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Patriots Progress Report 2020 – Halftime

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What a difference a year makes, eh?

Last year at this point, we were celebrating a dominating start to the season from a Patriots team that was firing on all cylinders and included one of the best eight-game defensive stretches in the history of the NFL. It was a season that ended too early, at the hands of the Tennessee Titans in the AFC wild card round, but still.

Suffice it to say, a wild card loss is looking pretty good right now.

There’s a generation of Patriots fans that has never experienced a bad team. A child born during the last season where the Pats didn’t reach double-digit wins is now old enough to vote. While it’s not outside the realm of possibility that New England turns it around in the second half, it seems likely that this marks the first single-digit win season since then – and their first playoff absence since 2008.

Ah, well. On to the Progress Report.

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Offense – D+

Yeah, I’m as surprised as you are. We all expected something of a drop-off offensively following the departure of Tom Brady, but this is ridiculous. This team sits just a few spots above the bottom in terms of points per game, saved only by the incompetence of Washington and the two New York teams (one of which they just barely beat). Cam Newton has been wildly inconsistent under center; his passing numbers are below average and unpredictable. It’s tough to imagine a successful offense with these numbers through the air. His work on the ground has been impressive, but even those stats ring hollow. In terms of skill position players, production has been pretty dry, though running back Damien Harris and receiver Jacobi Meyey blowing up has been moving the needle in the right direction as of late. Ultimately, however, the name of the game is scoring points, and they simply haven’t shown any indication that they’re ready to do that on a high level game after game.

Defense – B-

The defense has been one of the saving graces for this squad, though that’s little consolation – not like they’re seeing a lot of benefit in the standings. Still, the lion’s share of credit for this season not being a COMPLETE fiasco goes to the defense. They’re not nearly as elite as they were last year (how could they be?), but at least they’re in the top half of the league and not nestled at the bottom like their offensive counterparts. The secondary – led by Stephon Gilmore and the McCourtys – has the team near the top in terms of pass defense; stopping the run is another matter, with the Pats among the worst, and they’re mediocre at best at getting to the quarterback. They’re managing to keep opponents off the scoreboard relatively well – they’re averaging less than 25 points allowed per game – but given the anemic offensive performance, that isn’t enough to earn them victories.

Special Teams - B

You might not think that losing a kicker is that big a deal, but after years of having one of the league’s best, New England is stuck rolling the dice on the usual cavalcade of journeyman kickers. Currently up is Nick Folk, who has been perfectly adequate (though his 51-yarder to beat the Jets perhaps hints at something more to come). Regardless, the kicking game is much less prominent than in years past. Second-year punter Jake Bailey has been good, ranking in the top five in net yardage and producing good placement with minimal returns. The return game has been solid but unspectacular, the coverage its usual well-coached and dully efficient self – pretty much par for the course.

Coaching – C

While the jury is still out, the first half-season of separation certainly would seem to indicate that the success of the Brady/Belichick tandem might have had more to do with the former than the latter (although you could change my mind after that debacle against the Saints). It’s a small sample size, though, and the reality is that New England has done a significant overhaul. That, plus a few less-than-stellar drafts, has the team with a dearth of talent on the offensive side. Basically, Belichick the coach is being done wrong by Belichick the general manager. It’s nothing like the success of previous years, but 3-5 isn’t the end of the world; if the schemes start clicking, a couple of these nascent breakouts could turn out to be real. That said, getting this team to the playoffs would be one of the most impressive coaching feats in a career full of them.

Last modified on Tuesday, 10 November 2020 07:18

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