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Patriots Progress Report 2016 First Quarter

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This is a tough one.

On the one hand, if someone told you at the start of the season that the Patriots would make their way through the Tom Brady-less first quarter of the year with three wins in four games, you'd probably have been thrilled. It's an incredibly positive result.

And yet that success is tempered significantly by the 16-0 shutout shellacking they took at the hands of the Buffalo Bills. It obviously doesn't negate the success of the first three weeks, but it definitely lends a shading of perspective to the situation.

While New England fans are obviously excited about the return of #12, the goal here is to look at what has been, not what is to come. A lot of good things came out of the season's first month, so let's explore them before Brady's belated season debut consumes the narrative.

And now, the Progress Report.

Offense B

The production put forth by this offensive unit has been, in a word, astonishing. Not because they've been eye-popping numbers, but rather that they've managed to adjust to the absence of the Hall-of-Fame central cog of their offense. Jimmy Garoppolo was impressive at QB before getting hurt; Jacoby Brissett also hung in there until his own thumb injury left him hobbled but still the team's only real option under center. And Rob Gronkowski hasn't been his usual planet-consuming self, but other players like receiver Julian Edelman, tight end Martellus Bennett and particularly running back LaGarrette Blount have picked up the slack. It demonstrates both the quality of the offensive scheme and a surprising depth of talent. Even with the egg laid against the Bills, this has been a slightly better-than-average offense definitely impressive.

Defense A-

In a season where defenses in Minnesota and Philadelphia have made great leaps forward, the work in New England has gone somewhat unnoticed. In four games, they have given up just over 15 points per game; buoyed by the fluky shutout of the Texans, but still solid work. The defensive front has been strong - even without the departed Vince Wilfork and the suspended Rob Ninkovich - and the secondary has been fairly effective, albeit unspectacular. Linebacker Jamie Collins continues to play like one of the best all-around defensive players in the NFL, while lineman Jabaal Sheard and defensive back Logan Ryan have also been excellent. Yes, they allow too many yards, but thus far, it appears to have all the makings of a vintage bend-don't-break Patriots defense.

Special Teams A

This might be a little high if one just judges by the numbers, but they get a bump for having found ways to take advantage of new kickoff return rules. Stephen Gostkowski has displayed a remarkable amount of touch with regards to kickoffs, but he hasn't been quite his usual automatic self, having missed two of the eight field goals he has attempted thus far. Punter Ryan Allen's yardage numbers aren't much to look at, but he's put more than half of his attempts inside the 20 and allowed just four returns for a total of 14 yards. Field position has been more important than ever to this hobbled Pats team; the kicking game has contributed mightily. On the return side, Cyrus Jones has flashed some speed and Danny Amendola has been his usual steady self.

Coaching A+++

What can be said about Bill Belichick at this point? This stretch has been perhaps the most potent evidence of his coaching acumen. He along with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel made Garoppolo look like a star and Brissett look like more than a rookie. He took a team that had many crossing their fingers for two victories out of four and made it look so strong that a 3-1 opening felt like a disappointment. Belichick, McDaniel, and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia seem to be playing a slightly different game than everybody else. While there's plenty of credit to go around a number of players have certainly stepped up big-time there can be no arguing that the lion's share should be laid at the feet of Bill Belichick.

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