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Patriots vying with Steelers for AFC's top offense

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Good luck stopping Tom Brady in the red zone after Tuesday's trade for skyscraper Martellus Bennett to pair with unstoppable tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Over the past two seasons, Bennett and Gronkowski rank second and fourth, respectively, in receptions per game among NFL tight ends. The obvious conclusion is that New England will return to the highly effective two-tight end sets that featured Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez from 2010-2012.

That's a reductionist interpretation of Brady's offense, though. The Patriots are built to adjust their personnel alignment and playing style to suit their opponent.

A surgeon at his best, Brady specializes in short, quick throws near the line of scrimmage and in the intermediate area 10-25 yards downfield. Depending on the down, distance and opponent, he can choose among three precise possession receivers (Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan), a pair of stretch forwards in football cleats (Gronkowski, Bennett) and one of the NFL's most dangerous pass-catching backs (Dion Lewis).

As long as Edelman and Lewis are healthy, the addition of Bennett will discourage defenses from double-teaming Gronkowski. Don't be surprised if the two tight ends emerge as Brady's deep threats, opening the underneath routes for his waterbug wide receivers.

With a lasting memory of 23 QB hits in the AFC Championship Game loss at Denver, the one knock on New England is the offensive line. That's a misleading gripe. Three of the five offensive linemen in that game were either playing out of position or replacing an injured starter. The Patriots' offensive line needed time to heal more than a complete overhaul.

Factoring in the Martavis Bryant suspension, the Patriots and Steelers are the class of the conference in terms of offensive firepower this season.

Beyond New England, let's take a look at the offenses with the most potential in the AFC this season.

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Steelers: All Pro running back Le'Veon Bell recently told the R&B Podcast that the Steelers will be just as dynamic without Bryant this season. That fails a simple logic test, considering Pittsburgh's offense has scored at least 30 points in roughly half of its games with Bryant versus 25 without. With Bell healthy and newly signed tight end Ladarius Green offering field-stretching potential, Ben Roethlisberger still has plenty of weapons at his disposal.

Bengals: The loss of play-caller Hue Jackson hurts just as much as the defections of wide receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. The Bengals figure to draft a wide receiver or two, but any aerial attack that starts with A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard remains dangerous.

Jaguars: This is an offense on the rise. Would you believe Blake Bortles finished first among NFL quarterbacks in plays of 20-plus yards, second in touchdowns and seventh in passing yards? There's still room for improvement under center, but life should be easier for Bortles with the addition of power back Chris Ivory and more competition on the offensive line.

Raiders: Don't be surprised if the Raiders start challenging the Cowboys for offensive line supremacy. The interior trio of Gabe Jackson, Rodney Hudson and newly signed road-grader Kelechi Osemele stacks up with any in the league, allowing Derek Carr plenty of time to find Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and a pair of promising tight ends.

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