(CBS Boston)- What's wrong with the Patriots offense?
That question has been omnipresent this week in the wake of the team's 28-22 loss to the Texans on Sunday. While the 22 points scored and Tom Brady's three touchdown passes in the box score would seem to imply the unit played well, in actuality, the team was held to just three points until late in the third quarter. As Michael Hurley pointed out, it was the fifth consecutive game in which the team's offense has struggled in the first half.
In the midst of this offensive dry spell, where does the blame lie? Is it, as some have speculated, that Brady is hitting his decline phase? Or, as Inside The NFL's Brandon Marshall notes, is it more of a problem of the guys protecting the 42-year-old QB.
"Their offensive line is struggling, which means their backs can't get out. And they've been really good over the years getting the ball to the running backs in the passing game. Now the backs have to stay in and chip and help out in protection. That's not their strength," said Marshall.
The line has had its share of injuries this season, with tackle Isaiah Wynn missing time with an injury and starting center Ted Karras suffering a sprained MCL in Sunday's loss. But those injuries don't fully explain why the team ranks just 19th in Football Outsiders' adjusted line yards metric. They're even worse in stuff rate (attempts stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage) ranking 27th at 22% of their runs. While they have been able to largely avoid giving up sacks, that is a combination of the backs staying in to block and Brady getting the ball out of his hands quickly.
Still, the offensive line isn't the only problem. Marshall, a former NFL wide receiver himself, has not been impressed by the Patriots receiving corps, particularly their route running. He says that they "aren't running strong routes in and out of their breaks." That is backed up by a video ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky posted to Twitter showing some miscommunication between Brady and receiver Phillip Dorsett.
Trust is something that Brady pointed to in his Westwood One interview with Jim Gray on Monday night.
"I don't think there's any real magic formula. There's no magic play you can call that will work," said Brady. "It just comes down to everyone believing in one another and trusting in one another, having confidence that we can go out and execute on a consistent basis. It's one thing to say it, it's another to do it."
That all said, Marshall has confidence that the Patriots will figure things out, because it's the "one thing they've done over the years, they've always figured out how to fix their problems."
Fixing the problems on offense will need to happen quickly with the Kansas City Chiefs on deck this week. That matchup is particularly scary considering how opponents have seemingly started to figure out how to attack the Patriots defense.
"That's been figured out. Teams know how to beat the Patriots. But the Patriots, their M.O. has never been let's be the best defense, it's let's be the best scoring defense," said Marshall. "Bend but don't break. They got off to a hot start, and I think it was misleading. But now everyone understands where they can attack them."
That has still been the case despite the offensive outbursts of the Texans (28 points) and Ravens (37) in recent weeks. Outside of one big drive in the first half, the Pats shut down the Eagles. And, against the Cowboys they gave up just nine points and 321 total yards. The Ravens and Texans games are concerning, particularly since they could meet either of those two teams again in the playoffs. But the defense is still elite at keeping opponents off the board. It's whether the offense and Brady can regain that trust in each other that bears watching moving forward.
You can catch Brandon Marshall along with Phil, Simms, Ray Lewis, Michael Irvin, and host James Brown on Inside The NFL every Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.
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