Quarter Season Report
With one-fourth of the season in our rear-view mirror, the Patriots sit at 3-1 and tied for first in the AFC East with the Buffalo Bills, though the Bills own the tie-breaker due to a head-to-head victory.
There have been some positives and there have been some negatives but, as it stands right now, the Patriots seem to have enough firepower to make another run at the playoffs. We will start with the negatives, because I’m a positive guy and I want to get that out of the way first.
Negatives: The biggest negative so far for New England has been its inability to stop opponents’ passing attacks. The Patriots rank dead last in the NFL in pass defense, surrendering 369 yards a game, more than 50 yards more than Green Bay which comes in at 31st in the league. What makes this stat even worse going forward is the fact that the Pats have faced two pretty average passers in Chad Henne and Jason Campbell, while also facing Phillip Rivers without his second favorite target Malcom Floyd.
Here are two reasons that Pats have struggled against the pass.
The Secondary- Though they have come up with some big plays, New England’s defensive backs are just getting beaten on too regular of a basis. After a fantastic rookie campaign, Devin McCourty has come back down to earth and shown that he is not ready to run with opposing teams’ top receiver quite yet. The rest of the unit has been beaten up, but Pat Chung appears to be the only safety that has a clue of where to be some of the time, and that is just not acceptable. The lone bright is Kyle Arrington’s three interceptions, but even he has given up some big plays.
Pass Rush- The Patriots have only registered six sacks this season, and haven’t gotten one in the past two weeks. This is very concerning when you consider the health and experience of the secondary behind this front, and the team’s leader in sacks, Mark Anderson has been less and less effective as the season has worn on. Linebacker Rob Ninkovich has been a decent pass rusher throughout his career, but he is nicked up right now, and Albert Haynesworth doesn’t look like he is going to bring much production, at least for a while. Look for the Patriots to become even more aggressive and blitz a ton. When you think about it, it is more of a risk to not blitz and sit back in coverage, especially when the secondary has shown it can’t cover anybody.
Positives: The offense has obviously been a big positive. The Patriots lead the league in total offense, and Tom Brady has smashed records to open the season. Here is why New England’s offense has been so impressive.
Tom Terrific- Let’s be frank here, Tom Brady is the driving force behind this offense’s effectiveness. Brady has thrown for 1553 yards and 13 touchdowns with only five interceptions, and three of those came off tipped balls. The only game Brady was not picture-perfect was New England’s loss in Buffalo where he threw a career-high four interceptions. Still, only one of them was really his fault, and he still lead a game-tying drive in the game’s waning moments. If Brady continues to play this well, the Patriots are going to be nearly impossible to stop the rest of the way.
Finding Balance- Don’t look now, but the Patriots rushed for 183 yards Sunday against the Raiders. The Pats now have three different backs they can hand the ball to in Benjarvus Green-Ellis, rookie Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead, when he is fully healthy. All three of those guys have over 100 yards rushing this season, and New England’s line showed that it could control the point of attack against a physical Raiders front. Look, this team is never going to be a traditionally balanced offense, Brady is just too good to not be throwing the ball a ton, but if this budding ground game turns into a legitimate threat, this offense could be explosive and consistent.