Let's get one thing straight about the New England Patriots heading into this Sunday's ultra-important game against the Buffalo Bills: reports of their offensive demise, and particularly of a decline in the play of quarterback Tom Brady, are greatly exaggerated.
No, this Patriots offense is not as potent as it once was, nor are they nearly as efficient at protecting Brady as they once were. But this is still an offense that can keep defenses off-balance and find ways to mask weaknesses and exploit their opponents', which they did with marvelous efficiency in their 43-17 thumping of the Cincinnati Bengals this past Sunday night.
Having trouble protecting the passer? Notice that the Bengals' linebackers, without star Vontaze Burfict, are a point of vulnerability? Why not base your game plan around manipulating those linebackers, and beefing up your protection in the process, with some play-action passing?
Aided by early success on the ground, Brady and the Patriots wound up calling 13 passing plays with built-in play fakes against the Bengals. Most of those were traditional play fakes, run with Brady under center, while a handful were read-option fakes. The result? Brady took just one sack on those plays - and he missed an open receiver on that play - while completing 9-of-12 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown. It's all broken down in the gallery above (and if you're reading on mobile, make sure you're doing so in landscape).
You can bet that the Patriots will try this philosophy out against the Bills, who in the absence of Kiko Alonso - and with Nigel Bradham potentially less than 100 percent - suffer from a notable lack of elite speed and agility with Brandon Spikes, Preston Brown, and Keith Rivers on the field. It will also help the Pats deal with a Bills defensive line that is playing tremendous football right now, and that has accumulated 14.5 sacks in the team's first five games.
Add in the fact that the Pats can still switch in and out of a no-huddle approach at a moment's notice, and the Patriots are still a force to be reckoned with on offense, despite their well-documented issues on that side of the ball through five games.