Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady appear to be best of friends. They're inseparable on the bench, mulling over papers and photos. They almost look like they could be brothers.
Brady had the best season of his career with McDaniels as his offensive coordinator in 2007. Brady completed 68.9% of his passes and threw for 4,806 yards and a (soon to be broken) record 50 touchdowns that year.
McDaniels left after the 2008 season to become head coach of the Denver Broncos. He returned to the Patriots as a "consultant" for the 2011 playoffs and resumed his role as offensive coordinator prior to the 2012 season. All seemed rosy.
Not so fast.
McDaniels has always been a lightning rod for criticism. If the offense is clicking, Brady gets all the accolades. If the offense struggles, people begin remembering that McDaniels is the offensive coordinator.
Is it fair? No. Such is life when your quarterback is a future Hall of Famer.
McDaniels has been criticized for a number of things. His critics argue that sometimes he gets "too cute" offensively. He gets criticized for overthinking things. He calls runs when he should pass. He calls pass plays when he should run. He gets impatient. He calls deep passing plays when Brady should be dinking and dunking. He doesn't call for deep pass plays enough.
All had been calm on the western front this season. That is until this past Sunday. The Patriots entered the game with a 10-3 record, but lost to Miami, 24-20. The loss could be blamed on New England's ineffectiveness in the red zone. The Patriots would score a touchdown on only one of four trips inside the Miami twenty-yard line.
The Patriots moved well between the 20's, mixing in a combination of running plays and short, quick pass plays. You could almost forget the fact the Patriots were without star tight end Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots were also without rookie wide receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson. The Patriots would also lose their left tackle, Nate Solder, in this game.
But when the Patriots got close to the goal line, the offense stalled. Here is where their lack of a tall, strong red zone target cripples them.
My frustration with the playcalling is I wish the Patriots would play more smash-mouth football down near the end zone. But does the fault lie with McDaniels or Brady or Belichick?
LeGarrette Blount ran the ball effectively on Sunday. After the game, Belichick even had a rare moment where he was effusive in his praise of the 250-pound Blount as a bulldog running back similar to other big backs of the past like Brandon Jacobs and Christian Okoye.
If you had Okoye or Jacobs in your backfield, wouldn't you want to use them near the goal line?
I would argue the Patriots should exhume Stevan Ridley and use him near the goal line. Can we please stop fixating on the fumbling? It happens. Ridley is the most talented running back the Patriots have. The guy scored twelve touchdowns last year. He scored seven the season before. This year he has one. Inexcusable.
Brady threw 55 times against the Dolphins. You would think the Patriots were playing from behind the whole game. You would be wrong. The Patriots raced out to a 10-0 lead. The Dolphins took the lead for the first time early in the fourth quarter. So why did the Patriots run the ball only 22 times?
The Patriots first drive of the game came to an end when Brady passed three straight times once they got to the Miami 10-yard line. They had to settle for a field goal.
In the fourth quarter, the Patriots had a 3rd-and-2 at the Miami 5. Blount just finished off an 8-yard carry on the previous play. Instead of lining up under center, Brady took to the shotgun and fired incomplete to Shane Vereen in the left flat.
On Tuesday, McDaniels addressed the lack of running the ball in the red zone in a conference call. Reading his quotes, it appears as if he might be putting some of the blame on Brady.
"It's a tough one because a lot of times, we have multiple options in the huddle," McDaniels said. "Sometimes you can get a little skewed and we don't want to take the freedom away from our quarterback to take us into a good play. We certainly don't want to become just a call-it-on-the-sideline team when we have a quarterback that's capable of doing a lot of good things with our offense at the line of scrimmage."
It is something I have always suspected and I think McDaniels has finally gotten tired of biting his lip. McDaniels calls the plays, but I'd like to know how many times Brady changes the play at the line of scrimmage. I think it happens more often than we suspect. McDaniels gives Brady the options, but he can't tell Brady which play to run or which receiver to throw the ball to.
You see it all the time with Brady's theatrics pre-snap. "Omaha. Omaha." "53 is the Mike." The hands to the sides of the helmet. It is a pretty standard pre-snap routine, much like Jonny Gomes fiddling with his helmet before every pitch.
Peyton Manning does the same thing and sometimes I think these great quarterbacks feel they need to live up to their press clippings. I'd like to see Brady go under center more often, quick snap the ball, and simply run the play that is called from the sidelines.
On 2nd-and-goal from the Miami four-yard line on the Patriots' opening drive, for example, it seems apparent to me that Brady audibled from a running play to a passing play. The pass fell incomplete as did the third down pass.
Every quarterback worth his salt wants to throw the ball. As the saying goes, "With great power comes great responsibility." Is it possible that Brady is getting a little too full of himself and calling his own number a little too much?
Mike Petragilia wrote in his blog for WEEI on Wednesday that Brady might want to throw even more, or, at the very least, call his own plays more. The direct quote from Brady is, "But we go fast plenty of times in those two-minute situations where we've done a good job. Maybe we should do it more often."
More two-minute offense usually means more passing and more on-the-fly playcalling by Brady.
The closing quote in Petraglia's post has Brady saying, "Ask Josh, yeah. Josh knows the answers."
To be fair, Petraglia points out that Brady said that with a smile on his face. I choose to take out of context and read more into it.
The Patriots are at a critical stage of the season. A playoff berth is not assured. Tensions are running high. Injuries are mounting. Options are limited. The offense will be asked to carry the load, as per usual. If the offense fails, who will get the blame? Something tells me it won't be Brady... but he deserves his fair share.