Patriots

NFL Notebook: Offensive onus will be on Tom Brady down the stretch, can he still bear that burden?

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Everyone knows that two things happened down the stretch last season to lift the Patriots from shaky 9-5 contenders into 5-0 Super Bowl champions: the defense started to morph into the unit that we've seen this season, and the threat of a running game opened up the Patriots offense into a hard-to-stop unit.

Josh McDaniels talked about the offensive component in Do Your Job III.

"(Bill Belichick) said, ‘If you keep holding on to what you’d rather be — no-huddle, spread formations, 34 points a game — then you’re probably going to end up regretting a lot of things at the end of the year,’" McDaniels recalled.

That made the offensive coordinator refocus.

"What are we really good at? What’s the most consistent part of our team offensively? And then you commit to it," McDaniels said. "We had been a pretty decent running football team. It was something that we felt like our personnel fit."

Now entering the second half of the season, off their only loss of the season, the Patriots and McDaniels had to be asking themselves the very same questions as they form a plan going forward.

There's no obvious identity for this offense. Overall in DVOA at FootballOutsiders.com, they're 13th. The Patriots have never finished a season that low in the Belichick era and were fifth last season. They've faced the 26th-toughest schedule offensively to this point.

The running game, which was ninth in DVOA last year, has slipped to 19th, and the passing game has gone from fourth to 13th.

So how, exactly, are the Patriots going to carry their load offensively down the stretch? It sure seems like it's going to be all on Tom Brady.

The question is, and it could determine whether or not the Patriots win the Super Bowl again, can Brady still carry the offensive burden by himself?