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When the Patriots acquired Chad Johnson (formerly Chad Ochocinco) via trade from the Bengals prior to the 2011 season, many pegged him as the viable outside receiving threat the team had missed since Randy Moss left New England. If those prognosticators are blessed with even subpar vision, their egos have certainly taken an irreparable hit. The Chad Johnson era (if you can call it that without insulting eras) in New England did not work out, to say the least, and left the Patriots in search of an outside receiver this past offseason.
This led to the signing of a number of free agent wide outs, including Brandon Lloyd, who has been good, but not great in a Patriots uniform. Thankfully, he has not been the tragic eyesore that Soundbite 85 was and has shown signs of forming a nice rapport with Tom Brady in recent weeks.
The Patriots complex offensive system has made it difficult for new receivers to find their roles with the team. Draft picks and offseason acquisitions alike such as Chad Jackson, Taylor Price, Joey Galloway, and Chad Johnson have had difficulty translating their physical gifts into on-field production with the Pats.
When the team signed Lloyd, his past success under offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels gave fans hope that he would not end up being another cautionary tale. In 2010, Lloyd led the NFL in receiving with over 1,400 yards under McDaniels in Denver, and was reunited with Mcdaniels last season in St. Louis, where Lloyd was still productive despite playing on a lousy team with multiple quarterbacks (Rams QB Sam Bradford missed six games last year). As a result, it was clear that although not all the kinks had been worked out, Lloyd had a solid understanding of the Patriots offense since day one, as evidenced by his high snap count throughout the season.
Over his career, Tom Brady has played with many good receivers (Troy Brown, David Patten, David Givens, Deion Branch) and one great receiver in Randy Moss, but has never had a wideout who stylistically matches Brandon Lloyd. Lloyd has never been a receiver who creates great separation in man coverage, but relies on precision route running, body control, and exceptional hands and footwork to make catches in traffic. Many of his receptions, especially those that have come more than ten yards down the field, are made with a defender and or sideline within a yard or two of the ball.
For this reason, the quarterback-receiver chemistry between Brady and Lloyd is imperative to success, since completions between the two are predicated on ball placement and route adjustments. Through fifteen games, we’ve seen Brady and Lloyd work to form trust and have shaken off some midseason misconnections over the last three weeks. Recently, Lloyd has been one of Brady’s favorite targets, with 23 catches and 341 yards in the last three games. However, in New England, true value doesn’t reveal itself until after the New Year when the real season begins.
Last season, without a true outside receiver, the Patriots averaged over 32 points per game. This season, they are averaging over 35 points per game, but have still been vulnerable at times versus tough defenses. The formula for disrupting the Patriots offense over the past few years has been creating pocket pressure on Tom Brady without blitzing, and funneling coverage to the middle of the field. The best teams, playoff teams such as the 49ers, Broncos, Texans and Giants (who may not make the postseason) have the personnel to achieve this. However, when Welker, Hernandez, and Gronkowski are jammed at the line and often double-teamed, cornerbacks are left one-on-one on the outside.
In a short time, Lloyd will be appraised and his worth disclosed. Can he beat man coverage and be a security blanket for Tom Brady when his familiar options are neutralized? Does Tom Brady trust him enough to throw it his way in the fourth quarter with the season on the line?
For most free agents, they say signing with the Patriots was easy because it is a class organization that competes for a championship every year. Maybe Brandon Lloyd can help the Patriots move from competing for a championship to winning one, making everyone forget about the last 85 and applauding the new one.