Brad Penner/USA Today Sports

Hannable: How these Patriots can still win the Super Bowl

Ryan Hannable
October 16, 2017 - 11:13 pm

FOXBORO — Through six games, the Patriots are 4-2 and in first place in the AFC East, but everyone can agree they have a long way to go. 

There seem to be far more issues with this team than any Patriots team in recent years. This isn’t to say they cannot be corrected, as more often than not the Patriots figure things out and get to playing their best come late November and December, but this year it feels there are more areas to fix than ever before.

On Monday’s conference call, Bill Belichick went out of his way to remind everyone that it’s “incomprehensible” to expect a finish product after Week 6, which is 100 percent true, it’s just different when past Patriots teams haven’t had this many issues to work out after Week 6 of a season.

There is still a lot of football left to be played and overall, given the state of the league, the Patriots are actually in good shape at 4-2. There is no one dominant team and every other team has its fair share of issues to work out, too.

With that being said, here’s a breakdown (offense and defense) of what needs to change the rest of the season.

OFFENSE

— While the offensive line protected Tom Brady better on Sunday than in the first five games (zero sacks and four QB hits), the number of hits Brady has taken overall this year is alarming. In six games, Brady has been hit 37 times and is reportedly dealing with a sprained AC joint in his non-throwing shoulder. If Brady continues to take the abuse he’s taken, there’s the chance he won’t be able to play in all 16 games this season and not be at his best in the postseason.

— One way to help with limiting the hits Brady takes is to establish the running game more. Through six games, the Patriots have ran the ball on 40 percent of their plays, which is below the 44 percent from last season. It isn’t like the team doesn’t have the horses in the backfield, either. Mike Gillislee and Dion Lewis have the potential to be one of the better tandems in the league, as the two have completely different styles, but each are effective. Lewis has been let free the past two games and it has paid off with his two best performances of the season. It seems at times offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels goes away from the run as soon as the team falls behind, which has happened more this season than in recent years, and therefore the overall percentage isn’t where it was last season. Establishing the run more will not only help with protecting Brady, but will help the overall production of the offense.

— As a whole, the offense has been inconsistent. It has shown flashes of being what many expected it to be, but then there are series’ where it has issues. The Patriots have had three-and-outs on 16 percent of their drives this season (not including kneel downs), including three in each of their last two games. On the flip side, the Patriots have scored touchdowns on 22 percent of their drives. For as good as the Patriots offense should be, 16 percent seems too high for three-and-outs and it just seems like these numbers should not be this close to each other. The offense needs to be more consistent.

— The unit has not finished games strong. In the fourth quarter, the Patriots have averaged 5.2 points per game, which is 18th in the NFL. In contrast, they are averaging 18.5 points in the first half, the best in the NFL. In the last three offensive possessions of games this year, the Patriots have punted 11 times out of 18 (61 percent) and have scored touchdowns only three times (17 percent). For as much as Bill Belichick preaches 60 minutes, the offense certainly hasn’t done it through six games.

DEFENSE

— Allowing big plays has been the biggest issue for the unit so far this season. Through six games the defense has allowed 31 total plays of 20 yards or more. It is on pace for 83 on the year, which comes after last year when it allowed only 56. The main cause for these plays has been poor communication, which has improved in recent weeks. Historically, Patriots defenses have been known for not allowing big plays, which is what has made this year so alarming. Eliminating big plays will go a long way for the defense as a whole, which remains 30th in points allowed per game.

— Another issue for the defense has been its lack of a pass rush and pressure on the opposing quarterback. While the Patriots have 16 sacks, good for 16th in the league, they just haven’t been able to consistently generate pressure. It seems time and time again quarterbacks have had upwards of five seconds to throw and at that point it becomes nearly impossible for the secondary to stay in coverage that long. This has led to some big completions, especially on third down. For the season, the Patriots have stopped their opponent on an alarming 43 percent of the time on third down, which is 26th in the NFL. The lack of pass rush is making the secondary appear worse than it actually is. It is worth noting, the defense has gone against some of the more mobile quarterbacks in the league over the first six weeks, which has played into the lack of pressure a bit.

— The defense has also had its troubles with covering running backs out of the backfield. This is primarily because the Patriots linebackers are slow in coverage. This could improve a bit, as Shea McClellin is eligible to begin practicing next week. He currently is on injured reserve, but he could be viewed as a mid-season addition. Overall, the Patriots defense struggles with speed since it doesn’t have the fastest players and cannot keep up, particularly with running backs.

-- Penalties have been an issue all year. Through six games, the defense has committed 15 penalties for a total of 149 yards. As a comparison, through six games last year, the Patriots committed just 10 penalties for 101 yards. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting a big stop, but then giving it back because of a penalty. This has happened on far too many occasions for the defense in the early going. 

Comments ()