Clutch Performers

Offensive player rankings, Week 5: Pats' downfield woes over?

That Sunday performance was more like the Tom Brady we know and love. Well, the Tom Bradysome of us love.

Helping New England rout division-rival Miami 38-7 at home, Brady avoided his (and the team's) first three-game losing streak since the 2002 season. While Brady bounced back from a pair of ugly losses, he failed to complete any of his four deep passes (20-plus air yards) against the Dolphins. In fact, through four games in 2018, he's completed only ONE of his 14 attempts for a 7.1 completion percentage, 0:1 TD-to-INT ratio and a 9.8 passer rating. Yikes!

Brady's production on deep passes has declined since 2016, according to Next Gen Stats. That season, after serving a four-game suspension to start the year, he completed 18 of 48 deep passes for a 37.5 completion percentage, 14.1 yards per attempt, 6:1 TD-to-INT ratio and a 116.3 passer rating. Last year, his yards per attempt (12.7), TD-to-INT ratio (5:4) and passer rating (85.3) all fell.

So, what's the cause behind the G.O.A.T's precipitious drop-off in deep passing?

Well, to start, Brady's had to deal with massive offensive personnel changes from last year's AFC championship squad, with Danny Amendola (signed with Dolphins), Brandin Cooks (traded to Rams), Dion Lewis (signed with Titans) and Mike Gillislee (signed with Saints) all departing this offseason. Amendola and Cooks caught a combined 19 of Brady's 28 deep passes last year. This year, his receivers are 0-for-7 when targeted on long balls. 

But the single greatest reason for Brady's steady decline on deep passes, and his overall struggles this season, is the absence of Julian Edelman, who returns to the field Thursday to face the Colts after sitting out all of 2017 with a knee injury and the first four games this year due to suspension. Edelman's importance to the Patriots cannot be overstated: Since 2013, the Patriots are 46-9 when Edelman is in the lineup and 19-10 without him.

There aren't many QB-WR combos like Brady and Edelman. In 2016, Edelman averaged just 6.5 targets per game during Brady's four-game suspension. But when the future Hall of Famer returned in Week 5, Edelman's targets per game shot up to 11, helping the 5-foot-10 receiver finish the season with the third-most targets in the league -- 19 of which were on balls that traveled 20-plus air yards. The duo's success stems from the years' worth of established trust and chemistry, as they rely heavily on option routes that require Edelman to read the defensive coverage and make a post-snap decision on which route to run.

Edelman's success and consistent production force defenses to account for him, which means increased favorable opportunities for the rest of the team's pass catchers. As I mentioned last week, teams have doubled Rob Gronkowski with a linebacker and safety and left Chris Hogan to face CB1s. Hogan is a good second or third option at receiver, but he isn't good enough to be a WR1 on any team and certainly doesn't provide the deep-threat ability Cooks did. With Edelman back in the mix, Hogan (and Phillip Dorsett, for that matter) can go back to facing CB2s and CB3s, and defenses have to be much more judicious about how often they double Gronk or otherwise risk Brady picking them apart on underneath passes. 

The attention Edelman will draw from opposing defenses will also help the Pats' recently acquired deep threat, Josh Gordon. With his physique (6-3, 225 pounds), Gordon is a nightmare for cornerbacks, as he's the type of player who is a coverage dictator -- like Gronk. Gordon is so hard to cover 1-on-1 unless a team has one of the half-dozen elite corners. Even then, Gordon demands safety help. So who will opposing defensive coordinators try to stop? Gronk? Gordon? Edelman? They can't stop all three, which means more opportunities -- including down the field -- for everyone. 

We're about to see an entirely different Patriots offense as we enter October. Just watch and count the touchdowns.

Each week in the 2018 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season's efforts. Now, let's get to it -- the Week 5 pecking order is below.

NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week's rankings.

In a big team win over the Vikings, the Rams running back had 17 attempts for 83 yards on the ground and four catches for 73 yards and a receiving TD. With regular performances like Thursday night's, it's no surprise that Gurley -- who's on a comparable pace to 2017, when he was the Offensive Player of the Year -- leads the league in touches (94) and scrimmage touchdowns (six) this season.

I didn't know how Mahomes would respond to a slow start, but I got my answer. He looked like anything but a QB in his fifth start when leading the Chiefs to a fourth-quarter comeback to improve to 4-0. His demeanor, instincts and natural ability allowed the second-year QB to orchestrate the impressive rally. I mean, did you see that left-handed throw? Wow.

