Here are some final thoughts heading into Sunday’s game against the Rams:
1) Opposing teams have had some of their best games against New England – Looking at opposing quarterbacks the Patriots defense has faced this season, the trend has shown that Sunday’s battle against the Rams Jared Goff may prove to be a good one, even if New England wins the game.
What that means is that Goff may find himself having a productive day even if the Rams lose, which has been the trend for much of the season. Many of the quarterbacks the Patriots have faced so far have each had one of their best performances of the year, which has been the story in a season where the focus continues to be New England trying not to give up big plays while keeping opponents out of the end zone. Fortunately when you have a quarterback like Tom Brady, he pushes New England’s offense forward enough where most of their opponents haven’t been able to keep up. This, coupled with their discipline offensively from a penalty standpoint (tied for third fewest in the league), along with the fact Brady has only thrown one interception this season (fewest in the NFL from an active QB) has really been the difference so far this season.
It’s been a simple formula. They keep their opponents from scoring and they don’t beat themselves.
But they’ve allowed quite a few quarterbacks to have success and after going through each of their opposing passer’s game logs this season, it was surprising to see how well each one played against the Patriots compared to their other opponents.
Here’s the rundown from this season:
Week 1: Carson Palmer (Arizona)
Stats: 24-of-37 (64.9%) 271yds 2 TDs, 0 INTs
QBR Rating: 64.2 (4th Highest)
QB Rating: 104.7 (3rd Best)
Summary: Palmer completed 64.9% of his passes, his third-best performance of the season along with 271 yards and 2 touchdowns, giving him a quarterback rating of 104.7, also his third best performance of the season.
Week 2: Ryan Tannehill (Miami)
Stats: 32-of-45 (71.1%) 387 yards 2 TDs, 2 INTs
QBR Rating: 73.5 (3rd Highest)
QB Rating: 93.5 (5th Highest)
Summary: Tannehill completed 71.1% of his passes (season-high) in their week two match-up along with a season-best 387 yards passing along with two touchdowns, but did throw two interceptions. Tannehill’s performance is the best completion percentage against New England among all the quarterbacks they’ve faced all season, which included a second half that saw him miss on just five passes after he completed an astounding 22-of-27 (81%) for 273 yards.
Week 3: Brock Osweiler (Houston)
Stats: 24-of-41 (58.5%) 196 yards 0 TDs, 1 INT
QBR Rating: 29.1 (2nd Worst of the Season)
QB Rating: 60.6 (4th Worst of the Season)
Summary: Osweiler’s performance as his team was shutout in Foxboro was one of the worst of the season for an opposing quarterback. He completed 58.5% of his passes for 196 yards with no touchdowns and one interception, the only time all year where he failed to throw a touchdown pass and was picked off in the same game.
Week 4: Tyrod Taylor (Buffalo)
Stats: 27-of-39 (69.2%) 1 TD, 0 INTs
QBR Rating: 70.9 9 (5th Best of the Season)
QB Rating: 94.6 (5th Best of the Season)
Summary: In his first meeting against New England, Taylor completed 69% of his passes (3rd highest completion rate for him this season) for 246 yards, which so far is his third highest passing yard total of the season along with a quarterback rating of 94.6. He also accomplished it while attempting a season-high 39 attempts.
Week 5: Cody Kessler (Cleveland)
Stats: 5-of-8 (62.5%) 62-yards 1 TD, 0 INTs
QBR Rating: 45.3 (5th highest)
QB Rating: 126.0 (Season High)
Summary: Kessler’s outing didn’t last long before a hit by Dont’a Hightower knocked him out of the game, but before that happened he completed 5-of-8 along with a touchdown on the Browns’ opening drive, marching his team down the field 75-yards on 9 plays to knot the score at 7-7 at the time. The performance gave him a quarterback rating of 126.0, his best of the season. We won’t get into when Charlie Whitehurst replaced him, because he was held to 58.3% passing and hasn’t seen the field since that game.
Week 6: Andy Dalton (Cincinnati)
Stats:21-of-31 (67.7) 254 yards, 1TD, 0 INTs
QBR Rating: 88.1 (2nd Highest)
QB Rating: 103.4 (5th Highest)
Summary: The Patriots couldn’t slow Dalton down and he completed 68% of his passes against them, one of six times this season he’s accomplished that feat. However, he finished with a QBR rating of 88.1, his second best outing of the season behind the 90.2 performance he put up the next week against the winless Browns.
Week 7: Landry Jones (Pittsburgh)
Stats: 29-of-47 (61.7%) 281 yards, 1TD, 1INT
QBR Rating: 45.7 (N/A)
QB Rating: 76.6 (N/A)
Summary: Jones actually played relatively well in his only start of the season against the Patriots. He finished 29-of-47 for 281 yards while also completing 61.7% of his passes along with 1 touchdown and one interception. But taking a closer look, Jones actually had a good run through three quarters before the Patriots shut him down in the 4th. He finished the first half 14-of-20 (70%) for 179 yards and came out in the 3rd quarter by completing 6-of-7 (86%) before completing just 9-of-20 (45%) in the final quarter of play.
