No matter what else might be occupying your time this fall, be sure to plant yourself firmly in front of a television on Sunday afternoons, popcorn at the ready. The Patriots' offense is putting on a show.
Nine-hundred-and-forty yards. That’s what Tom Brady has produced through the air in the first two weeks, shattering the NFL record of 854 set by Cam Newton only a few hours earlier. He’s been just as efficient as he has been prolific, ranking second in the league in completion percentage (71.6 percent) while leading the NFL in passing attempts. Not to mention that he’s accomplished these feats against solid defenses; the Chargers and Dolphins both ranked in the top half of the NFL in scoring defense and yards allowed in 2010.
He’s done it with a couple of old stalwarts at wide receiver. Wes Welker and Deion Branch have each totaled over 200 yards receiving, benefiting from a quasi-telepathic connection with their quarterback.
He’s done it with the liberal use of a pair of rhinoceros at tight end. Through two weeks, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski have accounted for 337 yards and five touchdowns, including all three of Brady’s passing TDs against
Miami San Diego. Brady has targeted the two on 31 of his 88 passing attempts; only Tony Romo of the Cowboys has thrown to his tight ends at a greater rate (26 out of 69 attempts). With Hernandez expected to miss 1-2 weeks with an MCL strain, Gronkowski could become an even bigger threat.
Brady has done it behind a quick-striking no-huddle attack that’s left defenses gassed, unable to substitute the appropriate personnel. The Patriots have used the no-huddle at least once on 55 percent of their drives (12 out of 22), producing six touchdowns and three field goals.
He’s done it against every type of look defenses can throw at him. According to data compiled by ESPN Stats and Information, the Dolphins blitzed Brady on 42 percent of the plays following the injury to Dan Koppen in Week 1; against those blitzes, Brady completed 71.4 percent of his passes and threw three touchdowns. Sunday, the Chargers took the opposite approach. On twelve of the Patriots’ pass plays, they rushed only three linemen, leaving eight men in coverage. Brady responded by completing 10 of 11 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown.
Though there’s almost no chance Brady will sustain his current 470 yards/game pace, there’s also no reason to believe his workload will lighten any time soon. “Establishing the run” is probably not a phrase found anywhere in the Patriots’ game plans; the offense will continue to do the heavy lifting through the air.
And as long as the Patriots’ defense continues to make opposing quarterbacks look like…well, Tom Brady, you can bet we’ll be seeing plenty of shootouts. Sure, they made the plays when it mattered Sunday -- Vince Wilfork’s interception and the goal-line stand come to mind -- but a defense can’t consistently depend on timely turnovers to bail them out, especially when they allow opposing offenses to move the ball up and down the field at will.
So plan accordingly, folks. The next screening of the Tom Brady Show will be held in Buffalo, Sunday at 1 p.m. The Bills’ D allowed 35 points last week to the great Jason Campbell and the Oakland Raiders. Sounds like a blockbuster to me.
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Stats Driven features a closer look at statistical analysis, sports strategy and trends within Boston sports. Andrew Mooney, a student at Harvard College and an active member of the Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective, is the primary contributor. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @mooneyar.