The New England Patriots have started the season 3-0 against the Steelers, Dolphins and Jets. While the Patriots have looked dominant, it is important to note that their competition so far has a combined 0-9 record. Obviously there has been much off-field turmoil with the Antonio Brown situation, and there are many storylines that have stemmed from that story. This article is about football and the storylines that relate to the product on the field.
Defense: By far the most impressive part of the season so far has been the Patriots defensive unit. Through three weeks, the Patriots defense has not allowed a touchdown in a streak that actually stretches back to the AFC Championship game last season. The core from last season is producing just as well if not better than last year’s championship defense. On top of that, Jamie Collins has looked incredible in his return to the Patriots with two interceptions, and Jonathan Jones has graded as the top coverage corner in the NFL through three weeks. There were question marks surrounding the defensive coaching staff, and the void left by Trey Flowers but it would seem that Belichick and co. have a stranglehold on that situation. Obviously the competition the Patriots have played has not been top-notch, but in any scenario it is impressive to keep three NFL offenses out of the end zone entirely, especially when one of those opponents was Ben Roethlisberger.
Injuries: As good as the Patriots have looked this season, it is important to look at the injuries that have actually started to pile up a bit. Coming into the season, N’keal Harry was lost to the IR with a chance to return week 8. Since then, both Isaiah Wynn (turf toe), and James Develin (Neck) have been lost to the IR with the same return option. Unfortunately, it is important to note that only two of these players can return per team, so one of the aforementioned three players will be out for the season. Wynn is a big loss at Left Tackle after showing promise in his first NFL start guarding Tom Brady’s blind side. The Patriots signed Marshall Newhouse to play Left Tackle, and claim that they will be sticking with him for the foreseeable future. Develin is another gigantic loss to the Patriots running game. In last year’s postseason, Develin was a lead blocker on every single one of the Patriots touchdowns. It will be up to Jakob Johnson of the International Pathway Program to try and fill Develin’s shoes. To top it all off, Julian Edelman was banged up in Sundays victory over the Jets. It was a reported chest injury, but thankfully the X-rays came back negative and he is reportedly day to day. Edelman is a player the Patriots cannot afford to lose, so it will be interesting to monitor his health as time goes on.
Run Game: The Patriots run game has undoubtedly been their biggest weakness so far this season. Now this cannot totally be attributed to the backs due to offensive line injuries to David Andrews and Isaiah Wynn, but the running game as a whole has certainly underperformed based on Patriots standards. They rank 20th in total rushing, 28th in yards per attempt, and 6th in rushing touchdowns. These numbers show a lack of efficiency for sure, but at the least they display an uptick in production in the red zone. The biggest disappointment out of the group has undoubtedly been Sony Michel who has received the 11th most carries in the NFL at 45 but has only had 108 yards for an average of 2.4 yards per carry making him the 37th most efficient back in football. Rex Burkhead has been better than Michel, with 112 yards on 24 carries and has looked more effective overall with second effort and broken tackles. Sony’s start is especially disappointing to the many out there who thought this would be a breakout season for Michel after his historic postseason last year. It is early for sure, and again, there are injuries to the offensive line, but this will be an area to look at in the next few weeks to see what type of adjustments the Patriots can make. If the Patriots can get Michel going like last year, the team will be even scarier than it has already looked.
Photo: Elise Amendola - Associated Press