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Upon review, Patriots offense wasn’t all that bad

Brandon LaFell was targeted eight times Sunday, which is a good sign.Jim Davis/Globe Staff/Boston Globe

Considering the choppy flow of the game and the frustration felt by the players in the locker room, I expected to see a train wreck when I went back to watch the Patriots’ 16-9 win over the Raiders Monday.

Instead, I came away with a surprisingly different impression of the Patriots offense. Obviously, there is still a lot to correct. But there’s a lot to build on, too.

The final stats don’t look great — just 297 total yards, 2.4 yards per carry, only one touchdown — but they don’t tell the whole story, either.

The Patriots actually did move the ball; there were four drives of double-digit plays, and three drives of at least four minutes. The only problem was that three of the four long drives ended on the Oakland 2, 2, and 18-yard lines. But the red zone troubles can be fixed, and I doubt the Patriots will have another game in which two drives stall inside the 5-yard line. They’ll figure it out.

The Patriots picked up 21 first downs. They did a nice job on third down, converting 9 of 18 opportunities, including a third-and-15 pass to Rob Gronkowski for 22 yards. The offense cut down on the penalties, committing four for 30 yards, plus a holding call that was declined.


Tom Brady actually spread the ball around pretty well. While Julian Edelman dominated with 13 targets (and 10 catches), Brandon LaFell had eight targets and Shane Vereen tied Gronkowski with six. On third down, Vereen, LaFell, and Edelman each had three targets, while Gronk had two.

And maybe, just maybe, Brady has figured out how to get the ball down the field. Brady threw six passes that traveled at least 15 yards; five of them came in the second half, and four of them in the fourth quarter. Brady completed three of the five passes for 57 yards, plus a pass interference penalty for 14 yards. He also threw a fade pass to Edelman that resulted in a 15-yard gain.


Brady is still missing some easy throws, the offensive line still has major issues, and the receivers need to do a better job of getting open. But this offense isn’t as far off as you think.

Other observations from Sunday’s win:

When the Patriots had the ball . . .

■   Brady distributed the ball much more evenly across the field after throwing just one pass to the right side against Minnesota. Brady was 6 of 9 for 57 yards to the left, 12 of 19 for 132 yards down the middle, and 6 of 9 for 45 yards to the right. He had a horrible miss of Gronkowski streaking right to left across the middle, throwing high and wide on what could have been a huge gain, but redeemed himself by hitting the pass along the goal line for the touchdown, and also hit Edelman across the middle a couple of times.

They still needed to use a lot of deception just to move the ball. They utilized the quick-snap liberally in the second half, and caught the Raiders once with 12 men on the field. Brady did really well with play-action. Of the 38 true drop-backs (excluding the final heave of the game), the Patriots called 10 play-action passes, and Brady completed seven of them for 88 yards.


■   Brady was 9 of 12 on first down for 80 yards, and 9 of 13 for 87 yards and a touchdown on third down. He also showed good mobility, twice side-stepping the pass rush and hitting Edelman on the run. Brady missed a few open receivers, but was much better about targeting the open guy.

■   Josh McDaniels needs to call higher-percentage plays on the goal line. On the Gronkowski drop, Gronk was the only receiver running a route; everyone else stayed in to block to sell the play-action fake. And on third down, a quick out to Danny Amendola in tight press coverage probably isn’t the ideal read.

We’d also like to see the Patriots try to run on the goal line by spreading the defense with three and four receivers, instead of going big with three tight ends. The Jumbo package allows the defense to crowd the box, and the New England offensive line has been getting pushed back.

■   Speaking of the offensive line, Nate Solder got completely overwhelmed by Khalil Mack and Justin Tuck. Neither got a sack, but both burned right past Solder and got a good lick on Brady, forcing an incompletion. The Raiders blitzed on only 12 of 38 plays, and got to Brady mostly with the four guys up front.

Mack, playing only his third NFL game, had four stops in the run game and was very impressive overall. Tuck embarrassed Jordan Devey while lined up at tackle in the nickel package and got an easy sack. Antonio Smith also consistently pushed Marcus Cannon into the backfield.


The Patriots had 11 runs of 1, 0, or negative yards. Their average second-down play was second and 8.

Devey, Cannon, and Amendola did have nice blocks though, to spring Vereen on an 11-yard run up the middle in the first quarter. Stevan Ridley also had a 9-yard run, the swing pass to Ridley out of the backfield is a consistent yard-churner, and that jet sweep to Edelman works every time. Vereen and Ridley need to do a better job of staying on their feet, though.

■   Gronk deserves credit just for being on the field and playing more than half the snaps, just eight months off major knee surgery. But it’s obvious that he’s not nearly the same explosive player in the passing game and in run blocking. Still, 70 percent of Gronk is pretty good.

