Readjusting Expectations for the New England Patriots (or are we?)

Two weeks ago, New England Patriots fans held their collective breath as Jameis Winston led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense down the field to the 20 yard line before he incompleted a pass to O.J. Howard as time expired, granting the Patriots a sloppy Thursday night win. The incomplete pass led to a sigh of relief as the Patriots moved to 3-2 on the season.

This past week, the Patriots found themselves in an early hole and had to dig themselves out of their early deficit to squeak one out against the New York Jets in the Meadowlands. The Pats allowed a quarterback to pass for 300 yards for the sixth straight week, becoming the first team in NFL history to accomplish this “feat”.

On the one hand, the Patriots defense allowed only 14 points to the Bucs, who were averaging 24 points/game, and allowed 17 points to the Jets who were only averaging 18.4 points/game. In terms of points scored, the Patriots have been doing a much better job at keeping opponents out of the end zone the last couple of weeks, only allowing about 16 points/game. This is in contrast to the team’s abysmal first four weeks when they allowed 32 points/game.

(Photo: SB Nation)

Defensive Woes

The big takeaway from the Patriots and Bucs game was that the Patriots defense simplified things from a scheme perspective and limited the production of the Bucs top receiving option Mike Evans to five catches for 49 yards. Fortunately, the Patriots defense was lucky enough that Winston continued being erratic with his passing accuracy as he only completed 57% of his passes. He missed a couple of his receivers on plays that could have developed into back-breaking plays and his receivers also dropped a couple of key passes, including a missed-touchdown opportunity to Cameron Brate and a couple of drops by running back Doug Martin.

This week, however, Josh McCown (!) threw for 354 yards, 2 touchdowns (although it probably should have been three), and had a completion percentage of 66%. Matt Forte and Austin Seferian-Jenkins both had eight catches and both Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse each had four catches for over 75 yards.

Much has been made of the fact that the Patriots are facing a tougher gauntlet of quarterbacks this year as opposed to last year when they led the league in points allowed on defense. This is probably accurate as the Patriots faced Carson Palmer, Ryan Tannehill, Brock Osweiler, Tyrod Taylor, Cody Kessler/Charlie Whitehurst, and Andy Dalton through the first six games of last season. Through six games this season, the Patriots have faced Alex Smith (he’s having a good season so far, you can’t knock him), Drew Brees, Deshaun Watson, Cam Newton, Jameis Winston, and I’ll leave out Josh McCown, although his statistics so far suggest he’s been a good quarterback. Just based on names alone, the latter group is a better group of quarterbacks than the former.

(Photo: Sports World Report)

Reason for Hope?

Last season, the Patriots defense was certainly better than this year’s defense has been, however, last year’s defense was the beneficiary of opponent’s failing to execute and capitalizing on Patriots’ mistakes. This season, opponents have been taking full advantage of the Patriots’ mistakes and are making them pay.

Do the performances put up by the Patriots defense mean that they will take a step forward? Sort of. I think that they will be a middle-of-the-pack defense the remainder of the year. The good thing for the Patriots? They have only played one game so far against their division opponents who sport the worst quarterbacks by far on the remainder of their schedule. No offense to the Jets, Buffalo Bills, and Miami Dolphins, but Josh McCown, Tyrod Taylor, and Smokin’ Jay Cutler do not compare to some of the remaining quarterbacks the Pats face (Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, Derek Carr, and Ben Roethlisberger).

Another reason to not be as concerned is that a Bill Belichick led Patriots defense has never finished worse than 17th in the league in points allowed. They were 31st one year in total yards allowed, however, they went to the Super Bowl that year (2011), so it is still not out of the realm of possibility that the Patriots have a shot at another title.

Offense Quietly Dominating

Also, most of this article I have spent time talking about the defense and not the offense. You know why? Because I am not worried about the offense. Despite how many times Tom Brady has been sacked, hit, pressured, etc. and how out-of-sync the offense can look at times, they still currently rank 5th in points scored and 1st in yards gained.

If you missed my article on the expectations for Tom Brady and the offense in 2017, be sure to check that out here.

Quite honestly, and I don’t know how hot of a take this really is, but the loss of Julian Edelman could spell bad news for this team. Danny Amendola has been a great fill-in piece, however, Edelman can completely change the game.

So far, Brady, according to Next Gen Stats, ranks 20th amongst quarterbacks in time to throw (TT) as he gets rid of the ball in 2.65 seconds. Last year, Brady was slightly better by getting rid of the ball in 2.56 seconds (16th among quarterbacks). This might not seem like much of a difference, however, this could mean the difference between a defender batting a ball down or getting pressure on Brady. Every second counts in a game decided by inches.

Much of the Same

If we put statistics aside, though, and simply use the eye test, the New England Patriots, due to the somewhat inconsistent play on offense and the piss poor defense, could wind up winning only eleven games. That may be a lot for almost any other team in the league, however, when you consider the expectations put on this team at the beginning of the year, eleven wins is almost a far cry from their initial projection.

With the landscape of the NFL and the amount of injuries taking place each weekend, I still think this team will probably be a twelve win team when all is said and done. At the end of the day, the Patriots will figure things out on defense to be respectable by season’s end, although they will continue to put Patriots’ fans, and Matt Patricia, on edge every drive.

The final verdict: Patriots finish 12-4 and lock up a first week playoff bye. Book it…I hope.

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