After years of throwing to the likes of Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski, how nameless and faceless is Tom Bradys current cropof New England Patriots receivers? Well, consider that rookie Aaron Dobson, whose 10 receptions tie him for second on the team, doesnt even have a photograph to go withhis player profile on NFL.com.
The Patriots might be 3-0 entering Sunday nights matchup in Atlanta but Brady and their trademark high-scoring offense have mostly sputtered visiblyupsetting the quarterback at times. Last week, the Patriots started to get back on track with a 23-3 win over Tampa Bay. (The aforementioned Dobson led New England with seven catches for 52 yards in that effort hardly the stuff that fans have grown accustomedto seeing from New England.)
I dont think weve really played to our level of expectation yet, Brady said in a conference call with Atlanta media on Wednesday.Were trying to get there. Hopefully, this is a week we can be at our best because were going to need it.
The Patriots rank 17thin total offense and 22nd in points per game at 19.7 their record-setting 2007 season when they averaged36.8 points per game now reduced to the haze of memory and, impossibly, Bradys quarterback rating stands at a paltry 79.4, 27th in the league behind the likes of Terrelle Pryor and rookie E.J. Manuel.
In Week 1, during a 13-10 win over the New York Jets, cameras caught Brady yelling after a third-down attempt in the red zone fell incomplete.After that game, he said he needed to improve on his body language.
With the Patriots inability in the offseason to retain Welker, Bradys favorite target, along with the move to cut tight end Aaron Hernandez,who awaits trial on murder charges, and Gronkowski missing the first three games with back and forearm injuries, Bradys leading target has been Julian Edelman, formerly the offenses fourth or fifth option.
Asked about the Patriots offensive struggles, head coach Bill Belichick sounded mostly unconcerned.
The biggest thing is doing what we need to do to win games, Belichick said. Thats all were trying to do. Were more concerned aboutour record than any individual statistics so we need to continue to make plays the plays we need to make in all three phases of the game that will help us win. Thats really what were about.
Nonetheless, it would behoove the Patriots to improve offensively in an AFC East that suddenly appears more competitive than expected,with the Miami Dolphins also off to a 3-0 start and the Jets, at 2-1, owning one of the leagues top defenses. It also might not hurt to improve for Sundays matchup: In their only home game this season, the Falcons put up 31 points on St. Louis.
If Gronkowski can return this week he was limited in practice on Wednesday and seemingly is getting closer to returning, although Belichickdid not provide an update to Atlanta media other than to say, well see then its possible that New England could get closer to its level of expectation, as Brady put it.
I mean, hes been a great player for us since he got here, Brady said, but well see. Whenever hes ready I dont know when thatsgoing to be, its not up to me. Whenever he ends up being out there, it will be a help for our offense. Were just planning like weve been planning for a few weeks. Were gonna go out there and try to win a game with what were doing.
We just need to execute. Thats what weve talked about is our level of execution hasnt been very high. It can be a lot better and itneeds to be better, especially this week.
Last season the Falcons defense was able to confuse some of the leagues top quarterbacks in victories. It forced Peyton Manning intothree interceptions in his first eight attempts and enticed Drew Brees into five interceptions both Atlanta victories.
It has yet to function at that level this season.
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Yeah, we did some good things against some really great quarterbacks last year and we need to replicate those kinds of things, get himoff the spot if theyre a pocket guy, get him off the spot, make sure theyre uncomfortable back there, said Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud, a Pro-Bowler last season who has struggled early. Make sure we dont tip our hat to him before the snap. I think thatone of the things we were really good at last year, disguising our coverages and what we were really doing out there, we have to get back to that.
Brady said that he thinks the Patriots showed more consistency and progress last week. However, asked where the offense is right now interms of its transition, with so many key players removed from last season, he at first groped for words.
Every day is a learning experience, he said. Weve got guys who, none of us have really played together. Every walkthrough is important.Every meeting is important. Certainly, games are the most important because thats when we show what were made of. Were trying to do the right thing. It hasnt always turned out that way to this point but were going to keep working at it and hopefully everyweek we make improvements.