Alex Scheer - New England Patriots Beat Writer
The 2019 iteration of the New England Patriots had a lot of questions about how the team would look coming into Week One.
“What will Tom Brady look like at 42?”
“Will Julian Edelman still be the top target?”
“Is Josh Gordon going to be suspended for good?”
“Will the defense be better under Belichick calling the plays?”
“Can they win #7?”
Let’s unpack this here.
The biggest question mark as we gear up for their week 7 struggle against the New York Jets on Monday night happens to be the offense which, looking at the scoreboard from the first 6 weeks, you might say “ now wait a minute… the Patriots are averaging 31 points a game!” Yes, yes they are. Of the 24 touchdowns the Patriots have accumulated in the 2019 season, 19 of them are offensive, and 5 of them are credited to the defense/special teams unit. In Week 4 against the Buffalo Bills, 6 of the 16 points the Patriots scored were from the defense. Against the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots converted two turnovers into immediate scores. The defense has answered the call while the offense is struggling to find its rhythm. What does this mean? Is Brady no longer elite?
Well, not exactly.
Through the first 6 weeks of the season, Brady has had 2 games with zero touchdown passes, including the most recent stint against the New York Giants. In each of his last three outings, he has thrown three interceptions, while averaging 290.5 passing per game. His least efficient outing has been against divisional rival the Buffalo Bills, where he was held to his lowest completion percentage and yardage total, 46.15% and 150 yards respectively. While he hasn’t been the most efficient through the air this year, he is still a top 12 quarterback for the year, and leads a team who ranks 5th in passing for the season. Brady has also taken more opportunities on the ground this year, taking the ball himself for 3 scores, making up for his passing “deficiencies”. He is presently on pace to pass for 27 touchdowns and 4650 yards. Not exactly a slouch performance for a 42 year old. His completion percentage as a whole is actually above his career average, even with the clunker against the Bills, sitting at 65.4%, compared to a career percentage of 64.1%. Yet the team is 6-0.
Let’s talk running game.
The rushing by committee features lead back Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, and when healthy, James Develin are averaging 101.5 points per game, good for 20th in the NFL. The only other undefeated team phones in at number two, the San Francisco 49ers. While it's important to note that the Patriots are only rushing 41% of the time, having a weaker run game can cripple a team. It makes it even harder to establish a true run game when your plays are predictable. James White takes the field? More than likely a pass. Sony Michel? A run. Rex Burkhead? Well… he spends more time on the injury report than the field it seems. Sony Michel has 100 rushing attempts this season, compared to that of James White, who has a whopping 16 attempts. Talk about statistical differences. While Sony does have 3 rushing scores, there are only 3 other rushing touchdowns by players not named Tom Brady on the season. Tom Brady is TIED with Sony Michel for fist on the team in rushing touchdowns. For those who know Tom Brady, you know he isn’t exactly a rushing QB like that of Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, or Russell Wilson. Yet the team is 6-0.
Defensively? I don’t think we need to talk about the defense because they do all the taking themselves. Allowing an average of 8 points a game, it's the offense that has given up more points than the defense. Read that again. The OFFENSE has given up more scores than the defense.
How good is this defense? A total of 14 interceptions and coupled with 6 fumbles, the defense has caused 20 turnovers on the year. If the defense can maintain these numbers, they are on pace to have 53 turnovers to close out the year. Everyone is making comparisons to the 2007 team, but this absolutely obliterates their defensive output. The 2007 team had 19 interceptions for the season, headlined by Asante Samuel and 20 fumbles, spearheaded by Mike Vrabel. These guys were MONSTERS for this defense. Six games in, and the 2019 Patriots are already significantly outpacing the 2007 defensive turnovers, and it's not even close.
So what is WRONG with the Patriots this year? Offensively, they have a solid passing game. They are the number one scoring team and the number one defensive scoring team in the NFL. Why do things seem off? Why does no one seem to be impressed that a 42 year old quarterback and his phenomenal defense are one of the last two undefeated teams in the NFL?
