Anatomy of a Play  

 

Versatile unknowns help fuel NFL's premier offensive machine

  • By Greg Frith NFL Films
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It's beginning to look a lot like 2007 in New England. The Patriots are putting up points in bunches. They lead the NFL in scoring with 415 points (31.9 per game), and they are currently riding a five-game winning streak in which they have put up 196 points (39.2 per game). They have topped 30 points in all five games of the streak, the first time they've had a streak that long of 30 points since the undefeated group went eight straight back in 2007.

How are they getting it done? A lot of people are asking that question. It certainly isn't with household names. When the season began, three former first-round picks -- Randy Moss, Laurence Maroney and Fred Taylor -- figured to play key roles in this offense. But Maroney and Moss were jettisoned, and Taylor has been ineffective due to injury. Stepping up in their place has been a collection of castoffs, youngsters and undrafted players.

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Wes Welker has assumed the role of go-to wide receiver. The seventh-year pro -- undrafted out of Texas Tech -- is tied for third in the NFL in receptions with 80, trailing only Roddy White and Reggie Wayne. He is the biggest name at Tom Brady's disposal.

While Welker has racked up 432 yards receiving and four touchdowns over the five-game winning streak, fellow wide receiver Deion Branch has 469 yards receiving and four touchdowns over the same span. Branch was wasting away in Seattle when New England traded for him prior to Week 5. He was a back-page acquisition who has put up front-page numbers and helped the Patriots' passing game actually thrive without Moss.

At tight end, a pair of rookies have played like anything but. Rob Gronkowski was a second-round pick out of Arizona; Aaron Hernandez was a fourth-round pick out of Florida. They have combined for 72 catches and 11 touchdowns. If you looked up the most receptions in team history for a 21-year-old player, they are running Nos. 1 and 2.

The running back depth chart to start the year was led by Taylor, Maroney and Kevin Faulk. Instead, it has been anchored by undrafted BenJarvus Green-Ellis (786 yards, 11 TDs) and undrafted Danny Woodhead (376 yards, four TDs). Woodhead was a standout at Chadron State in Nebraska. He was released by the Jets earlier this year. And the Patriots have turned him into one of the league's most versatile weapons. Green-Ellis was just the second Ole Miss running back to top 1,000 yards rushing in back-to-back seasons, yet he went undrafted. Now in his third year, he is making a name -- albeit a long one -- for himself.

Since Brady took over at quarterback, the Patriots have had five different running backs lead the team in rushing and six different pass catchers lead the team in receiving. The one constant has been Brady, himself a player who entered the Patriots facility without much fanfare. Now, utilizing his no-name weapons, he again has the Patriots operating as the league's premier offensive machine.

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