Given offseason additions that bolstered an already potent offense, the expectation for the New England Patriots offense was always that it would be versatile in 2017.
However, varied looks often come with results that lack consistency. A roster with four viable threats at receiver, four running backs and three tight ends who can be featured in any given week can make establishing a rhythm difficult as packages change.
That likely played into some of New England’s red-zone issues in the second quarter of the season. Outside of that, though, the Patriots have at least been somewhat surprising in their ability to produce consistent offensive results, despite widely varying game plans.
One week, the Patriots might choose to use Danny Amendola to attack a linebacker they realized they could draw out into the slot. The next, they’re using Rob Gronkowski to hold the safety help and exploit Brandin Cooks’ speed on the outside.
For the first few games, it was Mike Gillislee who saw the heaviest workload as the primary ball carrier in the running game. Gillislee has faded into the background, and Dion Lewis has taken on a starring role with a style that couldn’t be much more different from his predecessors.
Often times, the way New England chooses to attack changes on a down-by-down basis, as well. That was the whole point of trading for two wide receivers (Cooks and Phillip Dorsett) and a tight end (Dwayne Allen) while also signing two running backs (Gillislee and Rex Burkhead) and adding another tight end off waivers during the season (Martellus Bennett).
Those players added to an allotment of weapons that already included Lewis, Amendola, Gronkowski, Chris Hogan and James White ― and would have included Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell if not for injury ― gave offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels seemingly infinite possibilities.
However, in some cases, too many options can be a bad thing. Like sitting down at a restaurant you’ve never been to and staring at a menu that is 400 items long.
But look at the Patriots’ offensive output this season. Outside of a 555-yard explosion against the New Orleans Saints in Week 2, they’ve been good for between 371 and 421 yards of total offense each week.
Seven different pass catchers have at least 15 catches, and four rushers each have at least 150 yards on the ground to produce those results. In fact, outside of the stability of Tom Brady, variance has been the only true constant in this offense.
Again, that’s not surprising because the roster composition made it clear the Patriots would use a number of packages to create mismatches. But that usually comes with heavy swings in who does what and the ultimate output on a weekly basis.
Yet, Brady has thrown the ball an average of 37 times per game and has never had to stray more than 10 attempts above or below that number in a game. The Patriots haven’t deviated by more than 10 rushing attempts in either direction from their 28 carry average, either.
The Patriots have created an algebraic formula where you can change variable after variable over and over again but the results don’t change. That makes it impossible for an opponent to weigh those variables to decide whom to focus on stopping.