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Patriots Progress Report 2021 – Halftime(ish)

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How ‘bout them Patriots?

We’re checking in with the Pats here at the halfway point of the season. Well … kind of the halfway point. The truth is that with the 17-game schedule, it’s a lot tougher to easily and evenly divvy up the season for these types of features. I went back and forth about whether to do our Halftime Progress Report after Week 8 or Week 9. I settled on Week 9.

And boy, am I glad I did.

This New England squad has been an up-and-down crew thus far in 2021, but there’s little argument against the most recent spate of games being their best run of the season to this point. They’ve seen their share of struggles, but the team looks to be coming into its own. What once seemed like a foregone conclusion – the Bills winning the division – is now anything but, with the Pats riding a winning streak and looking as good as they have all season.

Yes, there’s plenty of time for other issues to arise, but as things stand right now, the Patriots are in considerably better position than we might have expected even a month ago. With a Hall of Fame coach, a rookie quarterback and a surprisingly stout defense, this team could give some folks some trouble come January. But this isn’t about what will happen, but what has happened – so let’s take a look back.

On to the Progress Report

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Offense – B

So it turns out that Mac Jones is perfectly OK. He’s an adequate NFL quarterback, which is a pretty big deal for a rookie. His numbers aren’t spectacular – he’s got just shy of 2,000 yards on the season, with nine TDs, six interceptions and a 68% completion rate – but they’re not terrible either. And considering the development curve of some of his fellow 2021 draftees, that’s solid performance. He’s doing enough to keep defenses honest and allow the run game to coalesce. The Pats ground game has been quite good in recent weeks; they’ve been led by Damian Harris, who is on pace for 1,000 yards rushing and double-digit touchdowns, though for the season they sit roughly mid-league. Jakobi Meyers looks like he could potentially be a legitimate passing game weapon, though the rest of the receiving corps – including imports like Nelson Agholar and tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith – has been average at best, likely suppressing Mac Jones’s production. Considering the personnel issues, this team’s performance has been good – good enough for a B, at any rate.

Defense – B+

This feels like a perfect grade for this defense. The reality is that the unit hasn’t felt that impressive over the course of the season thus far, yet in many of the categories that matter, they’re in the top 10 in the league. And they’re also following the by-now-standard pattern of New England defenses – bend don’t break. While the team is ninth in yardage allowed per game (despite being 10th in passing yards allowed and 15th in rushing yards allowed), their 18.9 points allowed per game has them at fourth overall, behind just Buffalo, Denver and Arizona. Guys like linebacker Matthew Judon (nine sacks) and cornerback J.C. Jackson (five INTs, 12 passes defensed) have gone above and beyond, but this is a team that said goodbye to its biggest defensive star CB Stephon Gilmore just a couple of weeks ago, and yet – here we are. There’s nothing that screams dominance about this defensive unit, but in terms of production, it’s tough to argue. The defensive line is a bit iffy, but the linebacking corps and especially the secondary make up for that. Solid work, team.

Special Teams – B+

Nick Folk has proven to be quite the special teams surprise this year – he leads the league in made field goals with 21 (out of 23 attempts). He hasn’t missed anything closer than 50 yards all season. He’s a legitimate weapon for a team that occasionally struggles to move the ball consistency. Jake Bailey’s been more so-so – he’s put half his punts inside the 20, but his kicks have been fairly returnable. Gunner Olszewski is the embodiment of the perfectly average return guy – he’s good, not great. Both coverage units have performed, and hey – special teams legend Matthew Slater is still here, doing what he does. It’s a good unit overall, though it doesn’t have quite the sparkle that we’ve seen from past teams. Still, there’s something to be said for knowing that you can count on these guys to get it right the vast majority of the time.

Coaching – B

I definitely vacillated on this one. There’s an argument to be made for either a minus or a plus to be added to this B – I do think that’s the range we’re in, but as far as specifics, it depends on which day you ask me. Bill Belichick remains one of the best coaches in the NFL, even his team has taken a few steps back over the past couple of years. Let’s remember that he’s working with a rookie quarterback right now; Belichick and Josh McDaniels have done solid work in helping to ensure some success for Mac Jones. Or at least, they’ve put him in a position to succeed. The schemes have evolved to reflect the realities of the roster talent, with a focus on short and intermediate passes designed to open up the run game. It might not be a long-term solution in today’s pass-happy NFL, but for now, it feels like the right move. The defense has been punching above its weight in a lot of ways; credit the coaching for that as well. Now, it hasn’t all been roses – it feels like we’ve seen more questionable decisions this year than we’ve seen in past seasons – but considering the circumstances, contention within the division is a win.

Last modified on Wednesday, 10 November 2021 08:24

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