.33
0.00
0.0
0.00
0.33
3
3.67
0.67
0.33
2.00
17.0
8.5
0.33
0.00
0.0
0.00
0.00
2
1.00
0.00
0.00
0.50
1.5
3.0
0.00
0.00
0.0
0.00
0.00
1
1.00
0.00
0.00
1.00
9.0
9.0
0.00
0.00
0.0
0.00
0.00

Cassel certainly needs to look Moss' way more often, and the team needs to have the confidence in him to open up the offense. If he doesn't, the Patriots could struggle moving the ball all year long. If they don't have confidence in his ability, it is probably time to make the move to O'Connell. While we don't believe it will matter a whole lot either way in terms of which quarterback starts, Moss needs the football.

2008 wide receiver ranks

  • Receptions/game: 13.0 (eighth)
  • Receiving yardage/game: 134.7 (16th)
  • Yards per reception: 10.4 (28th)
  • Receiving touchdowns/game: 0.67 (T-13th)

Table: Patriots wide receivers - total utilizations (2008)

Player 
Plays 
Play% 
RZ Plays 
RZ % 
Inside the 5
29
16.1
4
12.1
1
20
11.1
3
9.0
1
11
6.1
2
6.0
1
2
1.1
0
0.0
0
1
0.6
0
0.0
0
Total
63
--
9
--
3

Table: Patriots wide receivers - per-game utilizations (2008)

Player 
Plays 
Play% 
RZ Plays 
RZ % 
Inside the 5
9.67
16.1
1.33
12.1
0.33
6.67
11.1
1.00
9.0
0.33
3.67
6.1
0.67
6.0
0.33
1.00
1.1
0.00
0.0
0.00
1.00
0.6
0.00
0.0
0.00

Moss receiving three fewer targets per game than Welker isn't going to cut it. The Pats need to find a way to get him the ball downfield, but you don't need us to tell you that.

Tight ends

Typically, once a rookie or inexperienced passer takes the reins of an offense the tight end position's production increases - sometimes dramatically. That trend couldn't be any further from what has happened with New England, because their totals at the position are downright putrid.

  • Receptions/game: 1.7 (29th)
  • Receiving yardage/game: 16.0 (31st)
  • Yards per reception: 9.6 (T-23rd)
  • Receiving touchdowns/game: 0 (T-17th)

Tight end Benjamin Watson (knee) is no longer on the injury report and appears ready for Week 3. Oh wait, that was last week and Watson was nowhere to be found. He ended the game with one reception for six yards after being targeted twice, one coming in the red zone.

Through three games, tight end David Thomas has averaged three targets (one in the red zone) per outing and has caught a whopping four passes for 42 yards (no scores). Excited yet?

Fantasy football outlook

If your head hurts from all of those numbers, it should. There is a lot of statistical information to digest, and the biggest problem here is that three games worth of figures simply isn't enough data to make for a sound judgment. Two weeks ago we told you that our sources close to the Patriots indicated that the team would move away from the deep pass to Moss and heavily emphasize the underneath routes. Not to toot our own horn, but it has come to fruition so far. What is next becomes anyone's guess, though. We think the chance of moving to O'Connell at quarterback is relatively slim, but you can't discount anything when Belichick is calling the shots.

From what we have to work with, here is how we see it breaking down for fantasy owners after the bye week.

Table: Patriots' schedule - Week 5 to Week 9

Week
Date
Game
Time
5
Oct. 5
4:15
6
Oct. 12
8:15
7
Oct. 20
8:30
8
Oct. 26
1:00
9
Nov. 2
8:15

* All times Eastern

The Patriots have a fairly light to super easy schedule coming up, and the next five games will be a great litmus test for what this team is made of. They are in trouble if they can't throw against the Chargers, Broncos and Rams. The Colts have some time yet to fix their porous run defense, but the Patriots shouldn't have much difficulty moving the ball on the ground if they want to.

  • Cassel: View him as a third fantasy quarterback option until he shows more (read as until the team lets him throw the ball downfield).
  • O'Connell: He wouldn't have any better value than Cassel, and he probably shouldn't be acquired in most formats.
  • Maroney: Due to his sharing of carries, Maroney is no better than a No. 3 or flex option most weeks.
  • Morris: Morris is likely to be the leading rusher when all is said and done this year, but due to the split and the team's suspect offensive line, he is at best a weak No. 2 or strong No. 3 most weeks.
  • Jordan: A capable receiver without a catch this year, Jordan's touches have been erratic (two, 11, six) through three games. He is generally best left on your bench but could be a reasonable waiver wire addition for depth. If you are a Maroney owner without the handcuff to Morris on your roster, Jordan is a worthwhile addition.
  • Faulk: A reasonable addition in point-per-reception leagues, Faulk doesn't hold much value otherwise. If you are desperate for a few easy points during a bye week, give Faulk a look.
  • Moss: Despite the fact that you might want to bench Moss after his slow start, resist the temptation. If he can't put up points in the three or four weeks after the bye week, then it is time to sell low. Exercise patience, grasshopper.
  • Welker: A point-per-reception monster, Welker has been the most consistent receiver for the Patriots as well as the best point producer out of the receiving corps so far in PPR leagues. Welker makes for a No. 3 in all formats, but he is as good as a No. 2 in the aforementioned point-awarding reception leagues.
  • Gaffney: Gaffney, aside from Moss, is the only receiver to score a touchdown out of this group. Nonetheless, his fantasy value is that of a reserve with the chance of the occasional spot play if the matchup warrants such. Chances are you won't be comfortable starting him in any format.
  • Washington: Washington shouldn't be owned in any format.
  • Aiken: Much like Washington, Aiken (knee) has no fantasy value.
  • Watson: If you like a maddeningly frustrating, underachieving tight end on your team, Watson is the guy for you! Stay away from him until he shows some semblance of playability for fantasy purposes.
  • Thomas: Thomas, who our sources say has a better chance to produce than Watson, should the offense ever take off, is a player to leave on your waiver wire until further notice.

As you can see, short of a few players, the offense is sputtering too much to make fantasy stars out of any player right now. Be patient, don't get too discouraged and keep your eyes peeled for what happens at the quarterback position in the coming weeks. The offensive lifeblood goes through this position, much like with most every team, but especially so when it comes to sustaining a fantasy-relevant aerial attack.

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About Cory J. Bonini

Cory is KFFL's General Manager. In late 2002, he joined the KFFL staff as a research analyst and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1996. A member of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, as well as Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Bonini has been featured in print, on radio and on scores of websites. Bonini co-hosted Big Lead Sports on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio from 2011 to 2012.

Bonini was recognized with the 2010 Best Article in Print Award from the FSWA and was a finalist for the same award in 2011. In '11, he finished first overall in the FSWA NFL experts challenge that featured 60 of the industry's best competitors.

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