UNSTOPPABLE AERIAL ATTACK
Through five games, the 2012 version of the Patriots offense looks like a well-balanced, productive unit that will continue to put up big numbers as the season rolls on.
But let's be real here. If the 2012 offense is excellent, then the 2007 version was out-of-this-world amazing.
There are two ways of looking at this. The first is statistical; the second is mental. And the 2007 offense wins in both cases.
Statistically, the Patriots came close to not needing a punter in 2007. There were games where Chris Hanson may have forgotten even how to punt -- he only did it 44 times that season, 15 percent less than any other NFL team.
The 2012 Patriots? They're on pace to punt 60 times. That's less than about 75 percent of NFL teams, yes, but it's not dead-last. Again, that's the difference between 2012 and 2007: very good vs. exceptionally awesome.
The second aspect of this is mental. Years before the rocky end to Randy Moss' career in New England, he was the most feared receiver in the NFL. Teams simply couldn't find a way to stop him in 2007.
Brandon Lloyd? Very good. But he's not Moss. He's not the gold standard.
The Patriots averaged 41.1 points through their first 12 games in 2007. As the season progressed, the intimidation factor grew.
What was so intimidating about the Patriots' 18-point performance in their Week 2 loss to the Arizona Cardinals this season?
Teams knew the Patriots were a pass-first offense in 2007, they knew what to prepare for. The result? Tom Brady still threw for an NFL-record 50 touchdown passes and Moss had a record 23 touchdown receptions.
The Patriots scored 56 points against the Bills, 52 against the Redskins, 49 against the Dolphins, 48 against the Cowboys and 38 against four other opponents. That's half of the schedule.
Do you think the current offense could put up numbers like that? The 16-0 Patriots of 2007 were the very definition of offensive juggernaut.
Mike Rodak covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.
UNMATCHED BALANCE, DIVERSITY
Just five games into the 2012 regular season, it's evident that the Patriots are up to something special offensively.
The team finds itself atop the NFL in terms of both total offense and points per game, as well as third in rushing and ninth in passing.
But numbers aside, this Patriots' offense is different than -- and superior to -- the 2007 version for one primary reason: balance.
In 2007, the Patriots used the pass to set up the run, relying upon the efficiency of quarterback Tom Brady in finding his dangerous cast of receivers, highlighted by Wes Welker and Randy Moss, to force defenses to overcompensate to defend the pass. In other words, they were more one-dimensional.
Fast forward to today, and the Patriots possess the ability to control the tempo and pace of a game both on the ground and through the air, as has been witnessed during the early portion of 2012. The surgical precision with which the Patriots ran the no-huddle against the Broncos made it practically unstoppable at times.
Stevan Ridley and his backfield mates give the Patriots a stable of dependable players, and the pressure has been eased off of Brady.
But the Patriots aren't just balanced between running and throwing the football, but also balanced in terms of the number of offensive weapons at Brady's disposal.
The presence of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez add a new dimension, with either capable of becoming the focal point of a game plan during a given week. Add Welker, Brandon Lloyd and the reliable group of running backs and you've got a defensive coordinator's worst nightmare.
The offensive line also has held up in its protection of Brady and making holes for Ridley and company. The 2012 offense is as good as we've seen during the Brady and Belichick era. Yes, even better than the record-setting 2007 offense.
Field Yates covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.