We previously passed along the "leftovers" from ESPN The Magazine's Seth Wickersham's terrific piece on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, and among the intriguing parts to the piece was Brady's mentioning how much finishing drives from the opponent's 2-yard line with touchdowns means to him. "When we're 19-for-19 inside the 2-yard line, like we were in 2003, 2004, that's pretty awesome," he said.
That got us thinking about the Patriots' current offense, and reminded of how the team went just 1-for-4 in the red zone against the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game, while Baltimore went a perfect 4-for-4.
The ineffectiveness of the red zone offense on that day was due in part to the absence of Rob Gronkowski, who is the Patriots' best red zone weapon when healthy.
Looking at some of the acquisitions from this offseason, two come to mind as it relates to the red zone woes that plagued the Patriots in the AFC Championship (note: the woes were not season-long, as the Patriots finished third in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage, scoring on more than 67 percent of their red zone trip): LeGarrette Blount and Aaron Dobson.
While the Patriots have good depth at the running back position, the group was a relatively light one on the whole prior to the trade for Blount. Both Brandon Bolden and Stevan Ridley check in at 5-foot-11, 220 pounds, tops among the backs before Blount was acquired. At 6-feet and 247 pounds, Blount is a far bigger back than any other option for the Patriots. When thinking about how much finishing drives means to the Patriots, there could be some added context as to why they had interest in Blount.
While Blount was not a dominant goal-line rusher for Tampa Bay in 2012, he has the obvious frame to be a "finisher" for the Patriots behind their strong offensive line. The feeling here is that Blount has work to do before securing a 53-man roster spot (his recent contract restructuring likely helps his cause), but if he can show he's a capable short-yardage back during the preseason, he may just find a role in New England.
As for Dobson, while we've yet to see him on the field in full pads for the Patriots, it's hard not to take notice of his size and length when seen in person. The Patriots lacked a perimeter receiving threat that could consistently beat man coverage in the red zone last year, something that their receivers will often see as teams dedicate attention to both Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Fade routes were not a big part of the offense in 2012 with receivers (Brady did throw a few to Hernandez), but the ability to make plays in competitive catch situations likely made Dobson enticing to the Patriots. The more that defenses are forced to spread their attention to multiple receivers, the more effectively Brady can target a favorable matchup.
Finishing drives and being an effective red zone offense played a part in the Patriots' most recent Super Bowl triumph. While the offense has experienced some turnover this offseason, it looks like one of the objectives for the Patriots was to find tough skill players who can improve both of those areas leading into 2013.