Philly Sports Live

Rise of Patriots’ Running Game Cuts Into Passing Numbers

Through five games, the New England Patriots led the league in points per game with 33.0 and yards per game at 439.4.  But the way New England gained those yards was different than in recent years. The Patriots were ninth in passing yardage with 274.0 yards per game, down from second in 2011 with 317.8 yards per game. But the Patriots were third in rushing yardage with 165.4 yards per game, a huge improvement over 2011, when they were 20th in rushing yardage with 110.3 yards per game.

The more balanced attack helped the already potent Patriot offense, which led the league in points per game through five games with 33.0, up from 2011’s 32.1, which was good for third overall.  But fantasy owners who bought into the Patriots passing attack may have some reason for concern.

It’s not as if superstars Tom Brady, Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski were no longer productive. But Brady wasn’t drafted to be eighth among quarterbacks in yards per game with 290.0 and tied for ninth in touchdown passes with eight. In 2011, Brady was second in yards per game with 327.2 and fourth in touchdown passes with 39.

Tight end Gronkowski’s yards per game fell from 82.9 in 2011 to 59.0 through the first five games.  Gronkowski’s receptions per game dropped from 5.6 to 4.6. And after catching 17 touchdown passes in 2011 and running for another one, Gronkowski only had three touchdowns.

Welker got off to a slow start with just three catches for 14 yards in the first game, but quickly regained his form after that, catching 38 passes for 484 yards through five games.  His 7.6 receptions per game was identical to his 2011 number, when he led the league with 122 catches, and his yards per game of 96.8 was not far off 2011’s 98.1. With just one touchdown catch however, Welker was well off 2011’s pace, when he found the end zone nine times.

Brandon Lloyd, who joined the Patriots in the offseason, led the league in reception yardage with 1,448 as recently as 2010, when he also caught 11 touchdowns for Denver. But through the first five games, Lloyd had just one touchdown  on 28 catches for 321 yards. His per-catch average of 11.5 yards was well off his career mark of 15.1.

Tight end Aaron Hernandez, who hurt his ankle early in the second game, missed the rest of that game as well as the next three games. Hernandez hoped to be back for week 6. The return of Hernandez figures to help Brady and the overall Patriots’ passing attack, but it could also cut into the numbers of Brady’s other targets.