Fans and analysts alike are all over Tom Brady and the Patriots this week for their ineffectiveness against the Broncos' defense. Brady's lost it, they're saying. He's still rusty, they're saying. This isn't 2007 anymore, they're saying. The Patriots need to run the ball more, they're saying. It's all Gisele's fault, they're saying.
(They don't always make sense.)
In a nip-and-tuck game against the Broncos a week ago, Brady finished with 19 completions on 33 attempts for 215 yards and two touchdowns. His Patriots lost on a field goal in overtime, their second loss of the season. With as well as the Patriots' defense has played, though, much of the blame for the defeat has fallen upon a quarterback that set an NFL record for passing touchdowns the last time he played a full season.
Brady, though, is far from a shell of his former self. If he'd hit Wes Welker on a third-and-4 slant in the fourth quarter -- Brady thought Welker was going to stop and sit in the seam, but Welker saw daylight and kept going -- he'd have been the hero. If he'd hit Randy Moss on a third-and-4 out-route in the opening drive of the third quarter, even, he'd have moved the chains and at least had a chance to pin the Broncos deep in their own territory to start the second half. Instead, though, he air-mailed Moss and hit Welker in the ankle and got nothing out of either of those two plays.
It's not about the run game or the shotgun or anything like that. It's about simple execution. Let's take this chance to debunk a few myths about the Patriots' offense:
* The emphasis on the shotgun is the issue.
Some first-half stats for Brady from Sunday's loss to Denver:
* Under center: 3 for 6 for 54 yards
* Shotgun: 11 for 13 for 98 yards and two touchdowns
If you can go an entire half against a quality defense and complete 11 out of 13 passes and score two touchdowns, you're doing just fine. The beauty of the West Coast offense, Bill Walsh's short passing offense based on high-percentage passes, is that it's difficult to defend even if opponents don't have to defend against the run. With the variety of options available -- short passes, long passes, screens, etc. -- it can be unpredictable all by itself.
And on the Patriots' first drive of the second half, Brady missed equally badly on a throw to Welker from under center and a throw to Moss from out of the shotgun. It's not the formation. It's the execution.
* It's Gisele's fault.
"I got married a few years ago, too, but nobody talked about that," running back Kevin Faulk said memorably during training camp.
You said it, Kevin.
People get married. Brady got married. Big deal.
* The Patriots need to run the ball more.
Sure, the Patriots need to run the ball to keep opposing defenses honest. But while there's something to be said for the rhythm of a running back, there's also no guarantee that running the ball more often means a team will run the ball more effectively.
The Patriots ran the ball 27 times for 96 yards against the Broncos, an average of 3.6 yards per play. The Patriots tried to throw the ball 33 times, including incompletions, and gained 215 yards through the air -- an average of 6.5 yards per play.
Neither number is particularly outstanding. The Patriots rank 25th in the NFL in rushing average and 22nd in the NFL in passing average. But when you have as big a disparity as the Patriots have -- and only a handful of teams do -- doesn't it make sense to do most what you do the best?
* The lack of a third receiver is the issue.
It's not that opposing defense are ignoring Sam Aiken in favor of Moss and Welker. Aiken is drawing coverage. On the third-and-4 pass Brady sailed high over Moss in the third quarter, star corner Champ Bailey was lined up across from Aiken and was completely taken out of the play. Moss was open. Brady missed him.
That was the case throughout the game. Moss and Welker were open. Brady just hasn't been making the throws.
Most NFL teams don't have three Pro Bowl-quality wide receivers. The Patriots don't need three Pro Bowl-quality wide receivers. The Patriots need their quarterback to connect with the wide receivers he has.