The New England Patriots have played half of their four-game preseason slate, and some trends have already emerged. There is not always a completely direct correlation between how a team performs in the preseason and how it then goes out to produce in the regular season, but the two preseason contests are not meaningless. There has been enough consistency between the two games, albeit a small sample size, to give an observer enough information to make a few predictions.
Perhaps the most reassuring prediction for the Patriots fan is that the offense, while dealing with an injury to tight end Rob Gronkowski, the incarceration of tight end Aaron Hernandez, and the turnover in their wide receiving crops, will continue to be a high-functioning, elite offense. No matter who is actually catching the passes, the pass offense is in the more than capable hands of quarterback Tom Brady, who has completed 18 of 20 passes for 172 yards and thrown two touchdowns. Basically, Brady has been perfect.
Even though he has been throwing to a few new receivers, the passing results have been mostly the same as the Patriots seem to be, once again, destined for another top offensive ranking in the NFL. One of the reasons why it will be possible for the Patriots to scale offensive heights few teams can match is the seamless transition from Brady and former security blanket, Wes Welker, to the relationship between newly acquired wide receiver Danny Amendola and Brady.
Amendola had a quiet performance in the first preseason contest, catching one pass for six yards versus the Philadelphia Eagles, but elevated his level of play for the second game. Against the Buccaneers, Amendola snagged six of the seven balls thrown to him by Brady and gained 71 yards. Amendola made it clear that throwing in his direction would not result in a decline in Brady's efficiency.
Another promising receiving target, who might end up starting for the New England Patriots once the regular season begins, is rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld. Sudfeld has already shown he has the ability to be valuable in the passing game with three catches and 54 yards on six targets. Since Sudfeld has been laboring under the disadvantage of having all six of those passes thrown his way by the unimpressive Patriots back-up quarterbacks, it stands to reason he would look even better being on the receiving end of passes thrown by Brady.
Speaking of back-up quarterbacks, the preseason is proving just how indispensable Brady is to the passing game. Judging by the play of quarterbacks Ryan Mallett and Tim Tebow, if Brady were to ever go down with a serious injury, the Patriots would be unable to do much of anything on offense.
Playing in his third preseason, Mallett has yet to show he will ever be capable of being a starter in the NFL as he continues to struggle with his accuracy. The two games have seen him complete just 55.3 percent of his passes and gain just 6.2 yards per pass attempt, which has just been the continuation of his pedestrian NFL passing numbers.
Tebow has been even worse as he has done nothing to reverse the opinion that NFL quarterback is simply not a position in which he can succeed. He has failed as a passer, the number one task of a quarterback, by having only completed 5 of his 19 passes and gaining just 2.8 yards per pass attempt. His time in the NFL might soon be coming to an end.
The Patriots have not just been dropping back to pass for their two preseason games, but have also displayed just how balanced their offense will be all season. With a stable of excellent running backs that features Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, LeGarrette Blount, and Brandon Bolden, the Patriots have running backs who can run you over, run past you, and catch passes out of the backfield. For every running back situation, the Patriots will have a player who can fit into that role perfectly.
Armed with both an offense that looks like it will continue to be prolific through the air and a running game that has averaged 5.1 yards per carry in one game and 8.0 yards per rush in the other one, the Patriots offense should continue to be largely unstoppable once the regular season begins.