Week 8: Tyrod Taylor (Buffalo)
Stats: 19-of-38 (50%) 289 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
QBR Rating: 67.6 (6th highest)
QB Rating: 63.8 (9th highest)
Summary: The Patriots got the better of this rematch, keeping Taylor out of the end zone for what at the time was the third time all season (he made it four two weeks later against the Bengals. They also held him to a 50% completion rate, tying him for his lowest output of the season, which matched the 50% he completed the week before against Miami.
Week 10: Russell Wilson (Seattle)
Stats:25-of-37 (67.6%) 348 yards, 3TDs, 0 INTs
QBR Rating: 89.7 (3rd highest)
QB Rating: 124.6 (2nd highest)
Summary: Wilson had his best outing of the season against the Patriots, throwing for 348-yards and three touchdowns, tying a season-high that he achieved against the Jets in their fourth game of the year. He also had a solid second half against New England, completing 10-of-14 for 151 yards and a touchdown, with his 71% completion as the 2nd-highest by an opponent this season.
Week 11: Colin Kaepernick (San Francisco)
Stats: 16-of-30 (53.3%) 206 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs
QBR Rating: 32.4 (Worst of the season)
QB Rating: (2nd Highest)
Summary: Kaepernick was one of the few quarterbacks to complete under 60% of his passes after he went 16-of-30 for 206 yards and two touchdowns. His performance against the Patriots was his only game of the year where he threw multiple touchdowns without an interception, but New England’s defense embarrassed him in the second half after holding him to 8-of-21 (38%) throwing the football, although they did allow one touchdown.
Week 12: Ryan Fitzpatrick (NY Jets)
Stats: 22-of-32 (68.8%) 269-yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs
QBR Rating: 64.0 (3rd Highest)
QB Rating: 115.2 (tied for 2nd highest)
Summary: The Patriots ended up being Fitzpatrick’s best outing of the season, with the quarterback completing 22-of-32 (68.8%) for 269 yards. His completion percentage and yardage totals were both his second-best totals of the year, and his two touchdown and no interception performance marked the first time in 2016 he threw multiple touchdowns without being picked off.
Dont’a Hightower and the Patriots defense continue to limit opponents from scoring. (USA TODAY Images)
2) Defense Remains Among tops in the NFL in points allowed – Speaking of the Patriots defense, one of the things that comes to mind is that despite the perception of that group by those who have been following them this season, they’ve still quietly put together a pretty remarkable run through 11 weeks of the season.
Going back to the 2015 campaign, at this point in the season, the Patriots had already allowed five games where opponents had scored over 20 points, including one game – Week 2 against the Bills – where they allowed over 30.
In 2014, their most recent Super Bowl championship season, they had allowed seven, including that nightmare of a game against the Chiefs in Week 4 where Kansas City put up 41 at home on Monday night football in front of an Arrowhead Stadium crowd who enjoyed every minute of it. Despite the Patriots turnaround, it also started a streak of five straight games where an opponent scored 20 or better.
But even with those issues, by the time the season was over, they were hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
Here in 2016 they’re outperforming each of those two previous seasons having allowed just four games of 20 points or better, with their match-up against the Seahawks being the one where they allowed a team to break the 30 mark. Despite that game, they’re still ranked third in the NFL in points per game, having allowed 17.9. Aside from the Vikings (3rd in yards per game allowed), the Patriots defense ranks ahead of each of the other teams who lead the NFL in fewest average yards per game given up, with Arizona (1st), Baltimore (2nd) and Denver (4th) in that category.
It’s an argument that’s been rehashed over and over and while it’s not pretty and it may be hard to watch, so far the results continue to speak for themselves.
3) Third down defense remains a problem – However, despite the success we just mentioned, one area that Bill Belichick would like to hopefully improve on are New England’s defensive struggles on third down, which still remain an issue and will likely be the focus again this weekend when the Rams visit Gillette Stadium.
So far this season they’re ranked 20th in that category, allowing opponents to convert 41.3 of their attempts against them, which continues to be one of their glaring weaknesses. When you look at other teams who are in the playoff hunt, the numbers on this category certainly reflect the current success of each of those clubs.
Looking at the top five teams in this category, Miami leads the league while giving up just 33.3%, followed by Baltimore (33.6%), Tampa Bay (33.6%), Oakland (35.1%) and Denver (35.1%). All teams with winning records, and all teams who have shots at reaching the postseason.
Looking back at 2015, the Patriots finished allowing just 37.3% on third down (10th in the NFL), which is certainly much better than where they are right now. It’s been a rough ride but since the Seahawks game (they allowed Seattle to convert 50% of their third down attempts), they’ve been better, allowing 5-of-14 (36%) against the 49ers and 5-of-11 (45%) against the Jets. They also allowed just 17 points in each of those two contests.
One of the areas they haven’t had much success with is getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which has been a frustrating topic here in New England and Belichick addressed just over a week ago prior to the Jets game and emphasized that while pressure is important, defending the play is ultimately the more important priority.
“I think you’ve got to look at the individual plays. If the quarterback just catches the ball and throws it, I mean, I don’t care what you have,” said Belichick. “You’re not going to really get any pressure but you have to defend the play.”
