The Patriots easily beat the Steelers on Sunday with one of their most balanced offensive attacks of the season. Tom Brady was outstanding and far from the mediocre quarterback we’ve seen thus far. He completed 23 of 33 passes for 432 yards and four touchdowns. Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Dobson and Danny Amendola all had over 100-yard games and each scored a touchdown, with Dobson scoring two. The defensive line with the addition Isaac Sopoaga successfully hampered the Steelers run game holding them to just over 100 yards on 20 attempts. The second half started slow for the Pats once again but they were able to rebound and score 28 points in the fourth quarter to secure the win.
Rob Gronkowski had reason to celebrate Sunday catching a career high 9 passes.
(USA TODAY Images)
With that impressive of a performance, it’s easy to think the Patriots have finally figured it out and it will be smooth sailing from here on out. The media is already saying “Brady is back” and expecting this high-powered performance to propel the team into the postseason. However, there’s one key statistic that the Patriots still need to work on. There is one aspect of their game that, although improving, needs to be better. That aspect is their performance in the red zone.
The Patriots were 5 for 8 in red zone opportunities on Sunday, one of their better performances of the season. Eight trips inside the 20 is the most they’ve been there this season. Against Miami they only made four trips to the red zone, converting three of those opportunities into points. Only two other times this season, against Buffalo and New Orleans, did the Patriots make 5 red zone appearances. Other than that the Patriots have been held out and forced to make their few opportunities count.
This season the Patriots are 18th in the league converting 52.78% of their red zone trips into touchdowns. Last year, they were third behind Green Bay and New Orleans with 67.5% of their red zone trips resulting in touchdowns. With Sunday’s game showing a more balanced offense with a high-powered passing game, there is hope the Patriots will make visiting the red zone more of a habit. It’s hard to score points outside of the red zone when you don’t have a reliable deep threat. Dobson took major strides proving he’s starting to pick up the offense but don’t expect his rookie hiccups to be over. Gronkowski looks great now that he has a few games under his belt and he’s back in game shape but you can expect the double coverage we’re used to seeing on him come back with a vengeance. And as for Amendola, a groin injury is one of those injuries that nags and has a tendency of popping back up again. A bye week may have come at the perfect time as the Patriots can use this week to recover and rest up.
Improving upon red zone efficiency will be key going forward. The second half of the Patriots season has one game everyone is waiting for. When Denver comes to town it will be more of an offensive battle than defensive so the Patriots are going to have to keep pace with Peyton Manning’s offense. The key to doing that is making as many appearances in the red zone as possible and making them count. With the bye week you can expect the Patriots will reevaluate their red zone performance thus far and make a concerted effort to improve it drastically.