When the Raiders had the ball . . .

■   There’s a lot to like about rookie quarterback Derek Carr, and you wonder why the Raiders even entertained the thought of playing Matt Schaub this year. Carr showed impressive athleticism and ability to throw on the run; in particular, his 8-yard pass to Denarius Moore along the sideline, thrown off-balance while running backward, was outstanding. Carr wasn’t afraid to let it rip, completing 2 of 7 passes over 15 yards for 47 yards, plus two pass interference calls for a total of 24 yards (one was negated).


The Raiders did a nice job of mixing up their personnel, seamlessly transitioning from four-wide on one play to two tight ends and a fullback on the next. They ran a lot out of the Pistol, while also showing the Wildcat and Diamond formations. They also liberally sprinkled in the play-action, with Carr completing 6 of 8 for 41 yards plus a pass interference.

■   Carr definitely wasn’t afraid to go right at Darrelle Revis. He targeted Revis seven times, completing five passes for 63 yards and drawing a pass interference. He also was THIS close to tying the game with a deep fade to James Jones over Revis in the final minutes, but the ball slipped out of Jones’s grasp.

It wasn’t Revis’s finest game, but he didn’t exactly get torched, either. He switched between zone and man in the first half, covering three different receivers, but shadowed Jones in the second half, allowing three catches for 43 yards.

■   Jerod Mayo was an effective blitzer again, getting three hurries on Carr, and Dont’a Hightower was a presence in the backfield again as well. But the Patriots were content to rush four, sit back in coverage (they blitzed on only 9 of 34 passes) and let Carr beat them — which, to his credit, he almost did. Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon played a lot of two-deep safety, and Carr did a good job of finding the short and intermediate routes.

■   The 24-yard pass interference on Logan Ryan at the end of the game was totally bogus — if anything, it should have been a penalty on Andre Holmes — but the holding call on Gabe Jackson to negate Darren McFadden’s touchdown looked iffy, too.

■   The defensive line didn’t get much pressure on Carr, but found other ways to contribute. The Raiders averaged just 3.0 yards per carry, and Vince Wilfork and Rob Ninkovich did a great job of stuffing McFadden twice, on second and 1 and third and 1, to force a punt. Chandler Jones swatted down two passes at the line of scrimmage, and Chris Jones was stout in the run game.

■   Seven defenders played 100 percent of the snaps: Ninkovich, Ryan, McCourty, Jones, Hightower, Mayo, and Revis. Jamie Collins and Alfonzo Dennard are banged up, but the Patriots need to rotate more guys into the game to keep players fresh. Dominique Easley played only 16 snaps, almost all as the nose tackle in the nickel package.

Special teams

■   Matthew Slater is truly special in this phase of the game. He had three special teams tackles, including a phenomenal one for a 1-yard loss on a punt return, and a game-saving tackle from behind on T.J. Carrie’s 21-yard kickoff return that could’ve gone for a lot longer. Slater also had a great 26-yard return on a squib kick.

Snap counts

A look at the number of snaps each Patriot played against the Raiders as well as the percentage of total snaps played on the season.


Percentage is out of 226 cumulative snaps on the season

LT Nate Solder75100%
QB Tom Brady75100%
RT Sebastian Vollmer75100%
LG Marcus Cannon7596%
C Dan Connolly7595%
WR Julian Edelman7090%
RG Jordan Devey6084%
TE M. Hoomanawanui4853%
TE Rob Gronkowski4448%
WR Brandon LaFell4352%
RB Stevan Ridley4345%
WR Kenbrell Thompkins3536%
RB Shane Vereen2848%
WR Danny Amendola2747%
C Bryan Stork157%
OT Cameron Fleming1219%
FB James Develin1222%
RB Brandon Bolden712%
TE Tim Wright515%
WR Aaron Dobson014%
G Josh Kline04%
C Ryan Wendell010%


Percentage is out of 198 cumulative snaps on the season

LB Dont'a Hightower58100%
LB Jerod Mayo58100%
DE Chandler Jones5898%
DE Rob Ninkovich5881%
CB Logan Ryan5872%
FS Devin McCourty5895%
CB Darrelle Revis5890%
DT Vince Wilfork4868%
SS Patrick Chung4061%
DT Chris Jones2722%
CB Kyle Arrington2147%
LB Jamie Collins1946%
DE Dominique Easley1636%
SS Tavon Wilson1524%
DT Joe Vellano1424%
SS Duron Harmon1222%
DT Sealver Siliga1044%
SS Nate Ebner1013%
LB Deontae Skinner010%
CB Malcolm Butler018%
SS Don Jones02%
CB Alfonzo Dennard026%

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin