The Patriots are currently 1-2, thanks to losses against Jacksonville and Detroit. Here is why the Patriots are off to a rough start, by position.
What to Feel Good About
QB, OL, Safety
Tom Brady is not falling off a cliff like many would like to believe. He just has no weapons. His throws have been accurate, but he is not getting any help. The offensive line has gotten protection for Brady and is top ten in the league when healthy. The only concern is the health of Marcus Cannon, because LaAdrian Waddle is not good enough to be a full-time starter. Patrick Chung being out is part of the reason why the run defense was brutal against Detroit. Also, the long touchdown to Marvin Jones would not have happened if Chung was playing, since he would have picked Jones up. When healthy, Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty are one of the most underrated safety duos in the game.
What Needs to Improve
Running Back– Split the Playing Time
The Patriots have done a great job mixing up who they play at running back, and they should do it now. Against Detroit, Sony Michel got most of the work. However, James White should be getting more snaps. Michel has great upside, but White is the better back as of now. White has more burst and can create more space with his elusiveness. Also, Michel is not a threat in the passing game, so the offense is predictable when he’s on the field. White is a matchup nightmare because of his ability to beat opponents anywhere on the field. Michel also had a knee injury during the preseason, so it does not make sense to give him a heavy workload when he is coming back from an injury.
Wide Receivers- No Separation
Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett are the only real receivers on the team, and Patterson is used for gimmick plays. Hogan and Dorsett are outside receivers, but they struggle to get separation against good corners. Early in the fourth quarter against the Lions, the Patriots had a third and eight. Brady was able to buy time in the pocket, but still could not find anyone open after eight seconds. I have more optimism about this corps because Julian Edelman will be back for week five and Josh Gordon should play week four. Edelman always finds a way to get open and Gordon has the ability to be an elite receiver, if he figures it out.
Tight end- Teams can triple team Gronk
Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end in the league and arguably the greatest ever. However, teams can have their entire defense guard him because he’s by far the most dangerous weapon, as of now. As I said, I have more optimism because Gordon and Edelman coming back will free up more space him. Teams will have to use more resources on those two, which will draw more single coverage for Gronk. He is also the only tight end teams have to worry about. Dwayne Allen gets paid $4.5 million to block and Jacob Hollister has shown flashes, but is currently hurt.
Front four- Tackles have been letdowns
Trey Flowers is by far the best player on the front seven, and that was shown when the Pats could not get any pressure when he was out on Sunday. Adrian Clayborn has struggled in his first three games as a Patriot, and it would not surprise me if Derek Rivers took over the starting role. Danny Shelton and Malcolm Brown should be clogging up the middle, but the run defense has been awful. Both Brown and Shelton are former first-round picks who have not lived up to the hype. The Patriots have allowed 430 rushing yards, second worst in the league.
Linebackers- No speed
None of the Patriots linebackers can cover, which is a big problem. Teams can dump it off to backs in the flat and the linebackers cannot cover much distance. D’Onta Hightower used to be elite, but looks much worse than he was in recent years. Ja’Whaun Bentley stood out in camp, but has not made an impression so far. He picked off Matthew Stafford, but he got beat in coverage and the throw was short. Kyle Van Noy did a good job of containing Watson week one but has had his fair share of struggles covering.
Cornerbacks- Gilmore and who else?
Stephon Gilmore is the best corner on the team and there is no question about it. Eric Rowe is the best option at the second corner, which isn’t saying much. He got benched in the Jacksonville game after struggling against Keenan Cole. Jason McCourty struggled in the preseason and is transitioning to more of a safety role. Training camp stand out JC Jackson made the team after being an undrafted free agent, but he has not gotten significant playing time yet. Starting an undrafted corner week four would be quite the desperation move.
It’s Not Time to Panic…Yet
The Patriots have had their fair share of rough starts in the Brady-Belichick era. They started off 1-3 in 2001 and ended up winning the Super Bowl. In 2012, New England started 1-2 and made the AFC Championship game. The Patriots began 2-2 in 2014, including the famous Monday Night Football loss to the Chiefs. They would go onto win the Super Bowl that year. They also started 2-2 last year and ended up winning the AFC Championship.
I would start panicking as a Patriots fan after week six. This would be two weeks of Julian Edelman and three weeks of Josh Gordon with no results. Also, it would mean the defense did not improve much. The next three games are against the Dolphins, Colts and Chiefs. If the Patriots lose to Miami, they would be behind by three losses and the head to head loss. Divisions are not won in September, but the Patriots do not have much wiggle room anymore. I do have faith that they will figure it out, but they need to do it quickly.
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