Head Coach Bill Belichick set out to “re-do” the receiver corps but I’m quite sure he didn’t have this in mind. The Patriots seemed happy enough to let all three primary WR’s on the team from Week 1 2012 walk after seeing them all to their best Larry Centers impersonations. What was impossible to foresee was that they would have to get by without Super-TE Rob Gronkowski for up to half the season, AND they would also have to jettison his fellow Super-TE, Aaron Hernandez. Where does this leave the offense?
Let’s start with the receiver position. I will cushion the blow of the following analysis by thanking Wes Welker for being a tough guy who always showed up to play on Sundays. No human being caught more passes in the NFL during Welker’s time in Foxboro. Impressive. However, about 60 NFL wideouts did more on a per catch basis last year than Wes. He simply didn’t scare any defense, anywhere in the NFL. And Brandon Lloyd was scarcely better per catch. New England employed the worst starting pair of receivers in the league in touchdowns, explosive plays, and yards per catch. And this even though Wes was about the best there was in YAC last season. Slot man Julian Edelman was also allowed all the time he needed to explore other endeavors before he finally took what NE was offering.
At the risk of heresy charges, Danny Amendola is better than Wes Welker right now. Amendola is younger, taller, and faster. And he’s just as competitive and tough coming out of the slot. The Patriots want to transition in terms of what they ask receivers to do and I’m not sure Wes fit with that. If Amendola’s healthy, that transition will be seamless. Aaron Dobson, once he learns the offense, will be better than Lloyd. Same with Boyce vs. Edelman. Bottom line: If Bill had wanted Wes, Wes would be on the team. If Bill wanted Lloyd, Lloyd would be on the team. If Bill wanted to guarantee Julian would sign, he wouldn’t have let him go shopping his wares. Bill likes the new options better. I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt that he knows stuff that we don’t.
The problem for New England is at TE. A healthy Jake Ballard can do most of what Gronk has been asked to do, so Ballard can be a band-aid for a few weeks. The loss of Aaron leaves a monster hole in the playbook and takes a matchup nightmare off the field. The Patriot offense simply can’t function the way it did before. There are a couple of plausible options to solve this problem.
1. Keep the base 12 (1RB, 2TE) offense in place by giving Ballard or Daniel Fells or Michael Hoomanawanui Gronk’s old job permanently and give Aaron’s old job to Gronk. This allows you to field a B-version of the old offense.
2. Replace the base 12 offense with base 11. The Broncos are going 3 WR, right?
3. Replace the base 12 offense with base 21. No, I’m not suggesting returning to the ‘3 yards and a cloud of dust’ FB/HB pairing. I’m suggesting an innovated 2-back offense featuring Ridley lined up deep and Vereen roving like Aaron used to. Vereen can line up in I, off-set I, flexed away from the line, in the slot, even at X. I think this is the best option of the 3.
In the end, I believe Bill and Josh McDaniels will innovate the offense with a significant dose of 21 personnel with Ridley and Vereen sharing the backfield with some 12 and 11 stuff mixed in. In other words, Aaron’s mistakes blew up a great offense, but that doesn’t mean the team can’t find new ways to put up big numbers.