February 1, 2017
By Justin Lasher
We have heard so much about the high powered offense and the talent and depth of the Falcons offensive weapons, and rightfully so, however New England has its own set of weapons on the offensive side, besides Tom Brady. It has frustrated me tremendously, the disrespect, in my opinion, that the New England offense is getting. Everything has been about the Atlanta offense versus the New England defense. I am here to tell you that New England is the number three rated scoring offense for a reason. According to the eye test, and the name check, Atlanta should have a significant advantage over New England, in the output and production at the skill positions on offense. This piece should, hopefully, dispel that mindset rather quickly, as I will attempt to prove to you that things are not as they seem, and New England stacks up fairly evenly with Atlanta at the skill positions.
Up first, we look at the running back position. LeGarrette Blount, by far and away, had a career year, and carried the New England rushing attack on his shoulders. Blount finished the regular season with 1,161 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. While no other Patriots running back scored a touchdown on the ground, there were two other contributors that deserve a mention. James White and Dion Lewis combined for 449 rushing yards on the season and held their own spelling Blount when called upon. When you combine the numbers of Blount, White, and Lewis, and compare them to the two-headed monster of Freeman and Coleman for Atlanta, things are pretty even. The three New England backs combined for 1,610 rushing yards with 18 touchdowns, while Freeman and Coleman only had 1599 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns. Anyone still giving the distinct advantage to the Falcons at running back? If so, let’s break down the running back group even further, looking into their contributions to the passing attack. All things the same, Blount, White, and Lewis had 683 yards receiving with 5 touchdowns for New England. Freeman and Coleman combined for 883 yards receiving and 5 touchdowns. While the Atlanta backs had more receiving yards by 200 yards, the number of receiving touchdowns were equal. For that, I consider the running back position even between these two teams.
Next, we examine the wide receiver position. We are removing the tight ends from this group and will cover them separately, as each team uses each group differently. Atlanta loves to utilize their speed and size on the outside and exploit defenses that way. New England loves to utilize the middle of the field and find the gaps in the defense, so they essentially will throw more short passes, then air it out deep like the Falcons. However, with that being said, as you will see, the Patriots top four receivers stack up pretty well against the Falcons top four. New England was led in receiving by Julian Edelman, who while not a big receiver, is time and time again, one of the hardest guys in the league to bring down. Edelman had 98 catches for 1,106 yards and 3 touchdowns during the regular season. Helping Edelman in the passing game at wide receiver for New England were Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, and Danny Amendola. These four wideouts during the regular season combined for a total of 2,430 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. Atlanta’s top four (Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Justin Hardy) out performed New England’s group, however they only had 414 more receiving yards and 5 more touchdowns. While it isn’t surprising that Atlanta’s group has the better numbers, it is slightly surprising that the gap isn’t as big as you may have thought. The gap in production between each team’s top four wide receivers shrinks even more when you add in their playoff statistics. Each team has played two games in this year’s playoffs, and New England’s top four wideouts have caught for more yardage than Atlanta’s (544 to 456). Atlanta’s group has caught 5 touchdowns however, compared to New England’s 3 touchdowns. With far less size, and less notable names, and I’d even say experienced talent, New England’s group of wide receivers is just as good as their Atlanta counterparts who are getting all the spotlight.
We conclude our conversation of the offensive skill positions by looking at the tight end group. Of the three groups, I believe this is the position that has the largest gap, and thus tips the advantage to the Patriots, of the team having the best skill position players. We all know that New England, once again had a two-headed, freaks of nature, monster at tight end with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. Gronk, in a limited, partial season, finished with 540 yards and 3 touchdowns, while Martellus Bennett had 701 yards receiving with 7 scores. Atlanta’s tight ends, Jacob Tamme and Austin Hooper, while great players, combined for 481 yards receiving and 6 touchdowns during the regular season. I will repeat, clear advantage New England.
Now that you’ve heard my case for New England having the best skill position group, I want to hear from you. Please vote in our poll question below to either agree with me, or to tell me how completely off base I really am. And, if you so please, you are welcome to leave a comment voicing your thoughts on this position group.