It’s simple.Their flaws are starting to show, and unlike previous years, there isn’t a good explanation as to WHY they are showing. In the game against the New York Giants, Tom Brady had two turnovers, (INT and a fumble). That makes 4 turnovers in the last 3 games for Brady. His fault? Not entirely, but they go on hist stat sheet, so we have to address it. Phillip Dorsett is non existent in the offense despite having three touchdowns on the year. Josh Gordon isn’t producing like he should be. The run game hasn’t been the safety valve the Patriots had last season, and even against the Giants, Sony Michel was able to save his day with a 27 yard carry towards the end of the game. Julian Edelman is by far the best receiver for New England, and it's not even close. Don’t forget to count James White, who has 7 less receptions and 250 less yards than Edelman on the year. Clearly not as explosive.
Tom Brady shouldn’t be taking multiple QB sneaks to try to score. That's not his job, especially not at 42. The offense needs to figure out what comes next. Offensive line woes are clearly ailing them, as Brady has already been sacked 10 times. The Patriots mantra has been “Do your Job” in recent years. Everyone needs to do better at doing their job. The defense has been bailing out the offense all season long, but in order to win ring number seven, the offense needs to do more than rely on the Brady-Edelman connection. Brady clearly only trusts Edelman, and that needs to change. You can’t really count losing Antonio Brown, as the Patriots gift shop didn’t even have time to print his jersey before he was cut fro the team. However, adding N’Keal Harry back to the team will be super beneficial and hopefully bolster the passing game, freeing up Josh Gordon downfield, and taking some pressure off of the tight ends who are an astronomically lower tier than Gronk ever was. Getting Ben Watson back should hopefully add some kind of help, even if it's just veteran leadership in the locker room for both Izzo and LaCosse.
The defense can’t do this all season. They have carried the offense so far, and they have been the bailout they have needed to keep the record spotless. While they are on pace for a record breaking season, you have to consider their first 6 opponents with a combined record of 11-26. While that’s not the fault of anyone in the New England organization, it’s important to note that the teams they have played aren’t exactly of the highest quality so far. The Patriots have been fortunate to have a slightly easier schedule to start the season, which contributes All of that changes after Week 8. After hosting the Cleveland Browns, the next five games on the Patriots schedule are against playoff contenders, three of them away from the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium. Those teams are:
vs Kansas City
Lamar Jackson is LIGHTING up defenses right now with 11 touchdowns through the air and three more scores on the ground. His feet are dangerous as teams struggle to bottle him up. Philadelphia was just smashed by Dallas, but Carson Wentz still has 14 passing touchdowns and winning on the road in Philadelphia isn’t an easy task. Dallas is a really strong offensive team, and the three headed monster of Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliot are extremely dangerous when they are on, as they displayed last night. Houston offers a unique threat in Deshaun Watson and his ability to stretch a defense, using players like Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins to draw defenders away from him and his ability to make things happen just as efficiently on the ground as he does through the air. And last but definitely not least on this gauntlet of teams, the Chiefs and their high-powered offense guided by the one and only Patrick Mahomes. This game could very well be a preview of the AFC Championship, similar to last year. Kansas City needs to fix some stuff on defense, but there’s no mistaking that this offense can make some amazing plays and extend drives as they please. With Mahomes slinging 15 touchdowns and over 2100 yards through the air, all in just over six games of action, they look to be the most elite offense in the NFL. Welcome back explosive playmaker Tyreek Hill back one the field, there’s no end to what this offense is capable of with everyone is entirely healthy.
If the Patriots can get through the games against the AFC North opponents, then they get a much needed bye week to retool and tune up a few things before the last 7 games of the year. The schedule only gets harder for a team whose offense isn’t playing at the level most may have expected. It’s time for the Patriots offense to evolve, and evolve quickly. It’s time to step to the plate, it’s time to get the Brady swagger back, and show the world why they made the mistake YET AGAIN of doubting the extension of the Patriots now 19 season dynasty. It's a fool's errand to ever bet against the Patriots, but there is just something off that makes the idea of that wager seem a little more appealing. This team won’t go 16-0 as I mentioned in a previous article, and they don’t need to in order to count this season as a success. However, this team has the tools and ability to make a run at ring number seven. To the offense, you need to listen loud and clear: Step up, work hard and most importantly. DO. YOUR. JOB.