The New England Patriots understand that complementary football is a concept that applies on both a macro and micro level. It's not about having perfect balance between the running game and the passing game, but it's about how the running game works in harmony with the passing game.
Likewise, it's not about having deep threats and slot receivers, but it's about how those pass-catchers work in unison to move the ball against a defense. Within the Patriots system, receivers who possess a skill set like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola work perfectly with a tight end that has the skill set of Rob Gronkowski.
That's because the Patriots have a quarterback in Tom Brady whose skill set works perfectly with all three.
According to Pro Football Focus, Brady has completed seven of his 16 passes that traveled 20 yards or more through the air. With one of those passes dropped, Brady has 50 percent accuracy on those throws, which is the fifth-best for any quarterback in the NFL through Week 6. That being said, only 8.1 percent of his pass attempts were 20-plus-yarders.
Brady doesn't need to throw a pigskin a quarter mile to be an effective quarterback. He just needs to be accurate on the short and intermediate throws over the middle and down the seam.
In those areas, he's been surgical with his accuracy. He has completed 86 of his 114 passes that traveled 0-9 yards, picking up 10 touchdowns and one interception in the process. He has also completed 54 out of 72 passes that traveled 0-19 yards downfield and between the numbers, with six touchdowns and no picks in the process.
With Gronkowski running rampant through the linebackers and safeties, and with Edelman and Amendola carving up defenses underneath, Brady's startling efficiency in those areas is no surprise. But Edelman and Amendola are the perfect complements to Gronkowski, so that when the latter is being taken out of the game, the two slot receivers can have their day.
Edelman and Amendola both play off of Gronkowski, but the fact that the two receivers are so similar in their skill set makes them incredibly interchangeable.
On other offenses, Edelman and Amendola might be seen as two pieces that simply couldn't work together in one offense. There's only so much room for slot receivers, especially when one is a central component of the offense. But thanks to their similarities, Amendola was able to step up for an injured Edelman and still be productive.
We saw a perfect example of that with 3:32 remaining in the first quarter on Sunday night. Brady lined up in the shotgun with running back Dion Lewis to his right. Gronkowski and tight end Scott Chandler both lined up tight to the offensive tackle. Amendola and Edelman both lined up on the left—Edelman out wide, Amendola in the slot.
The route combination was designed so that the linebacker and safety would follow Gronkowski down the seam while Amendola ran free toward the middle of the field.
Brady hung in the pocket as pressure began to close in, and Amendola saw that Brady was under duress. He flowed to the open side of the play, where Brady had a clear window to throw him the ball without any pressure in his face.
Amendola then turned up field and picked up 24 yards on the play.
Even when Gronkowski's not making a big impact, his presence is helping others make the impact he's not having.
Edelman is a talented receiver, but he's benefited from double and triple coverage on Gronkowski in his career, and this season as well.
With 5:52 remaining in the first quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Edelman ran a corner route over the middle while Gronkowski ran the same route, at a different depth, from the boundary.
The safety on Gronkowski's side of the field came over to help in coverage on the sideline, leaving the middle of the field open for Edelman to catch the ball and turn upfield. The linebacker coverage was just a step slower than Edelman, but the window was big enough for Brady to hit Edelman in stride. The window behind him was that much bigger, though, because Gronkowski had the attention of the defense.
Gronkowski started off the season on a record pace, but even as he has slowed down on the stat sheet, his impact on the Patriots offense has not.
All that being said, this is just the first incarnation of the 2015 Patriots offense. We could see a completely different unit when wide receiver Brandon LaFell makes his return to the lineup, which could happen as soon as this week. The 6'3" boundary receiver has been on the physically unable to perform list.
LaFell would give the Patriots the boundary threat they currently lack, but one they've been plenty successful without. Indeed, adding LaFell would be like adding a second Christmas on December 26. That's exactly how Brady might feel about getting his best boundary receiver back.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained via team news release and all advanced statistics obtained via ProFootballFocus.com.