FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Tom Brady is very comfortable throwing to Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski.
The other Patriots he sends out on pass patterns? Not so much. Of Brady’s 44 completions this season, 20 have gone to Edelman and Gronkowski. Of his 78 passes, 32 were aimed at them.
“I’ve got to do a better job finding the other guys because it’s a lot of good routes, they’re big targets,” Brady said Wednesday. “Guys are working really hard to get open. So, hopefully, it shows up this week in our pass game.”
New England (1-1) plays its home opener Sunday against Oakland (0-2). The Raiders are tied for second in fewest yards allowed passing, with teams preferring to run against the NFL’s worst rushing defense.
Of course, both teams have played only two games. But the Patriots already have seen a troubling pattern — like the percentage of passes thrown to Edelman and Gronkowski.
The discrepancy was most glaring in last Sunday’s 30-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings. Edelman and Gronkowski caught 10 of the 13 passes aimed at them. The other wide receivers and tight ends caught just two of the five balls Brady threw toward them.
But rookie offensive tackle Cameron Fleming saw considerable action as an extra tight end, giving the Patriots one less potential receiver.
“We could certainly stand to get a lot more balance into our attack overall,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “We didn’t have it in the run-pass ratio in Miami and we didn’t really have enough of it in the passing game last week, or really for Miami for that matter.”
In a 33-20 loss to the Dolphins, Edelman, Gronkowski and wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins caught 15 of Brady’s 21 completions to wide receivers and tight ends. They also were targeted on 29 of the 43 passes thrown to players at those positions.
But Thompkins was inactive against the Vikings despite being healthy. Another second-year pro, Aaron Dobson, took his spot and caught one of the two passes thrown toward him.
Running back Shane Vereen has been effective out of the backfield with six catches in two games, but two veteran wide receivers have had disappointing starts.
Danny Amendola, signed before last season, has just three catches while being thrown to only six times. Brandon LaFell, in his first year with the Patriots, didn’t catch any of the six passes thrown to him in the opener, LaFell wasn’t thrown to at all in the second game despite playing 38 snaps.
“I have a lot of trust in Danny,” Brady said. “It’s my responsibility to get him the ball and there were a few catches that got turned back (by penalties), a few big plays that would extend drives.
“But I don’t think our passing game has been really stellar to this point, so it’s hard to sustain much over the course of the game and get those guys the ball when we’re not doing as good a job as we’re capable of.”
Brady has forged an excellent connection with Gronkowski since the tight end’s rookie season in 2010. Gronkowski had 226 receptions in 50 games over his first four seasons.
How did he gain the trust of his star quarterback? “I’ve been here for a few years now, so you’ve just got to go out there every practice, work hard, work overtime, stay after practice, get the same chemistry down,” Gronkowski said. “It’s not just chemistry with Tom. It’s chemistry with the other wide receivers, with the timing, chemistry with the offensive linemen.”
When Brady distributes the ball more evenly, defenders can’t focus as much on Edelman and Gronkowski. With 14 regular-season games remaining, there’s plenty of time for that to happen.
“I have a lot of confidence in all our receivers and tight ends and backs in the passing game,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “I would anticipate that we’ll go forward and the ball will get distributed to a lot of those guys that can do a lot of good things with it.”