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Patriots Progress Report 2018 - Third Quarter

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No one who has been a fan of the New England Patriots for any length of time would view this incarnation of the team as a particularly exceptional one. And yet … they’re 9-3 with an AFC playoff spot well in hand.

This last quarter of the season hasn’t been all that impressive, but the Pats still won three of four games. Sure, the competition wasn’t necessarily top-tier; they beat the Packers, the Jets and the Vikings while losing to the Titans of all teams. It wasn’t exciting football – all four games were won by multiple scores.

But hey – wins are wins.

This team might not be the powerhouse squad to which fans have grown accustomed over the years, but nine wins put New England in the mix for a first-round playoff bye; they even have the edge in potential tiebreakers for the top seed. The ongoing run of excellence continues.

On to the Progress Report.

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Offense – B-

The New England offensive attack simply hasn’t been all that impressive over the past four games. They’ve averaged just 23 points per game, and while that number is somewhat inflated by a single poor outing (the scant 10 points scored against Tennessee), it’s still worrisome. Tom Brady has managed decent output – 285 yards per game, with four TDs and just a single interception – but he just isn’t the dominant force he used to be. Sony Michel has had one great, one solid and one bad outing in his last three. James White remains a weapon out of the backfield, averaging over 80 yards from scrimmage per game. Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon have been up and down, while tight end Rob Gronkowski remains maddeningly inconsistent. All in all, this unit has been meh – but they’ve done enough to win.

Defense – B+

The Patriots have long been a group that tended toward bend-don’t-break defensive efforts. This quarter certainly reflected that; New England gave up an average of just over 18 points per game (and that’s skewed by the 34-point anomaly in the loss to the Titans) while never looking all that impressive. It starts in the secondary, where Stephon Gilmore and the brothers McCourty have been leading the way. The linebacking corps hasn’t been as strong; Kyle Van Noy has been one of the highest performers, while Dont’a Hightower remains his usual reliable run-stuffing self. On the defensive line, Trey Flowers has been great over the last four, getting to the quarterback to the tune of 2.5 sacks. Again, they’re not the most impressive bunch in terms of athleticism, but it’s tough to argue with the results.

Special Teams – B+

Special teams have long been a particularly potent part of the Patriots. Stephen Gostkowski hasn’t been quite the weapon we’ve seen in the past – he went just five for seven in field goals over the last four games, though he did make all 11 of his extra point attempts. Punter Ryan Allen remains a very middle-of-the-pack performer; he averaged just shy of 47 yards per punt and placed seven of his 17 inside the 20 – good, not great. Cordarrelle Patterson represents the first real kick return threat the Pats have had in years; he averaged some 30 yards per return. Edelman is fine returning punts, but nothing spectacular. The coverage teams continue to be among the best-coached in the league.

Coaching – A-

If neither the offense nor the defense looks all that great, yet the team keeps winning, well … you kind of have to credit the coach, right? Bill Belichick has worked wonders over the past two decades, but the reality is that this might be the most impressive job he has done in his tenure with New England. These aren’t monster wins – neither the Packers nor the Vikings are as good as advertised, while the Jets are the Jets. Plus they lost to a Tennessee team that has been downright terrible at times this season. However, all that matters in the end is the scoreboard; New England has been on the right side of that equation more often than they perhaps should have been over the past four games … and that’s down to coaching. As always, in Belichick we trust.

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