Brady pulls it all together
Seen from afar, the Patriots' offense doesn't appear to be as explosive as it actually is.
The leading pass-catcher, Wes Welker, can't outrun some tight ends. Deion Branch has lost a step. Bill Belichick traded away the deep speed of Randy Moss and replaced it with the big, across-the-middle presences of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The third receiver option, Danny Woodhead, ended the preseason in a fight for the 53rd roster spot of the New York Jets before being cut and is technically a running back after signing with the Patriots.
What makes it pro football's most explosive offense is quarterback Tom Brady, who's also not known for being fleet of foot. Brady's ability to squeeze the most out of the players around him has made him the game's most valuable player in the league's most unusual offense.
In a quarterback-driven league, Brady continues to stay ahead of defenses with his ability to read coverages and maneuver pass-catchers. In an age in which more teams are using three-, four- and five-receiver sets, it's remarkable that Brady led the league in scoring while playing in a two-tight-end offense.
Normally, two-tight-end sets are for running teams. According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Pats lined in two-tight-end sets a league-high 631 times and gained 3,676 yards. Out of these formations, Brady keeps defenses guessing. Even though the Patriots passed on 54 percent of their plays last year, they are a balanced offense out of two-tight-end sets, actually running the ball 54 percent and throwing it 46 percent.
The matchup problems and Brady's 68.1 percent accuracy in these formations allowed the Patriots to score 37 of their 56 offensive touchdowns.
Brady's ability to adjust is the reason for the team's explosiveness. The offense was at its absolute best in 2007. Welker was unstoppable from the slot. Moss burned teams deep. Running back Kevin Faulk came out of the backfield and added production after making the catch. Brady threw for an NFL-record 50 touchdowns, and the Pats went undefeated until the Super Bowl.
He blew out his knee in 2008, so 2009 was a year in which Brady adapted his game, and as a result, his touchdown total dropped to 28. Last year was one of change. Welker was coming off knee surgery and wasn't as fluid with yards after the catch. Moss was being phased out, and the tight ends were learning.
Nevertheless, Brady threw for 36 touchdown passes and only four interceptions and the Patriots won 14 games last season. Being smart and explosive works.
Eagles' numbers don't lie
Sometimes, these debates are hard, because you struggle to figure out the criteria. Fortunately, when we're talking about the most explosive offense in the NFL, we have hard data.
The Philadelphia Eagles are, hands-down, the most explosive offense in the NFL right now. The numbers back it up. NFL coaches define an "explosive play" as any play that gains 20 or more yards. And nobody racks up the explosives the way the Eagles do. Philadelphia had 80 offensive plays in 2010 that gained at least 20 yards -- the most of any team in the NFL. But dig into that number, and you find four big things that set the Eagles apart from the other teams in this debate.
1. Versatility: Only two teams had more explosive run plays than the Eagles' 19. Only three had more explosive pass plays than the Eagles' 61. The Eagles don't merely have an explosive passing attack, like the Chargers, or an explosive rushing attack, like the Raiders. They have both, each on the level with the top teams in each category. You can't know whether the Eagles will explode on the ground or in the air -- only that they will.
2. Super-explosiveness: Take this stat to the next level. The Eagles had 21 plays of 40 or more yards -- six on the ground and 15 in the air. Again, it's the best overall number in the league. The Eagles' explosions are extra-backbreaking.
3. Cast of characters: Everybody's in on the act. Quarterback Michael Vick had 48 of the explosive pass plays (including 12 of the super-explosives) and eight of the 19 explosive run plays. Running back LeSean McCoy chipped in with seven more explosive runs, and backup James Harrison even came up with three. McCoy led the league with five runs of 40 or more yards. Receivers? DeSean Jackson ranked third in the league with 21 catches of 20-plus yards and eight catches of 40-plus yards. Jeremy Maclin had 13 and four. Any Eagle can explode on you at any time.
4. Sustainability: Vick's the oldest one of the bunch! Jackson is entering his fourth year in the league, and McCoy and Maclin are entering their third. The Eagles are young enough that they're liable to keep exploding well into the future -- and maybe even get better at it.
When it comes to explosiveness, there's no offense in the NFL that's doing what they're doing in Philly. The numbers back it up.