Three years ago, the New England Patriots left jaws agape by operating almost exclusively out of the shotgun, spreading out their receivers, sending Randy Moss deep, zipping quick passes to Wes Welker and mixing in throws to Jabar Gaffney, Donte Stallworth and Kevin Faulk. The run game and tight ends were afterthoughts.
This year, Tom Brady's hands are underneath center Dan Koppen. Nine quarterbacks, including Ryan Fitzpatrick for the Buffalo Bills, have attempted more passes out of the shotgun than Brady has. No other team uses two-tight end sets more than the Patriots, who have no established deep threat since trading Moss.
Not much of a resemblance, right?
Football Outsiders writer Doug Farrar compared this year's Patriots' offense to their sublime 2007 unit and found more similarities than you might think.
Farrar wrote in a column for ESPN Insider subscribers:
This offense has been just about as efficient, especially when adjusted for opponent, and especially in the last few weeks. The current team has an offensive DVOA of 45.2 percent, the second-highest total of any team after 12 weeks (since our numbers begin in 1993). It's the exact same figure the 2007 offense finished with after reality set in.
Farrar explained how Football Outsider's metrics show this year's Patriots and their record-setting '07 offense are alike. While the numbers might not be as explosive this year, the Patriots are producing against defenses that rate better than the ones they faced three years ago. In the division, the Patriots twice played the Jets in a down year, a 1-15 Dolphins club and the perennially subpar Buffalo Bills.
This year's Patriots have played four of Football Outsiders' top 10 passing defenses and only one in the bottom third, the Bills.
Farrar notes Brady's numbers have gotten stronger as the season has evolved, suggesting a growing comfort with rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead and receiver Deion Branch, who was reacquired in Week 5. It probably also helps that Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins is in front of Brady again after missing the first seven games.