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Patriots Progress Report - Third Quarter 2019

December 3, 2019
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Safe to say that the New England Patriots team of the past four weeks isn’t quite the dominant force it was over the season’s first half. 2-2 isn’t the worst thing in the world – especially if it puts you at double-digit wins – but there’s no disputing that the Pats have come back to the pack.

Much of the onus for that regression has to be laid on the offense – the team has struggled to score and things seem just a bit … off. The defense has largely maintained its high level of performance, though they did show glimpses of what this team might look like if that D struggles.

Still, New England remains comfortable atop the AFC East, with a two-game cushion over Buffalo. This stretch did see them cede their spot as overall top seed in the conference, however. Regardless, this is a playoff team, even if their general performance this last month wasn’t quite up to par.

Let’s look at the month that was, shall we?

On to the Progress Report.

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Offense – C

The dropoff in performance on the offensive side of the ball is troubling. This team, which had been among the league leaders in scoring over the first half, managed a mere 18 points per game over the past four. Tom Brady’s numbers look pretty rough – he’s averaging just over 250 yards passing per game, with five TDs against two interceptions, but he’s completing less than 55% of his throws. A big part of that is the dearth of skill position talent – Julian Edelman has turned 45 targets into 29 catches and nearly 350 yards, but there hasn’t been much else to celebrate on the offensive end. Mohammed Sanu has run hot-and-cold, while many of the new pass catchers haven’t really shown up. James White is still doing James White things, so at least there’s that. This offense’s inability to generate more points can’t continue if the Pats are to make any kind of playoff run.

Defense – B

Sure, this squad hasn’t performed to the level that it did over the season’s first half, but there’s no shame in that – expecting that sort of historic performance to continue unabated would be foolish. And they’ve had some rough outings – the 37 points that Baltimore hung on them, the four TDs put up by Houston. That said, they’re still at or near the top of every defensive leaderboard. And their work allowed the Pats to win games where they scored 13 and 17 points, respectively. Stephon Gilmore is still one of the best cornerbacks out there, leading Devin McCourty and the rest of the secondary. Other than the breakdown against the Texans, this group has been lights-out and lockdown against scoring through the air. The linebacking corps and D-line have lagged at times, but have generally performed well. Basically, this side of the ball has gradually moved from historic to merely excellent.

Special Teams – D+

It feels bad to give the special teams crew such a poor mark, but it’s like a group project in school – if one person doesn’t hold up their end, everyone’s grade suffers. The kicking situation has been an abject mess since Stephen Gostkowski went down. Mike Nugent begat Nick Folk begat Kai Forbath – and not one of them provided even adequate placekicking performance. A lot of makeable kicks were missed. Punter Jake Bailey has been very busy and performed fairly well in the process; his numbers aren’t elite, but they’ve been serviceable. The return game has been a resounding meh – nobody returning any sort of kick has done anything of note. The coverage teams are fine – Matthew Slater remains the best special teams specialist in the NFL. But there’s no overcoming the inconsistency of the placekicking situation – they ruined it for everyone.

Coaching – B-

This was almost a C, which would have been the first time in my years of writing this feature that I’d ever given a mark that low to this coaching staff. Getting blown up by Baltimore is one thing – Lamar Jackson isn’t human – but the Texans just aren’t that good. That was a game that good coaching could have won. Still, low-scoring wins against the Eagles and Cowboys were good (though the downward spiraling of those two teams make the wins look less good in retrospect). Ultimately, there are a few different issues with this team – some the coaches can control, others they cannot. It’s the controllable aspects that have been most concerning over the past month; Bill Belichick and company have definitely come back to the pack a little. That said, there’s nothing wrong with 2-2. We’ll have to see what happens next.

Last modified on Tuesday, 03 December 2019 08:58

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