Over the past decade the NFL has become a passing league. As teams have taken advantage of rule changes designed to limit downfield contact, quarterbacks have racked up historic totals, making previously unimaginable statlines seem routine.
The Patriots were at the forefront of this revolution, and over the course of the decade fans have become accustomed to high-powered passing offenses that were pretty much unstoppable when everyone was healthy. Between Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola and whoever else happened to be lining up in a given year, the Patriots were perfectly constructed to execute this style of offense better than anyone else.
But not anymore.
Take one look at New England's personnel heading into Sunday's season opener and it's obvious the Patriots can't keep up with the league's best the same way they used to. Where the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs have a stable of speedsters like Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman to accompany elite tight end Travis Kelce, the Patriots have exactly one proven receiver on their roster — the 34-year-old Edelman.
If the Patriots are going to remain a contender, they will have to adapt. Luckily, Josh McDaniels and the offense won't have to look far for a blueprint in how else they could succeed with the personnel available.
Last year the Baltimore Ravens bucked all recent trends by adopting a highly prolific run-first offense. Utilizing quarterback Lamar Jackson's abilities in the run game, the Ravens became the first team since the 1978 Patriots to gain more than 3,000 rushing yards in a season, as well as the first team in modern NFL history to average 200 passing and 200 rushing yards per game.
In addition to Jackson, the Ravens relied heavily on their deep stable of running backs and tight ends while also benefitting from an offensive line that ranked No. 2 in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus.
Given the players New England has at its disposal, this is a formula that could work for the Patriots too.
For one, the Patriots now have the ideal quarterback to implement this style of offense. Cam Newton is the prototype for the modern dual-threat quarterback and if healthy could make a significant impact by running the ball. Given his recent injury history, that remains a big if, but the potential is certainly there for a big comeback season.
Two, the Patriots boast an outstanding offensive line that will get a significant boost from the return of David Andrews at center. Tackle remains a question mark with Jermaine Eluemunor expected to fill in for Marcus Cannon and former first-round pick Isaiah Wynn still yet to make it through a full season healthy, but the three interior starters are among the best at their positions and the unit as a whole should be a major strength.
Three, New England has a deep and talented pool of running backs. Though he's coming off a disappointing sophomore season, Sony Michel is a workhorse who should greatly benefit from having a fullback in Jakob Johnson to help clear a path again after injuries decimated the position last year. Damien Harris will be a fascinating addition when he returns from injured reserve, and James White and Rex Burkhead have both proven to be highly effective and versatile options as well.
Finally, where last year's Patriots got no meaningful production from the tight end position, this year's team has two promising rookies in Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. It's impossible to say what kind of players they will be at this point, but if they provide quality blocking and additional options in the short passing game, that could make all the difference.
Put all of these pieces together and you can imagine the Patriots finding success by following Baltimore's lead. Will they go that route? It's impossible to say, but as Newton teased during his press conference last week, we won't have to wait much longer to find out.
"I think the most exciting thing is that nobody knows," Newton said with a smile. "So you just got to tune in and see."
Mac Cerullo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Mac on Twitter at @MacCerullo.