Next Gen Stats notebook: Pats receivers failing Brady

The New England Patriots are coming off back-to-back losses for the first time since September of 2012.

Although special teams gaffes have been the primary culprit in the two-game skid, it's no secret that the offensive efficiency has waned in the wake of injuries to Dion Lewis, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski -- the NFL's most productive "triplets" in the first half of the season.

Tom Brady is still playing at an MVP level, making good reads and showcasing incredible pocket movement for a 38-year-old (as you can see in the video to the right). Through little fault of his own, Brady has completed just 52.6 percent of his passes since losing Edelman in Week 10, down from 67.8 in the first nine games.

With Edelman and Gronkowski sidelined, the receivers are simply failing Brady, who has been the victim of 11 more dropped passes than any other quarterback this season.

After building the offense around Gronkowski and Scott Chandler in Denver, New England adjusted to the loss of their All-Pro tight end by using the "11" (three-wideout) formation a season-high 69 times versus Philadelphia. That's 65 more times than Week 12.

In one of the season's least productive pass-catching exhibits, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell and Keshawn Martin turned 30 targets into 14 receptions for 134 yards against a reeling Eagles secondary that was torched for 10 touchdowns over the previous two weeks.

Per Next Gen Stats, outside receivers Martin and LaFell traveled 1,943 and 1,826 yards from scrimmage, respectively, the two highest distances by any players in Week 13. Opportunity was not a problem.

"The deep ball to Brandon LaFell is the worst play in football right now," Gregg Rosenthal noted on the Week 13 Recap edition of the Around The NFL Podcast.

That's not hyperbole. Brady's passer rating is 113.5 on throws to Edelman, 111.6 on throws to Amendola and just 56.7 on throws to LaFell, per Pro Football Focus.

LaFell doesn't have the speed to separate downfield. Even worse, he isn't completing his routes with consistency, which has the effect of hanging Brady out to dry.

For all those issues, Brady led a pair of late-game touchdown drives to bring the Patriots back from a 35-14 deficit. A surgeon in the one-minute drill, Brady was playing for the tie when LaFell, Amendola and Martin dropped three passes in succession to sabotage the Patriots' chances.

The good news is that Brady is keeping New England in games. The bad news is that the offense shows no sign of regaining its early-season efficiency until Gronkowski and/or Edelman return to the lineup.

Here's what else we learned from Next Gen Stats in Week 13:


The Titans' 42-39 victory over the Jaguars fulfilled the personnel department's draft vision, as second-round pick Dorial Green-Beckham notched his first 100-yard game and first-round pick Marcus Mariota became the first player in NFL history with at least 250 yards and three touchdowns passing and 100 yards rushing in the same game.

Mariota reached a maximum speed of 19.25 mph on his 87-yard touchdown scamper, his ninth-fastest speed this season. Unlike Robert Griffin III's 76-yard touchdown in which he simply out-sprinted the Vikings' defense back in 2012, Mariota's long run was more attributable to poor defense and timely downfield blocking.

  1. Odell Beckham reached a season-high 21.66 mph when he ran away from Jets cornerbacks for a 72-yard touchdown. It was the fastest scoring play of the past two weeks. In just a season and a half, the alleged "one-catch wonder" has passed Marques Colston for the most receptions through two seasons in NFL history. Riding a streak of five consecutive 100-yard performances, Beckham is now on pace for 104 catches, 1,539 yards and 13 touchdowns.
  1. Not to be overshadowed, Sammy Watkins turned in one of the most efficient performances by a receiver this season, covering 1.24 yards of distance per receiving yard gained. He reached 21.78 mph on the first of a pair of 53-yard bombs, tied for the fastest speed by a wide receiver on a catch in the last three weeks. Watkins is finally realizing his potential as one of the league's most dangerous deep threats.
  1. The AFC North-leading Bengals are growing stronger. Previously mired a 10-game slump, Jeremy Hill had his best performance of the season in Week 11, covering just 2.96 yards per rushing gained. He remained in the same neighborhood in Week 12, averaging 3.32 yards covered on a season-high 98 rushing yards. It's a significant improvement on his season average, which stood at 5.01 two weeks ago.

If Hill can recapture the dominant form he showed down the stretch last season, the Bengals will emerge as Super Bowl favorites.

  1. Blaine Gabbert's legs are carrying the 49ers' offense. Gabbert scrambled three times on the game-tying drive, for a nine-yard first down, a seven-yard gain and a 44-yard touchdown jaunt up the middle. The revitalized draft bust has now posted a top-two quarterback speed in each of the four games he has played. He also owns three of the top five speeds and five of the top eight since taking over the starting job in Week 9.

"He's a very good athlete," coach Jim Tomsula said Monday, via the San Francisco Chronicle. "He can run, he's fast, he's strong. You got to see that (Sunday), but we see it in practice."

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