One of the biggest questions heading into this Patriots season — and I get it all the time in BSJ member chats — is what will the offense look like after Tom Brady?
The easy and most accurate answer is, "Whatever it needs to in order to win that game against that opponent that week." Really, that's what it will come down to. And it's not all that different than when Brady was here, especially the version of TB12 very early in his career.
But, obviously, Brady is different than just about any other quarterback both in his physical strengths (and weaknesses) and the mental part of his game. The Patriots, through offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, tailor every gameplan to the quarterback and to the opponent. So what worked for Brady against, say, Buffalo last year will not be the same as Jarrett Stidham or even Brian Hoyer.
In recent years, two other quarterbacks have started games for the Patriots: Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett, both in the 2016 season. You can't compare Garoppolo to Stidham because Garoppolo was in his third season by that time and, in the words of one source, "We could run everything with Jimmy. There wasn't anything he couldn't do in terms of operating our offense." That will not be the case with Stidham.
Brissett is a much closer comparison to Stidham. Certainly it's not completely apples to apples. Brissett was in his third NFL game. Stidham will be in his 18th come the regular-season opener. They're also not the exact same style of QB, but it's fair to say Stidham is much closer to Brissett in style than Brady with their mobility and ability to extend plays with their legs. Also, Stidham will have the added benefit of an entire offseason (yes, meetings only, but still...) and training camp building up to the season opener. Brissett was sort of a last-minute starter as Garoppolo was limited with a shoulder injury the entire week of practice.
So it won't, obviously, be a direct comparison, but there are certainly some things that can be learned about how things will change for the Patriots offensively when studying Brissett's first career start, a 27-0 home win over the Texans on Sept. 16, 2016 on Thursday night football.
Some needed background on the game:
- Both teams entered this contest 2-0. It was a big matchup and a chance for Houston to show it was a contender against a third-string cornerback. Should have been a cakewalk for them. No way the Patriots lose a game like that.
- Rob Gronkowski barely played after dealing with a hamstring injury all week.
- The Texans were dealing with some injuries on the defensive side of the ball (no Brian Cushing), but this defense was no slouch with J.J. Watt (limited with back injury all week), Vince Wilfork and Jadeveon Clowney.
- The Texans' defense was legit. They entered the game third in yards and points allowed.
- Houston gave the Patriots' offense a lot of help. The Texans turned the ball over three times and two of them led directly to touchdowns.
The starting lineups:
Stats entering the game:
For those of you who are fretting about the Patriots' offense without Brady, for those of you who feel the Patriots are a five-win team now simply due to the change in quarterback, I suggest you (beyond remembering the 2008 season) take advantage of the free access to NFL GamePass and go watch this game (maybe not the next week against Buffalo lol). This was a masterclass in a total team victory, and the formula for this new Patriots team: tough defense with turnovers, good special teams, and a ball-control and efficient offense (only three plays went for minus yardage, and there were four incomplete passes — and three of them were poor throws/decisions by Brissett).
If you don't think this Patriots team can compete every single week after watching this game, then I don't know what to tell you.
My notes, video analysis and observations from the game:
While the mechanics of the Patriots offense stayed true to itself, McDaniels decided to dress things up a lot differently as far as personnel.
Here's a chart that features the percentages (with a comparison to the 2018 Patriots' season totals) in this game through the time it was 17-0 and all but over:
- The use of multiple tight ends skyrocketed in this game, and it was mostly with Cam Fleming on the field as the second and sometimes third tight end instead of Gronkowski, who played just 23 percent. Martellus Bennett played 98 percent, and Fleming played one more snap than Gronk (24 percent). I wouldn't rule out the Patriots keeping at least four tight ends this year.
- Curiously, James Develin played just 37 percent. You would have thought the Patriots would have gone very conservative with two backs and one tight end more, but 21 personnel dropped from 28 percent to under 9 percent.
- You could see the seeds of a more athletic fullback (Dan Vitale, Dalton Keene) formulated from watching this game. If the Patriots just had another capable receiving option out of heavier formations, they could do even more damage offensively with this type of approach. Expect that to be a big part of this year's offense.
- The passing attack was sort of paint by numbers, starting with some very conservative opening patterns, to eventually allowing just one shotgun empty formation.
- Down near the goal line, the Patriots got very conservative with the run, and they attempted three back-shoulder fades to the tight ends, likely to cut down the risk of a turnover.
- Despite having the ball at their own 35 with a minute left in the first half and all three timeouts, Belichick elected to kneel and sit on a 10-0 lead with the ball to start the second half.
- Patriots used the pistol — pistol! — three times. They basically split shotgun and under center 50/50.
- What a great call by McDaniels for the naked bootleg after a turnover for a touchdown. Caught the Texans in man ... didn't have the numbers to stop it.
- Liked the limited read option snaps a lot. For those that don't think Cam Newton could run this offense ... this is his type of offense.
- The Texans (and Brock Osweiler) stink.
- Love how the Patriots just love to double team Watt in the run game and then pull a guard. They do this every time and the Texans can't stop it.
- LeGarrette Blount touched the ball 18 times in these 46 plays. Sony Michel better be ready.
- Shame Malcolm Mitchell's knee never let him play effectively again.
I know everyone thinks those Texans, especially with Osweiler, weren't much of a matchup and this win wasn't that impressive. I understand that thinking. But we're talking about neophyte quarterback, who suffered an injury to his throwing thumb at some point, helping to shutout a pretty talented Texans team on very short notice.
And this year's Patriots might be a lot worse off ... with a quarterback with much more experience in the system, one who was more heralded out of college, and who will have much more prep time for that specific game?
Sorry, but this Brissett game was an eye-opener and should be taken seriously. This is the way forward to play winning football, especially with a team featuring a better defense. It should ease your anxiety a little bit and be encouraging to see what McDaniels can dial up this year.
This Patriots team isn't going anywhere.