Kamara took over against the Giants by totaling 181 scrimmage yards (134 rushing, 47 receiving) and notching a career-high three rushing touchdowns. Last season, with Mark Ingram also on the field, Kamara averaged 13.3 touches per game. This season, with Ingram suspended the first four weeks, Kamara is averaging 23.5 touches per game. I'm eager to see how much Kamara's touches decrease when Ingram returns this week against the Redskins.

Despite the shutout win over the Bills, Rodgers hasn't been the same quarterback we're used to seeing. His production over the last two weeks has not been as efficient as in Weeks 1 and 2. His completion percentage is down more than 10 percent, along with pass yards per attempt and passer rating. I have to think some of this is due to his lingering knee injury.

The Patriots used a balanced offensive attack (274 pass yards, 175 rush yards) to dominate AFC East foe Miami. Brady has continued to struggle without Julian Edelman (as discussed above) and finished with 274 pass yards, a 3:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 94.2 passer rating. Edelman returns this week, so expect him to get a plethora of targets and open up the pass game.

According to Next Gen Stats, Michael Thomas was only targeted on 12.1 percent of his routes on Sunday, down from a 31 percent rate in Weeks 1-3. But Thomas made the most of his four targets with four catches for 47 yards.

Despite the Saints beating the Giants on the road, Brees had his worst game of the 2018 season, with his lowest completion percentage (56.3), pass yards (217), touchdowns (zero) and passer rating (77.2) in 2018. With New Orleans leaning on the legs of Alvin Kamara, Brees wasn't asked to do as much as in previous weeks. Having a running back to ride is a luxury in this league, and I guarantee you Brees isn't taking it for granted.

A huge performance by Hopkins helped put the Texans in the win column for the first time this season. His big day (10 receptions for 169 yards and a TD) is the type of outing we're used to seeing from Hopkins. Hopefully, the Texans carry this confidence over to this week's matchup vs. Dallas.

 [Ben Roethlisberger](/player/benroethlisberger/2506109/profile) said he's not 
 ["on the same page with anybody,"](http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000968841/article/big-ben-im-not-on-the-same-page-with-anybody) and it really felt that way Sunday night. Brown had just 62 receiving yards, far less than his 122.3 yards per game in the previous four games vs. Baltimore in prime time. 
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Goff had a day of personal bests -- 465 passing yards, five pass TDs and a 158.3 passer rating. Four of those touchdowns came on deep passes (throws of 20-plus air yards), as he diced up the Vikings' defense. We all know this offense runs through Todd Gurley, but Goff is proving that it can also lean on his arm.

After some uncharacteristic drops in the early goings Monday night, Kelce's touchdown in the second half was a big part of the Chiefs' late rally. He ended up with 78 receiving yards and a score on seven catches, but he left some out there.

In his eighth NFL season, Green is off to one of his best starts. Green's five receiving touchdowns through Week 4 -- including the game-winning TD grab in Atlanta -- are the most in his career.

Jones was a monster in Week 4 with nine catches for 173 receiving yards -- the eighth 170-yard receiving game and the 41st 100-yard receiving game of his career. The one knock continues to be that Jones hasn't caught a ball in the end zone. (Rookie Calvin Ridley has six TDs to Jones' zero this season.)

The Chiefs have so many weapons that they have a new stats leader almost every week. Hill has been held under 60 scrimmage yards in his last two games, but that's a result of Andy Reid getting Kareem Hunt and the run game going.

I wish I could just pair Diggs and Adam Thielen together in this list. Their similarities -- both are precision route-runners with great hands -- are what makes this duo unstoppable. Diggs played well against a solid Rams secondary, finishing with 11 receptions for 123 receiving yards.

Dropped out: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Giants (previously No. 10).

JUST OUTSIDE THE TOP 15

Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers: Rivers' 250 passing yards and three touchdowns were enough to keep him here. Though, his pick-six on the opening drive -- plus more kicking woes -- almost jeopardized the game for Los Angeles.

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys: The Cowboys' offense ran through Zeke against the Lions, and guess what?! They won. He put up a career game with 240 scrimmage yards (152 rushing, 88 receiving) and a receiving touchdown. If Dallas learned anything from the win, it's stick to the run.

Adam Thielen, WR, Vikings: Thielen made play after play against the Rams and finished with 135 receiving yards. Remarkably, he has more receiving yards (473) through the first four games of a season than any player in Vikings franchise history, beating Randy Moss' 434 receiving yards in 2003.

Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Giants: In the first half, OBJ had a pair of catches for minus-4 yards. What is happening? Beckham is the team's most talented offensive player and it doesn't feel like he's even in the game plan at times. Four weeks into the year, there's a lot to figure out in New York.

Follow David Carr on Twitter @DCarr8.

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