"Why this and not that?"
That question is posed a few million times in living rooms and bar rooms, on airplanes and sidelines and over coaching headsets every single NFL Sunday.
Everybody has the right to wonder. Loudly if they so choose. And - contrary to what some may have you believe - the guys selecting "this" over "that" make the wrong decisions. A lot.
Clearly, the Patriots' offensive performance over the past few weeks leaves them open to some questioning and second-guessing.
Because they have players who've demonstrated a high level of competency, there is no question about whether their talent is an issue. So when the offense fails to gain separation in the second half and leads leak away, it logically comes down to either play-calls or execution.
The myriad variables that flow off of that are too long to list.
During a Monday conference call, I asked Josh McDaniels if he felt any closer to establishing what the offense does really, really, really well. What can it rely on?
"I think that you always try to evaluate what the team does well and hopefully were making as many good decisions about what to do with our players and our offense as we can all the time," said the Patriots offensive coordinator. "I think youll also learn as you go through this portion of the season. ...There are always some things you learn from each game, whether it be a new package that may have a chance to be productive for you or less of something else and more of this."
The essence of coaching successfully is either coaching with a relentlessly predictable efficiency so that, even if the other team knows what's coming, it can't stop it. Or winning the game with subterfuge and hitting them where they ain't. Usually, it's a blend.
A team as offensively diverse as the Patriots has lots of answers. Their challenge is providing the right ones when the defense presents them with a problem. Diversity is awesome. But simplicity is nicer.
Of course, the opponent is throwing subterfuge back at you, which McDaniels alluded to.
"So many factors go into each week ... like the way we attacked Seattle, it would have been hard to say thats exactly the way to attack the Jets because theyre so different in terms of the way they play and the schemes they use and the player strengths they have on defense," he explained. "You try to take the things that you do best that make sense to use against the team youre playing and then try to do them the best you can that week."
In-game adjustments, McDaniels said, create another level of complexity that makes the "that" which should work consistently a changeable thing.
"There are certain games we go into expecting to be pressured a lot and maybe we dont get blitzed," he pointed out. "Or theres a certain game we expect a lot of coverage and we get pressured a lot. In those situations, you may have to change what you anticipated would be a strength for your team as you go into it and try to do something else.
"Its Week 7 of the season, going into Week 8," McDaniels reminded. "There are always things you can learn about your team so that hopefully youre playing your best football as you head into the last half to last quarter of the season. So hopefully youre really peaking at the right time."