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Patriots Progress Report 2017 - Third Quarter

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It seems safe to say that the New England Patriots are currently firing on all cylinders.

The Pats have looked dominant in winning their last four games – a stretch that runs their overall streak to eight straight. Sure, their opponents haven’t been great teams, but wins are wins.

It looks as though New England has things figured out on both sides of the ball. The struggles of the season’s first month are little more than a fading memory at this point – this team looks very much like the squad that had pundits drooling in the preseason.

Will they be able to keep it up against a higher echelon of competition? That remains to be seen. But right now, we’re talking about what has been, rather than what will be.

And what has been is four wins. Another great month.

On to the Progress Report.

Offense – A

This unit has put up some big numbers over the past few weeks. The team has averaged 33 a game over the last four – enough to move them all the way up to fourth for the year in scoring. Leading the way – as always – has been Tom Brady. His passing numbers haven’t been quite as gaudy as we’ve seen in the past; he’s averaged just over 270 yards per game with 10 TDs and two picks. Rob Gronkowski has been a beast, with 21 catches for 340 yards and two scores. Brandin Cooks has an almost identical line – 20 catches for 323 and two TDs. Meanwhile, running backs Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead have teamed up to give the Pats a solid and effective rushing attack; Burkhead has been going nuts, with five total TDs (three rushing, two receiving) in just the past four games. It all adds up to an extremely effective unit – no individual numbers are mind-blowing, but together, they’re awfully impressive.

Defense – A

Remember when this group was the Achilles heel that was going to bring down the Patriots this season? Those tumultuous beginnings are in the distant rearview now – New England has given up an average of just 11 points per game in this most recent stretch. The most any team has scored is 17. And it’s very much a team effort – no individual players have necessarily dazzled, but it’s a well-coached unit where everybody knows their jobs. That’s not to say that guys haven’t stood out – linebacker Kyle Van Noy has been quietly excellent, with 18 combined tackles and a couple of sacks. And the secondary has improved across the board – guys like Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler and Devin McCourty have all looked strong. It’s still the Patriots, mind you; this group gives up a surprising number of yards for how stingy they’ve been with regards to points. But in the end, it’s what’s on the scoreboard that matters.

Special Teams – A

While it’s unfair to expect kicker Stephen Gostkowski to be perfect, we still tend to do just that. For the past four games, he’s lived up to those expectations – 11 for 11 in field goals (including a 62-yarder in Mexico City) and 15 for 15 in extra points. Plus, he’s manipulating kickoffs as well as he ever has. Punter Ryan Allen has been good in limited usage – four of nine punts inside the 20 and just a single touchback. Dion Lewis ran a kickoff back 103 yards for a touchdown against Denver – he’s doing fine. Danny Amendola continues to be a serviceable and unspectacular punt returner. And as always, the kick coverage units have done strong work in helping the Pats maintain an advantage with regards to field position.

Coaching – A

Yeah. That’s another A. Four of them in all, matching the four wins. Bill Belichick has this team doing exactly what it needs to be in every facet of the game. In this last stretch, they scored more points than everyone else and gave up fewer points than everybody else – that’s literally the best-case scenario if you’re a football team. All credit to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia – those two guys have to be in the conversation for best assistants in the league. And of course, leading the way is the guy in the hoodie. This coaching staff has built a team that plays both hard and smart – and there’s no reason to doubt that it will continue. In short - in Belichick we trust.

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