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Patriots Progress Report 2017 – Second Quarter

November 1, 2017
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The second month of the NFL season has been awfully kind to the New England Patriots.

The Pats had some struggles in the first few games of the season, managing just a 2-2 record to go with an inconsistent offense and a defense that bordered on the abysmal. These last four games, however, have been a success – particularly when it comes to that most important statistic: wins.

Four games, four wins. That’s what we’ve seen from New England. While the offensive attack has slowed down somewhat, that dip in scoring has been more than compensated for by the return of the classic bend-don’t-break Patriots defense that we’ve seen so often in recent years. The defense hasn’t been great, but they’ve been better … and an OK defense makes this New England squad one of the best in the AFC.

There have been issues, of course. The defense is still too soft against the pass. The offense hasn’t quite been able to put the pieces together for an extended stretch. And there have been injuries to some key pieces on both sides of the ball.

And yet – 4-0 is 4-0. It was a good month.

On to the Progress Report.

Offense – B

This is not the same high-octane offensive attack we saw in the first four games. The per-game scoring average dropped significantly – from just over 32 points to just shy of 22 – but much of that can be chalked up to game management. Tom Brady has been efficient throwing the ball – averaging 285 yards per game while completing 67 percent of his passes and tossing six TDs against two interceptions. No skill position players have been true standouts, but guys like receiver Chris Hogan and running back Dion Lewis have proven themselves to be valuable contributors to the cause. Brandin Cooks has quietly put himself among the leaders in receiving yards with 20 catches in the past four games. Gronk has played in just three of the last four, but he’s got 14 catches for nearly 200 yards and three TDs. And James White has been one of the most interesting weapons in the league, with 21 catches out of the backfield. It’s not 30-plus points per game, but wins are wins.

Defense – A-

It’s remarkable how quickly things can change in the NFL. After the first month of the season, this unit looked like they were toast. They just kept getting torched by opposing QBs. But the last four games have been a different story – the Pats have given up an average of less than 13 points per game. This after getting crushed to the tune of 32 per game in the first four. So yeah – giving up the equivalent of almost three fewer touchdowns per contest could be considered an improvement. Granted, they’ve had some less than impressive opponents, but still – that’s a massive shift. They’re rushing the passer more effectively, which has in turn helped them to slow down the passing attacks that had heretofore picked them apart. The loss of linebacker Dont’a Hightower is going to sting, but as long as the rest of the defense continues to play as a unit, the team can continue to overcome the lack of transcendent individual talents.

Special Teams – B+

While kicker Stephen Gostkowski remains one of the best at his position in the NFL, he isn’t quite the dominating weapon that he was earlier in his career. Of course, this just means that he’s gone from world-beating to excellent; he’s made 12 of 15 field goals over the past four games to go with a perfect nine for nine in extra points. He remains a touchback machine on kickoffs. Punter Ryan Allen remains the epitome of OK as far as his game goes; he’s unremarkable, but effective enough. Dion Lewis and Danny Amendola have done solid work as the kick and punt returners, respectively. The coverage teams remain some of the best-coached in the league.

Coaching – A-

If you wanted to argue that this grade is too low, I’d understand. After all, this team has executed a pretty impressive turnaround from the first four games to the last four on the defensive side of the ball. The talent level hasn’t increased in any meaningful way, so the onus for the improvement has to be on defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and the rest of the coaching staff. But one could make a similar argument in reverse for the offense; we haven’t seen much in the way of explosiveness out of them. Granted, some of that comes from not having to play hurry-up catch-up schemes, but still – we’re accustomed to more points. However, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, the biggest improvement has come with regards to the most important number – wins. And Bill Belichick continues to win. His team goes into their bye week with a four-game win streak and a division lead. Clearly, someone is doing something right.

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