EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 26, 2013

How vulnerable is Pats offense?

Focus on defense has left arsenal mighty thin

On Pro Football
Hector Longo

---- — This amazing Patriots obsession with defense ... Bill Belichick’s expending an amazing 14 of his last 19 picks in the top two rounds of the draft on that side of the ball ... This team’s futile attempts over the past eight seasons too stop anyone on third down ...

Have these factors all brought the New England Patriots right back to 2006 again? And should Tom Brady, at 36, fear for his health and well-being?

Thursday night’s pounding in the one exhibition game that is supposed to matter — Week 3 — has to have the Pats second-guessing themselves at least a little.

Certainly, they aren’t the Jets, or the Bills or Dolphins for that matter. New England remains light years ahead of the AFC East “competition.”

But after all the movement, all the picks, all the talk of an athletically superior defense and a surgically-precise offense piloted by Brady, this team looks a lot like the one the Baltimore Ravens picked apart last winter, and the one the Giants have overwhelmed twice on the game’s grandest stage.

The Detroit Lions, winners of absolutely nothing in their recent history, drove that point home successfully Thursday night.

Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and their thuggish defensive front left the Patriots first offensive line delirious as they ravaged Brady and pillaged the Pats backfield.

Just 13 days from the September 9 season opener, New England’s right side of the offensive line shows some serious deficiencies. Sebastian Vollmer and veteran Will Svitek got the start over there on Thursday night.

Vollmer has shown little this summer to assure anyone that his back issues from the past two years are behind him. And Svitek, a starter of 10 games in his previous seven pro seasons, has done plenty to show why the Chiefs and Falcons used him sparingly before moving on.

In addition, Ryan Wendell struggled at center.

What is most scary? The anchors of this line, left-side first-round picks Logan Mankins and Nate Solder have taken on Red Sox-esque tendencies.

That is, they are bullies, beating up the weaker sisters, but nowhere to be found when Brady is extricating himself from the carnage from another Jason Jones mugging.

And the line is merely the first issue for this offense. We brought up 2006 for a reason here.

This receiver corps looks a lot like that crew from the Doug Gabriel, Reche Caldwell Era. Fortunately, these Pats are young.

Undrafted Kenbrell Thompkins proved he could beat the mediocre press coverage provided by Lions’ Chris Houston. That was a positive. There were also times when fellow rookie Aaron Dobson looked like a pinball in traffic.

Brady had no security blanket with Danny Amendola out with an undisclosed injury. Considering his track record -- missing 20 of 32 games with injuries the last two seasons — will we spend the bulk of the time this season seeing Brady hold the ball too long with nobody open before:

1. He forces one into traffic for a pick.

Or ...

2. He gets blindsided for a vicious sack.

Both scenarios played out in Detroit.

The call has been in this corner since before 2006. Tom Brady is a once-in-a-lifetime commodity. Bill Belichick’s top priority is to feed Brady with the best weapons, surround him with superior talent at all times.

You have to wonder again, like in 2006, if this football team has done that. If that was the case, wouldn’t Wes Welker still be here?

And wouldn’t this team have made more serious runs at bigtime receivers that had become available?

Bad luck or bad decisions — a la counting on a clown like Aaron Hernandez — has left the Patriots offensive margin for error extremely thin. Remember, that Brady window is closing. This is the time to replenish his weapons, to re-stock up front, too.

With Amendola for Welker and a handful of unproven rookies for Lloyd and Hernandez, the Patriots have taken major steps backward on offense.

All the work put into this defense was absolutely warranted. I mean, there are top picks at every turn out there right now. And, at least on paper, this unit should finally be decent enough to keep this team in games when the offense sputters.

But there is no life after Brady yet, here in Patriots country. This comes from the guy (me) who called to trade him away in the offseason to re-stock this franchise and look ahead.

Lose Brady now — with nothing in return — and the season is toast.