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Patriots are looking more coordinated on offense

By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / October 7, 2009

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With Tom Brady coming back from knee surgery and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels heading to Denver to become the Broncos’ head coach, there figured to be some questions concerning the Patriots’ offense, or at least a period of adjustment before this year’s unit could establish an identity.

With one-fourth of the regular season complete, it appears the offense has a few similarities to its high-octane siblings from seasons past, but it has evolved into a group that doesn’t care so much about the how, only the how many. Heading into Sunday’s game in Denver against McDaniels and his undefeated Broncos, the results - a 3-1 record and top 10 rankings in many of the league’s offensive categories - speak for themselves.

“There are some things that we’ve done well,’’ said Nick Caserio, Patriots’ director of player personnel who has continued to work with the offense and is up in the coaches’ box during games. “There have been some things we’ve come up a little bit short on.

“I think the most important thing in what we’re trying to do offensively is just establish a consistent level of play on a game-to-game basis and a play-to-play basis. Some of the shortcomings we’ve had at times have been self-inflicted. It’s one play here, it’s one player there. That’s the most important thing we’re trying to correct.

“If we can just eliminate some of those minor mistakes and clean up some of the details, then I think we can go forward, and feel a little bit better about where we’re going.’’

Two years removed from a team that set an NFL record for points in a season, these Patriots are still finding their offensive rhythm, with Brady returning and other key pieces - namely Wes Welker - missing games because of injury. The biggest change, though, might be who is calling the offensive plays. Or, in this case, who’s not calling them.

McDaniels spent three seasons as New England’s offensive coordinator before taking over the Broncos. He and Patriots coach Bill Belichick spent a lot of time last season discussing, among other things, the possibility that the offensive coordinator position would need to be filled.

“We felt like there was a pretty good possibility that he would be a head coach,’’ said Belichick. “Therefore, falling in line with that, there would be an offensive coordinator situation on this team, so we talked about a lot of those things. We talked about the coordinator position and different things that he went through, and saw, and explained problems, situations to me that - from his perspective - was very insightful. We both asked questions, exchanged information, and talked very freely about it.’’

Without the title, quarterbacks coach Bill O’Brien and Caserio have picked up many of the offensive coordinator duties, much the way McDaniels assumed more control when Charlie Weis left for Notre Dame following the 2004 season. Predictably, after a change such as this, it takes time to find a similar comfort level.

“Josh had gotten more comfortable with what he was doing. I’m not saying that Billy O is not comfortable, but at the same time he is still new doing it,’’ said running back Kevin Faulk, who is in his 11th season with the Patriots. “That’s the only difference. At the same time, Billy O is a fiery guy that has a little different attitude than what Josh had.’’

Perhaps as a byproduct of a new coach calling the offensive plays, or Brady needing some time to reach midseason form, the offense, despite featuring many of the same parts, has gone about its business in a slower, shorter manner. Through four games, the Patriots’ longest play from scrimmage is 36 yards (a Brady-to-Chris Baker touchdown pass).

Big plays and quick strikes might not be as prevalent, but time has definitely been on the Patriots’ side. The team has enjoyed the advantage in time of possession all four games, decidedly so in the victories over Buffalo, Atlanta, and Baltimore. New England ranks third, behind the Giants and Dolphins, in average time of possession.

And while the weekly game plan might not specifically include holding the ball longer than the opponent, the ability to do so typically increases a team’s chance at victory. So far this season, teams owning the time-of-possession edge have won 44 of 62 games.

“I don’t think we focus on it a whole lot. I don’t know how important it is,’’ Belichick said. “I think the more important statistic is points. If you possess the ball and don’t score - like what happened in the first half of the Jets game - I don’t know how much good it really does you.

“It’s all about getting points, whether it takes two or three plays, or 18 plays. I don’t know if there’s a great preference for one or the other as long as you get them.

“Our job offensively when we go out on the field is to go out and score points. If it happens in one play, that’s great. If it happens on a drive, that’s good, too.’’

Michael Whitmer can be reached at mwhitmer@globe.com.

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