Frustration mounting in New England over limitations of a Patriots offense with few dependable options

Tom Brady's fiery remarks to teammates on the sidelines last week drew nationwide attention but belie the issues at the heart of the Patriots' offensive woes. New England has arguably the most limited group of skill players in the entire NFL, a fact lost on no one in the organization, including Brady.

The Patriots have been unable to muster anything sustainable through the air or on the ground this season, and, given the state of the roster and the rash of injuries the team has endured, there isn't much hope of a drastic change down the stretch, sources said. New England's greatest assets are on the defensive side of the ball, which is carrying the team this season, and try as Brady might, no amount of sideline coaching is going to change that. The real heart of the angst within that offense, sources said, are the limited options they have and the small margin for error, with the Patriots significantly handcuffed if they have to play from behind.

"Tom is trying to get guys fired up and motivate them in his own way," said a source close to the situation. "That's not really new. But the problem is, right now there are really only two guys on offense he can trust, there isn't anyone who can win regularly on the outside and there is only so much scheming you can do."

As another source put it: "You can unload on a rookie receiver on the sidelines, because you aren't going to unload on the guy who put the roster together."

Bill Belichick is again having a masterful year as a head coach, running the defense (with help, of course) and assembling a bevy of castoffs who perfectly fit his needs on that side of the ball. But his work acquiring talent on the other side of the ball has not gone as well, especially since the departures of receivers Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon. Outside of stalwart slot receiver Julian Edelman and pass-catching running back James White (the two players referred to in the above quote), New England does not have many (any?) go-to guys.

Trading for Mohamed Sanu made sense, but he is still learning an entirely new offense on the fly, having spent most of his career in a word-based system and now in a number-based one. First-round pick N'Keal Harry missed most of the season with injury, and the transition for rookie receivers can be very difficult. Receiver Jakobi Meyers is a converted quarterback who is still clearly learning the position, and Phillip Dorsett remains limited in his skillset. The Patriots do not have a move tight end to speak of, let alone anything resembling retired future Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski. The offensive line has been marred by injuries at center and left end, and the offense lost its fullback for the season (a critical position in the run game). No matter how creative offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels gets, there isn't much to depend on.

"There is no speed on that offense, anywhere," said one executive on a team that has faced the Patriots this season. "Edelman moves the chains and White can help them win on third down, but there is no explosion. You aren't sitting there worrying about which guy you have to double."

The Patriots rank 20th in yards per attempt and 30th in yards per carry. Brown remains tied for fourth on the team in touchdown receptions and played only one game almost immediately after joining the team.

Of course, the Patriots have rallied from difficult circumstances before to reach the pinnacle of the sport, and they remain very much alive for the top seed in the AFC again, but there does seem to be a sense within that organization that more big change is looming in 2020, whether it be with Brady, Belichick or the coaching staff. And with this perhaps their best chance to win that seventh Lombardi Trophy with the coach and quarterback together, it's not difficult to see why tensions might be high at times on the sidelines.

CBS Sports Insider

Before joining CBS Sports, Jason La Canfora was the Washington Redskins beat writer for The Washington Post for six years and served as NFL Network's insider. The Baltimore native can be seen every Sunday... Full Bio

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