In the Patriots 24-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, they did a few things offensively that were out of character. Perhaps the most striking thing was Shane Vereen’s targets and production, but perhaps the more telling was how they often targeted Amendola.
Vereen got targeted just seven times in the passing game and ended with just three receptions for eight yards. In the running game, Vereen only carried the ball two times for a total of 13 yards. So what was the big idea there?
Some people are blaming it on McDaniels and Belichick trying to outsmart everyone. Some people are saying it was the fact that the Miami Dolphins keyed in on Vereen and took him out of the game. Some are saying it was sparing Vereen so he doesn’t get hurt and maybe all of those are true, but something else struck me yesterday while I was watching the game.
The Patriots targeted Danny Amendola 14 times, which is twice what Vereen was targeted and it matched Amendola’s season high in targets and receptions. Amendola ended the day with 10 catches for 131 yards and almost caught the game-winning touchdown if it weren’t for a spectacular defensive play. Personally, I’d like to see him make the catch, but even so it was a tough play to make.
So, I started thinking about why the Patriots would showcase Amendola so much, on the last drive especially, and it seems pretty clear. Amendola had been a big bag of mediocre for eight straight games and it can’t be like that if the Patriots want to win playoff games. The Patriots are coming down to the point where he’s one of their best options for when team’s strategically take out Vereen.
He hasn’t fit in here well thus far posting up average numbers since the first game of the season, but it’s not too late to figure it out. I seemed like figuring it out was just what the Patriots were trying to do Sunday against Miami.
I don’t believe the Patriots would want to compromise a win, but in developing something between Brady and Amendola, it may lead to wins in January when they count more. Force-feeding the ball to Amendola would match the strategy done by the Patriots earlier in the season with Gronkowski, when they forced him the ball 17 times in his first game back.
At this point in the season, would you sacrifice a win for the development of Amendola and what he could bring to you in the playoffs? It’s tough to say yes, but at the same time they don’t have many weapons and, aside from Vereen, he may be their most talented weapon.
The Patriots are going to need Amendola and I think that awareness led to the decision to prioritize him in the offense this past week. I look for the trend to continue as the Patriots only have two games left in the regular season to figure out what their strengths are on offense.