Champ, you and I have always been in agreement about the one-dimensionality of last year's offense. I said repeatedly last year that it was a problem that the offense was so dependent on just three weapons (Gronk, Hern, and Welker) or maybe four if you wanted to include Branch. Where we have tended to disagree is in whether the play calling was at fault for that or whether it was the quality of the talent beyond those three or four. My hypothesis is that the play-calling (or really game planning) was good, because it allowed the Pats to get the most from their strengths (those three or four receivers), though it still left them vulnerable if a defense could shut down the short passing game. You and Wozzy argued that the play calling (or again really the game planning) was weak, because they should have incorporated more (and more varied) running plays. It's hard to prove either of those points, because we didn't get to see too many games with that exact combination of players that were called the way you and Wozzy wanted them to be called. So we end up having to speculate or attempt to draw conclusions from the play of teams that are constructed a bit differently.
My feeling about Benny is that he's a serviceable back who will get the yards that are there, but who isn't explosive enough to create many yards on his own. He's weak running to the outside because he lacks elite speed and best when he has a decent hole up the middle to exploit. He's got just average power and shiftiness and maybe below-average straight-line speed. He is obviously good with ball security. He's also not a great contributor in the passing game. While he can catch the ball, he's not great at getting open, and he's just an average blitz pick-up guy.
I disagree that Benny was just average. Probably the reason another NFL team signed him and paid him starter money, and gave him starter carries, and he has produced with top 10 starter performance.
Now I do think Ridley is better as he has more burst, but at this point I would say Benny has more patience and is a stronger goal line and short yardage back Then again, he also has 7 plays of 20 yards or more compared to 6 for Ridley. he also has a longer season high at 48. Point being, Benny and his 4.5 ypc in the Ravens and Pats playoff game was good enough to use...but Obrien didn't use it....again.
The reason I tend to think that the game-planning approach that you and Wozzy (and to some degree Rusty) were advocating last year wouldn't work is because:
1. Benny just was too prone to unproductive runs of 2 yards or less. Those runs can be drive killers. If nothing else, they kind of force you back to the passing game. Second and eight, third and five--all of those require passes because even with a good running game you can't rely on the run regularly when you really need five or more yards.
We have similar diffuculty running out of run formations(2 TE power sets) this year, but we are committed to keep trying. This is the biggest dofference this year. Commitment. or did you not realize that as a team we average .2 ypc more then we did last year. Ridley is matching Benny's 2010 season at 4.5 ypc but the 2 change of pace guys are averaging 3.7 ypc, yet we still are 2nd in the LG in rushing att's. How do you explain that Pro?
2. The lack of deep threats created a challenge because it allowed defenses to keep their LBs and safeties close to the LOS. This defefensive strategy wasn't just effective against the short pass, it also put defenders in good position to stop runs. With a back who isn't that explosive and needs some space, running into a crowd of defenders isn't terribly effective. It's one reason the Pats ran so much from spread formations. With their backs, getting space between the defenders was critical. They couldn't stretch the field vertically, so they fell back on horizontal spread formations and ran lots of draws and similar runs that exploit spaces in the defense.
Where is our deep threat this year that has enabled us to be more efficient on offense? Lloyd is 76th in the LG at yard per catch. I hardly think that is scaring any safety into playing over the top of him. Actually I think last week was the 1st time we threw this guy the ball deep since week 1, and it was only do to establishing the run early and using brilliant PA passing to get Lloyd wide open.
3. We didn't have enough blockers (TEs or FBs) to really execute a power running strategy. This was another talent issue. Gronk of course is a good dual blocker-receiver and Hern is reasonably good as well. The problem with Hern, though, is we also relied on him to be our outside receiver, so if we brought him in tight, we had a hole to fill on the outside opposite Branch. Welker can be used outside, but that's not his best spot. Ocho (who was clearly intended to fill that role) was a disappointment, Edleman is also not a great outside receiver, Underwood was just a body, and Slater just isn't really much of a receiver (as much as I love him on special teams). The Pats experimented with Dan Gronkowski and Lousaka Polite, but they never really picked up a third blocker and they never had any good outside receiver.
I agree with that, and blame the pass 1st pass heavy offensive philosophy under Bill Obrien. Why the heck would we not have a 3rd TE on the roster? BB and McD have fixed that by using 5-6 TEs and FB's on this roster. Mixing up the offensive sets, not just 4 and 5 wide all day. They collected the talent that would help with a run commitment. you can not argue with that.
4. None of the backs was terribly effective as a dual threat. Woodhead was the best receiver out of the backfield and a decent pass blocker, but he isn't a great runner (in the way Faulk was and Vereen seems to be). Benny can run okay, but he isn't a great passing back. This led to some of the predictability because we really didn't have a guy who was as versatile as we needed. A lot of people wonder why Woodhead plays so much. The reason is because this is always going to be a passing team with Brady as QB, and Woodhead was the best passing back. Benny just wasn't nearly as good. (Neither is Ridley, by the way, which is why Ridley gets replaced by Woodhead and increasingly by Vereen this year, much to Rusty's and Wozzy's dismay.)
Well I wish we would throw a few balls to our lead back. Still my biggest gripe with this offense is that we do not check down to the RB EVER. teams still know when Ridley is in it will be a run, or we will flex him out wide and never throw to him(decoy) andthis is the reason that Ridley has averaged 3.9 ypc since the bye week imo.
My feeling has always been that O'Brien and Belichick did a very good job of figuring out a way to create a highly effective offense from the odd collection of talent the Pats had last year. The hurry-up approach was, in my opinion, brilliant--and Josh has preserved that this year and built on it by mixing in a far more effective running game. But the "Josh is a genius, O'Brien is stupid" line that some posters hold really isn't fair in my mind to O'Brien, who did a very good job developing that hurry-up offense last year. Yeah, it was somewhat unbalanced and one-dimensional. But this year, with better talent (Lloyd, a more experienced Ridley, Vereen, and a surprisingly effective hybrid FB/TE in Hoomanawanui) Josh has been able to really build on the hurry-up foundation O'Brien laid by integrating a much more effective running game. Over the past few games, he also seems to be trying to incorporate more of the deep passing game. This may be in response to some declining productivity in the running game. It's too bad Stallworth was injured, because he seemed to add yet another wrinkle to the offense. We'll see what happens with Lloyd and Slater and Branch . . . I expect Josh would like a little more productivity from the deeper passing game, which will keep defenses from over-focusing on the shorter passes and run. Should be interesting to watch over the coming weeks . . .
You could argue that we were more talented last year as Gronk and hern have seldom been on the field together. 100 million dollar TE's have missed most fo the season, and Lloyd has really been an after though until recently. We ahad Ridley, and vareen, and Woody, with a 11 td BJGE as our RB platoon but didn't have the coach that was willing to utilize them in the game plan....which lead to another offensive collpase in the SuperBowl.
A commitment to an unpredictable offense is the reason we are probably about to set the NFL record for least amount of turnovers in a season, and a top 5 pass and run offense. We acquired the talent to focus on a run game in the off season and re-hired a coordinator who is disciplined enough to mix up play calling, and not just fall back on the Tom Brady to do it all for us!