The New England Patriots lost their fifth game of the 2018 season and second in a row with a frustrating 17-10 loss last Sunday at Heinz Field against the Pittsburgh Steelers. New England will now have to try this week for a chance to wrap-up their tenth consecutive AFC East title at home against AFC East rivals the Buffalo Bills.
The Patriots lost their fifth game of the season–all on the road. In all of those games, other than against Miami– it has been the offense, or more specifically the lack of it, that has been a major factor in New England losing. In their five losses the Patriots have been outscored 142 to 83 (-59). In their nine wins they have outscored opponents 291 to 168 (+123).
The New England defense has also played a key role in their five losses. New England has allowed an average of 28.4 points in their five losses on the road. In their nine victories (six at home) they have allowed opponents just 18.66 points per game. The New England offense has managed just an average of 16.6 points in their five losses while averaging 32.33 points per game in their nine victories.
New England never got consistent play on both sides of the ball although the defense was much improved in the second half. Pittsburgh scored touchdowns on two of their first three drives and had all the points they needed. The defense intercepted the Steelers twice but got no points off those drives. At one point the Patriots punted on five consecutive drives.
On offense, the New England running game was inconsistent for a second straight week gaining just 96 yards on 19 carries (all statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted). The passing game was not much better gaining just 279 tough yards with a costly interception by Tom Brady in the fourth quarter in the red zone. Going three of ten on third down was a backbreaker for the offense
This week the Patriots have a sneaky tough matchup this week at home against the 5-9 Buffalo Bills. Rookie quarterback Josh Allen and his running ability has sparked the Bills this season. They are 4-5 in Allen’s starts while 1-3 without him.
This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in the greater Boston area and and on WPRI Channel 12 in southeastern Massachusetts and the greater Providence area. Greg Gumbel will handle play-by-play duties with Trent Green and Bruce Arians as the color analysts. Melanie Collins will work from the sidelines..
Locally, the New England Patriots are on the radio on 41 stations throughout the six states in New England, New York and Florida and will feature broadcasters Bob Socci doing play-by-play and local media member and former Patriots backup quarterback and local talk radio personality Scott Zolak adding color analysis.
Each week the game comes down to the match-ups. These are the top match-ups on offense that will determine if the Patriots are the team which emerges victorious on Sunday.
The loss against the Steelers was the fourth of their five losses in 2018 the Patriots scored 24 points or more and lost. The Patriots’ offense that was ranked 25th in the NFL in points scored after week three is now seventh in the NFL with 374 points scored through 14 games.
Coming out of week three, New England ranked 29th in the league on third down percentage converting on just 28.6% of their third downs. The Patriots climbed back into the top ten and still stayed there despite issues last week. They are now converting 41.6% of third downs for the season. Their Red Zone scoring percentage was a problem (an atrocious zero for three scoring in the red zone) again last week in Pittsburgh and is now just 58% (29 of 50 drives) is good for a middle-of-the-pack 16th in the NFL.
How does New England plan to get back their offensive momentum against a tough Buffalo Bills team that is loaded with talented defensive players and in what has become a must-win game at home for the Patriots?
REPLACING JOSH GORDON:
The New England Patriots lost a key component of their offense with wide receiver Josh Gordon facing an indefinite suspension for violating the terms of his reinstatement. That puts more pressure on Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski to produce in the offense. In addition, one of Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett or Cordarrelle Patterson needs to become a productive and consistent performer on offense (I’ve given up on Jacob Hollister contributing in 2018).
Patterson–with his size, speed and already larger role in the offense–is expected to pick-up the most additional playing time. Chris Hogan-in his final year of his contract–has been arguably the biggest disappointment on offense with just 29 receptions for 468 yards. Dorsett’s small role in the offense is surprising as he has the size, speed, and quickness to play “Deion Branch” in the offensive system. Instead he’s been an afterthought.
The Bills will line up TreDavious White all over the field to try and neutralize Edelman, Gronkowski and whoever ends up as the third option at receiver. Levi Wallace–an undrafted free agent from Alabama–has carved out a starting role and played very well for the Bills at cornerback. The Bills like to use a “big nickel” with safeties Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer and Rafael Bush to handle the rest of the coverage duties.
That is only part of the offensive game plan–the Patriots also must get the ball actually into the end zone:
RED ZONE TOUCHDOWNS:
The Patriots found themselves in the red zone three times against Pittsburgh and came away with just three points. After scoring on their first drive, the Patriots punted five times in a row. Instead of pulling away and winning the game in the second half, the Patriots sputtered with penalties pushing them backwards and a terrible interception by Brady.
The issue in the red zone is nothing new–New England has struggled as the field shrinks and defenses can cover more space. Rob Gronkowski has struggled to separate by the goal line and losing Josh Gordon erases another big target. Running the ball at the goal line has been a struggle as well with the Patriots forced to turn to fullback James Develin (four touchdowns) as the big back.
With Jerry Hughes, Lorenzo Alexander, Kyle Williams, Star Lotulelei and the rest of the strong front seven of the Bills, it is not going to be easy for the Patriots to move the ball in the red zone on Sunday. One option that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels should explore is spreading the defense near the goal line and letting Brady diagnose the defense pre-snap and find the most favorable match-up pre-snap to try and improve their odds by the goal line.
If the offense can find an option at the number two receiver role to contribute and move the chains, they should be able to drive the ball down the field. The next step is actually getting the ball into the end zone!
-Hal Bent is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @halbent01