There is an old saying about the strength of the wolf is the pack, and I think there is a lot of truth to that. On a football team, it’s not the strength of the individual players, but it is the strength of the unit and how they all function together. Bill Belichick, Patriots Head Coach
In the NFL, your high points can not be too high, and your low points can not be too low. The Patriots had a statement win against the Colts last Sunday, and as much as fans want to kick back, relax, and celebrate the win, there is still a lot of criticism to be handed out and aspects for improvement to be discussed.
Takeaway One: The Patriots Have One The Best Defenses In The NFL
The main headline from the Patriots’ game against the Colts was their defense accumulating nine sacks thanks to the contributions of six different defensive players: Ja’Whaun Bentley (1 sack), Josh Uche (3 sacks), Matthew Judon (3 sacks), Jahlani Tavai (.5 sack), Deatrich Wise Jr. (.5 sack), and Raekwon McMillan (1 sack). This pass-rush group also held the Colts to 78 yards rushing on 22 attempts– an average of 3.5 yards per carry.
The Patriots’ secondary was additionally phenomenal. Colts QB Sam Ehlinger threw for 103 yards, zero touchdowns, a pick-six to Jonathan Jones, and no first-downs all game. Every member of New England’s defense was on the same page from start to finish. This was, without a question, the Patriots’ best defensive performance all year.
The game also had promising implications for the future. A three-sack game is impressive regardless of the circumstances, but it is especially impressive when it comes from a young, fresh player like Josh Uche. Uche, who was drafted by the Patriots in 2020 and is now 24 years old, did not begin as the day-one starter for New England. Veteran linebackers like Kyle Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower filled Uche’s spot on the competitive linebacker depth chart in 2020 and 2021. Following the departure of Van Noy and Hightower, Uche was graciously given an opportunity to start for the team at linebacker by Bill Belichick. Using this game as any implication, Uche has done an impressive job fulfilling his team role.
Takeaway Two: The Patriots Have A Noticeable Problem On Offense
A team’s defense only finds widespread success if all eleven men on the field do their job in an above-average way. Every man on defense- from the Nose Tackle to the Safety- has to go the extra mile on every snap to ensure the team finds as much success as attainable. If one discrepancy in any of the 11 men arises, then the entire play gets thrown off, often ending in failure. For example, if a Nose Tackle rushes the wrong gap or rushes his gap ineffectively, a run up the middle that should be stuffed can quickly turn into a ten-yard, potentially game-changing gain. If a corner does not contain the outside during a screen pass, a play that should be an easy shove out-of-bounds for safeties and linebackers will turn into a foot race for the endzone.
The same exact “all-eleven” principle can be applied to an offense. If a Guard is lined up just half a foot too narrow on an inside run, that can be the difference between a potential touchdown and a stuffed run since the running back will have ample space to operate. If a receiver breaks a route half a step too early or late, then the pass from the Quarterback will be incomplete and potentially picked off due to timing issues. Every little detail matters in football. Pre-snap alignment, steps, and execution are all equally important to each other.
The Patriots’ offense has not mastered the all-eleven concept yet. Whether it be minor or major, most Patriots’ drives that do not end up in points are either due to a Mac Jones physical error or a Matt Patricia playcalling error. Drives that do end in points are because of Field Goals from the trusty Nick Folk. The Patriots have had remarkable issues orchestrating a single touchdown drive all season because they lack the discipline and consistency to go 75 yards down the field for six. Whether it be an offensive line holding call — mostly from Isaiah Wynn– or a faulty read from Mac Jones, the bottom line is that the Patriots are not getting the job done. The Colts game is the most recent display of the Patriots’ offensive issues.
The Patriots’ offensive accumulated one touchdown on a three-yard pass and – if you consider it an offensive feat – four field goals during the 31 minutes they had the ball. If you tack on the Jonathan Jones pick-six in the second half, that puts the full-game total at 26 points. To an outsider, a 26-point total doesn’t seem too bad. To a Patriots fan who paid any attention to the matchup last Sunday, the game was an offensive “disasterclass” from start to finish; mostly thanks to Mac Jones.
Mac’s inability to piece together a strand of successful plays against the Colts’ defense was troubling. Against the Indy, Mac Jones threw for 147 yards on 30 attempts: an average of 4.9 yards per attempt. Jones is averaging 5.4 yards per attempt on the year. To put how bad this is into perspective, Mac Jones averaged seven yards per attempt in his rookie season. A decline in the Y/A (yards per attempt) statistic indicates that a quarterback is becoming less and less efficient and impactful with his passes since they are amounting to fewer yards. Any Patriots fan can confirm the validity of the statement just by watching Mac Jones’ decision-making this season.
Takeaway Three: The Patriots Are Far From Being a Playoff-Caliber Team
The Patriots are not a good football team. If there is no offensive production to back up an elite defense, then all defensive efforts are automatically counteracted and neutralized. Playoff teams are supposed to be balanced in nature and fluid to watch. The Patriots are neither the former or the latter, and because of this, it’s hard to imagine them beating any above-average team in the NFL. Even though New England rests one spot out of the current Week Ten playoff picture, I can confidently say that the Patriots will not come close to the playoffs if they continue their current ways of mediocrity. A few things will have to change before I can change my mind on this topic.
For one, Mac Jones needs to make better reads. Sure, Matt Patricia is a terrible offensive play-caller, but Mac also has to take some responsibility for the offense and overcome coaching discrepancies. Mac’s job is to take what Patricia calls and do the best job he possibly can. Instead, Jones is taking Patricia’s calls and is doing a fundamentally terrible job. That all starts with decision-making. The common theme from Jones’ film in the last few weeks has been his inability to read underneath routes when it matters.
Second, the receivers must step up their game by a decent amount. It becomes repetitive seeing Rhamondre Stevenson and Jakboi Meyers as the only players who make meaningful contributions to the New England offense. Once Devante Parkers returns from his injury, I’m sure this will change, but smaller names need to step up on the depth chart and start making some plays. Kendrick Bourne seems like the most likely candidate to make it happen.
If you can not tell, there is plenty more to talk about on the offensive side of the ball than the defensive side for the New England Patriots. The offense isn’t getting the job done, and the defense is. Period. Matt Patricia needs to flip a major switch if he wants Mac Jones to recontinue his once-remarkable development.
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