“The quarterback – the longer he holds the ball, then the more pressure you would expect to get on the quarterback or you’d want to get on the quarterback. The more guys you rush, the more pressure you would expect to get on the quarterback. Again, there’s a point where certain plays the ball just comes out of his hand. You can’t get there. I don’t care if you send everybody.”
“So it’s really a result of the play. If you stop them on third-down, if you stop them in the red-area, if you stop them on first-down and put them in second-and-long, those are good plays. I don’t care if you have pressure or have coverage. Whatever it is, you’re happy with those plays. If you don’t, then find a way to do them better.
— Sean Leahy (@leahysean) December 1, 2016
4) Gronk’s future now in question – The Rob Gronkowski situation will likely be one that will now be a big topic of discussion of the offseason, with fans likely hoping to see the veteran back on the field in 2017 after undergoing his third back surgery of his NFL career.
Following his last back surgery, Gronkowski managed to recover pretty well and eventually returned to form, which is obviously going to be the hope with this one. However, the timing couldn’t be any worse as it pertains to his future.
The veteran tight end is under contract through 2019, but how he comes back from this injury is likely going to decide whether or not the team is willing to gamble on him beyond 2017 in terms of the rumored extension that was floating out there back at the beginning of the season. Otherwise if Gronk’s camp begins asking for another huge deal, it could signal the beginning of the end of his tenure here in New England.
Belichick has to be a little frustrated following the A.J. Derby trade because he essentially gambled on the fact Gronkowski would have been able to make it through the entire season, which is likely why he even agreed to to make the deal to begin with. Instead, the Patriots find themselves at least with the good fortune of having Martellus Bennett on the roster as a viable replacement in the passing game, which is something they really haven’t ever had and that might be the one thing that allows them to move past it.
The bad news is, with Bennett banged up himself, there’s no rest for the weary given that there’s no one left behind him now that Gronkowski is out. But the good news is he’s a gutsy player and his attitude has been absolutely terrific, which is one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise disappointing situation.
5) Gronk isn’t the only one with family speaking out – Following the joint statement the team issued with Gronkowski’s family the other night, there’s been a lot of discussion about how the veteran tight end’s family has been involved in his medical decisions, as well as the public perceptions surrounding what information is put out there.
The obvious idea surrounding that is to prevent any misinformation that would put Gronkowski in a bad light since the team tends to not say anything, which ultimately leads to speculation about the real severity of the injury.
While people find it bizarre that Gronkowski’s family has been so involved, he’s not the only star player who has a family who doesn’t like it when they’re son looks bad in front of the media.
While Tom Brady stayed completely mum during deflategate and still hasn’t really defended himself, his father was actually one of the most vocal people during that period, having gone on radio and speaking to various media publications where he fired off some extremely harsh words about the league and the commissioner. The only real difference is, he didn’t do it in a joint statement, he just did it on his own.
No one here in New England minded because he more or less said everything that people here already felt, and if Brady himself wouldn’t say it, it was great to hear someone like his father being able to fire some shots at the commissioner during what was arguably one of the biggest injustices we’ve ever seen against a player.
But either way, it’s hard to fault Gronkowski’s family for wanting the most accurate version of the story out there, even if it might have upset the normally tight-lipped Belichick. It’s better than having conflicting reports and people questioning the player, which Belichick admitted was part of the decision.
“I would say this was a situation that the team and the player felt like was the best thing to do,” said Belichick.
” I have nothing to add to the statement. That’s all we have right there.”
Belichick has a big challenge heading into the final weeks of the season. (USA TODAY Images)
6) Patriots can’t get caught in a trap this week – With the Los Angeles Rams set to visit this week, Belichick will have the challenge of convincing his players that they’ll need to be at their best when they’ll be playing two teams after that with potential playoff implications in both Baltimore and Denver.
Following the Broncos loss to the Chiefs on Sunday night, New England and Oakland are tied at 9-2 and in control of the top seed in the Conference with five games remaining, with Baltimore and Denver both coming up on the schedule after this week.
As it stands right now, if the season ended today, the top six teams in the Conference are New England (9-2), Oakland (9-2), Baltimore (6-5), Houston (6-5), Kansas City (8-3) and Miami (7-4). The Patriots will face three of those teams over their next five games, which obviously reduces their margin for error.
Denver remains in the hunt at 7-4, as are the Steelers, who join the Ravens at 6-5 and will likely be battling it out over the next five weeks to try and win the AFC North. With Kansas City and Denver still battling it out, it’s going to further enforce the fact that the Patriots need to remain focused on getting the top seed to prevent a trip to either venue, as they’ve had little luck at either one.
This is a team that still has yet to play their best football, which given what they’ve managed to accomplish to this point is impressive. But a win against Los Angeles is going to be a critical part of their success and they’ll need to avoid what happened at home against Philadelphia last year that potentially derailed their shot at another Super Bowl appearance. The Rams haven’t played well at home this season (1-4) but are .500 on the road at 3-3. Hopefully they won’t improve on that at Gillette Stadium next weekend.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary