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Patriots Progress Report – First Quarter

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If this first quarter of the season is any indication, 2017 is going to be one hell of an up-and-down roller coaster ride for fans of the New England Patriots.

Considering that there were serious conversations about New England’s chances of running the table before the season started, it’s tough not be disappointed with a 2-2 start. Yes, there have been a number of injury issues that have contributed to these early struggles, but still – sitting at .500 after four games is not where anyone expected this team to be.

That’s not to say that the season’s first month has been all bad. There have been plenty of things to be excited about. And hey – up and down, round and round, it’s still the Patriots.

And now, the Progress Report.

Offense – A

It’s difficult to find fault with how the New England offense has performed over these first four games. They’ve scored over 32 points per game and average more passing yards than any other team in the league. Tom Brady has been as good as any 40-year-old quarterback you’re ever likely to see; he has put up 1,399 yards passing with 10 TDs and zero interceptions. Tight end Rob Gronkowski remains one of the best offensive weapons in the game – he’s got 20 catches for well over 300 yards and a pair of scores. Chris Hogan has caught four TDs among his 15 receptions, while Brandin Cooks is averaging nearly 23 yards per catch. Mike Gillislee has rumbled his way to just shy of 200 yards and four scores on the ground, while James White has been a versatile weapon out of the backfield. All this despite losing go-to receiver Julian Edelman for the season. This team can score some points.

Defense – D

Things aren’t nearly as rosy on this side of the ball. See, the Patriots lead the league in scoring here as well – and not in the good way. While they’ve averaged a touch over 32 points scored per game, they’ve given up … 32 points per game. Their defense is just too soft; their usual bend-don’t-break defense has, well, broken. They’ve given up 11 passing TDs in four games – the secondary is getting torched with regularity. Guys like Devin McCourty, Malcolm Butler and free agent acquisition Stephon Gilmore are talented, but they simply haven’t been able to shut down the passing attacks of opponents. And with just eight sacks so far, the front seven has proved unable to generate the necessary pressure on the quarterback, although linemen Trey Flowers and rookie Deatrich Wise have shown flashes. It’s about points – and these guys are giving up a ton.

Special Teams – B+

Special teams tend to be a strength for the Patriots. This season appears to be more of the same, with kicker Stephen Gostkowski continuing his reign as one of the more potent legs in the NFL. He has made all eight of his field goal attempts – including a personal best 58-yarder – though he did miss one of his 14 point-after kicks. He’s also generating a fair percentage of touchbacks on kickoffs. Ryan Allen is averaging 42-plus yards per punt and has landed a third of his kicks inside the 20. Kick coverage is strong as always, while Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis have done decent work returning punts and kickoffs respectively.

Coaching – B

This grade is almost always an A, but I can’t in good conscience offer such a high mark for the coaching staff’s work thus far. Bill Belichick is an all-time great coach and a Hall of Fame lock, but there seems to be something a bit amiss this season. The offense is working fine – no worries on that end – but defensive coordinator Matt Patricia needs to huddle with Belichick and figure out what can be done to plug at least some of the many holes in the Patriots D. Adjusting the scheme to fit the available personnel – in terms of both strengths and weaknesses – will be key to overcoming these early issues.

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