Some news and notes for this morning:
One part of the discussion with New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick on Monday centered on the production on offense, which has obviously been an issue through two games.
Shooting themselves in the foot has been a huge issue, especially since, looking at the numbers, they’ve done so many things right.
The Patriots are surprisingly tied with the Kansas City Chiefs and the Chicago Bears at 22nd in the NFL in points per game, averaging 18.5 points per contest. Another interesting note is the fact they’re actually 4th in the NFL in total offensive plays as well as 5th in first downs per game, which is an improvement considering they finished 2022 ranked 28th in both of those categories.
But the killer so far has obviously been the early-game turnovers, which have put them in a hole over the last two weeks, and it’s kept them from being able to take control and potentially playing on their terms. Belichick called those mistakes “the worst thing that can happen,” and it needs to be fixed.
“Our production,” said Belichick when asked what needs to improve early on. “The big thing is, offensively, we turned the ball over three times here in two games early in the game, and that’s really the worst thing that can happen.”
“Defensively, we’ve had a couple of drives that didn’t result in a lot of points, but then those turnovers put us on a short field, so we had to battle through those. Again, it’s just complementary team football, taking care of the ball and defensively being able to convert on third down to get off the field.”
One other area that they’ve also improved on so far is on third down, with the Patriots currently tied with the Bengals with a 40% efficiency rate at 14th, which is a big jump from where they were last year. They finished 2022 with a rate of 34.9, which was 27th in the NFL. They were actually solid in that area on Sunday, converting 7-of-15 (46.7%) of their third down attempts.
As Belichick said, the key is just getting off to a better start and not putting themselves in a hole. Hopefully, they’ll end that trend Sunday against the Jets.
Looking at how things have played out these first two weeks, the AFC picture remains somewhat murky and New England’s slow start has certainly seen them end up with a missed opportunity when it comes to getting themselves into the mix here early on.
However, at the same time, everyone else’s struggles have also worked out in their favor.
The supposed top teams in the conference have all gotten off to a rocky start, with the Bills, Chiefs, Bengals, Titans all struggling early getting out of the gate. Three teams of the teams mentioned have split their first two outings, while Cincinnati is off to an 0-2 start.
That’s essentially allowed the Patriots an opening to get back into the mix if they can get themselves a win down at MetLife this weekend.
The only teams in the conference to start out 2-0 are both Miami and Baltimore, with the rest sitting at .500, while the Patriots, Bengals, Texans, Broncos, and Chargers all sit at 0-2.
New England is also among six teams to play one of their first two games against non-conference opponents (Philadelphia), which also would work in their favor down the road should they find themselves tied with any of those teams by the time December comes around.
There’s still plenty of football left to be played, but this is definitely a week they’ve got to get a victory. It’s been a long time since they’ve dropped a game against the Jets, with the Patriots having won their last 14 straight against their AFC Rival, with their last loss coming in a 26-20 overtime defeat back in 2015.
It looks like the Patriots may be continuing to explore their options at quarterback, with the club making some changes on their depth chart behind backup QB, Bailey Zappe.
The team had initially brought in Corral at the end of roster cutdowns after he had been waived by the Panthers, with the intent seemingly being to potentially have him back up Mac Jones. Instead, the NFL threw a monkey wrench into that plan after altering the emergency quarterback rule, which seemingly ended those plans after Zappe ended up being elevated and Corral was dropped down the depth chart.
Who they’ll bring in next will be interesting to monitor. But given what we’ve seen so far, Zappe appears to have re-established himself behind Jones, which will seemingly make it a tough job ahead for anyone coming in to be anything more than practice squad fodder.
Rookie kicker Chad Ryland finally got his first field goal attempt on Sunday night, with Ryland coming out and hitting a 49-yard kick late in the first half that got New England on the board with 1:49 left to go in the second quarter.
That was his first NFL career field goal, and Belichick talked about the fact that he’s worked hard with both holder Bryce Baringer and long-snapper Joe Cardona to get the operation down. He praised the work the three have put in, which he credited as being an important part of the rookie’s solid start.
“I think Chad’s hit the ball well in practice. The games are always different. The games are the games. It’s the first field goal opportunity that he’s had. There’s been some extra points, so, similar type of kicks. He’s kicked off well, has hit the ball well in the kickoffs, for the most part.”
“Every game, every play, every snap is a good learning experience for him and the operation with Bryce [Baringer] and Joe [Cardona]. So, we’ll continue to work and perfect that as we play in different stadiums, different environments, different conditions and so forth. It’s all part of the process of growing individually, but also, as I said, the whole operation of field goals with the snap, the hold, the kick, and obviously the protection. But, for those three specialists in particular, it’s an entire operation that’s involved. It’s not a golf swing where you put the ball on the tee and hit it. You’ve got to snap it and get it down and so forth. It definitely takes some timing and teamwork.”
One other thing he mentioned was the fact that they now have a young nucleus, with all three players likely to be working together for the foreseeable future. Belichick believes that should be a positive as it will provide some continuity moving forward.
“Neither Bryce or Chad have a lot of NFL game experience,” said Belichick. “They’ve both punted, and held and kicked, but doing it together and doing it at this level is different and it’s a little more challenging. They work hard on it. Joe [Judge], Cam [Achord] and Joe Houston, they all spend a lot of time together. They work to perfect their individual craft and the overall unit operation, and it’s going to be a work in progress.”
“I’d say the upside of it is that they’re young. They should be together for a while or have the chance to be together for a while, and then that continuity and consistency can develop. So, again, they’re working on it every day. We’ve got a long way to go, but not bad so far.”
File this under, “in case you missed it,” but ESPN’s Mike Reiss appeared on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich on Monday and provided an update on Patriots defensive back, Jack Jones.
The second-year cornerback popped up on the injury report last week and was placed on injured reserve, meaning he’ll miss at least the first four weeks of the season. According to Reiss, his injury, which is reported to be a hamstring injury, occurred on what he called a “freak injury” in practice ahead of that week one game.
However, while he’ll be eligible to return after Week 4, it sounds like his timetable for a return could linger on beyond that.
“I also wanted to follow up, guys, on one thing. I know we talked last week, we were talking about Jack Jones and I told you I wanted to dig around on that,” said Reiss during an appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher and Rich on Monday. “I did and I do want to tell you it was like a freak injury at practice, that’s what I was told.”
“And [it’s] a significant hamstring pull. No surgery, I’m told, on that but, like significant to the point that, like, midseason [he’ll potentially be back].”
That’s certainly disappointing for a secondary that was without Jonathan Jones on Sunday and also saw Marcus Jones go down with a shoulder injury. His loss hurts them on both sides of the football, as they’ve used him in various packages on offense, including one snap against the Eagles.
For now, Jack Jones remains on the backburner, but if what Reiss is reporting holds true, it sounds like it will be a while before we see him back in action again.
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