There was much to be encouraged by based on the New England Patriots week one performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers. A 33-3 victory against an AFC contender is definitely a statement win. The 30 point margin of victory is the fourth highest by a defending Super Bowl champion to open the season. The receiving corps looked to be unstoppable, and that is before the addition of a former Steelers receiver whose name is somewhat recognizable.
As those in the Patriots organization will be the first to tell you however, despite all of the positives to come out of week one there is still plenty to work on if they wish to find themselves hoisting the Lombardi trophy in Miami come February.
What areas were positions of strength and which left fans wanting more? This is the week one edition of three up three down.
After the retirement of Rob Gronkowski following the Patriots Super Bowl LIII victory, there were a lot of questions about the pass catching talent around Tom Brady. Chris Hogan had departed in free agency and signed a contract with the Carolina Panthers, leaving the depth chart in New England with Julian Edelman, Philip Dorsett, and ???
This position group arguably underwent the biggest overhaul of any on the roster this offseason. The addition in free agency of Demaryius Thomas, and rookie additions of N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, and Gunner Olszewski turned this group from arguably the weakest on the roster, to one of the strongest.
Now New England gets to add Antonio Brown to that list of players. This group of receivers is undoubtedly the best that Tom Brady has had since Randy Moss and Wes Welker broke records back in 2007 leading the Patriots to an undefeated regular season. There are still plenty of question marks surrounding Brown and Gordon’s futures with the Patriots organization, but for the time being Tom Brady is enjoying an embarrassment of riches at the wide receiver position for the first time in over a decade.
Jerod Mayo and the Patriots Defense:
Another offseason departure for the New England Patriots was that of de facto defensive coordinator Brian Flores. Flores left the organization to take a head coaching position with the Miami Dolphins leaving the defensive play calling position vacant. Former Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano was brought in early in the offseason to fill that void, but decided to leave football in order to focus on his health and his family.
Enter Mayo. The former mic linebacker for the Patriots decided to come out of retirement and rejoin the organization in a coaching role. Along with Steve Belichick, Mayo called a near flawless game allowing only 3 points to the retooled Pittsburgh Steelers offense and forcing one turnover.
Whether it’s Mayo, Steve Belichick, Bill Belichick, or some combination of the three calling the plays and installing the game plan, this Patriots defense appears to have taken a step forward from their Super Bowl campaign of a year ago.
The 42 year old quarterback jumped off a literal cliff with his daughter in the offseason. So far, however, he has shown zero signs of falling off the proverbial football cliff that so many have been predicting for so many seasons *cough cough* Rob Parker *cough cough*. Brady looked as good as ever in the season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers completing 24/36 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns. Brady continues to torch the Steelers moving his career record to 9-3 and remaining undefeated at home.
Brady isn’t trending up solely for his performance against the Steelers however, it’s also due to the weapons around him. Gordon, Brown, and Edelman may very well be the three starting receivers for the Patriots when they take the field week two in Miami. The argument could be made that this trio of wide receivers is better than any Brady has enjoyed in his career, including the Wes Welker, Randy Moss, Dontae Stallworth 2007 season.
Brady is surrounded by talent on all levels that will not only help him on a push for a record setting seventh Super Bowl title, but potentially another league MVP award as well. The greatest of all time may now be throwing to his greatest receiving corps of all time, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down.
Starting center David Andrews was hospitalized with blood clots in his lungs prior to the start of the regular season landing him on injured reserve, ending his season. It was an up and down performance from the offensive line in the game against the Steelers giving up one sack, four hits, four pressures, and two holding penalties. The biggest loss for this unit however came in the fourth quarter.
Starting right tackle Marcus Cannon came down hard on his right arm, immediately heading off of the field and into the medical tent. Cannon’s status is unknown at the writing of this article outside of the team’s initial diagnosis of a shoulder injury, but if the Patriots were to lose him for any significant period of time it would be a huge blow to the offensive line. Joe Thuney ended up sliding from his position at left guard over to right tackle to replace Cannon, and Jermaine Eluemunor slid into the vacated left guard position.
Ted Karras, who was the starting center Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers, might be a better option to fill the left guard position should Cannon miss time and Thuney fills that roll. Karras had some struggles snapping the football to Brady in shotgun formation last night, with the ball appearing to be sort of lobbed to Brady rather than thrown on a line. Should Karras be forced to the left guard position this will mean another new center snapping the ball to Tom Brady, and trying to hold the interior of that offensive line. Ideally Cannon has a minor sprain and is our a week or two, but if he’s lost for any significant amount of time it’s a huge blow to the offensive line.
Michel entered week one of the NFL season with high expectations surrounding him, and deservedly so. In three playoff games last season Michel had 345 total yards, six total touchdowns, and averaged 4.7 yards per carry. His performance against the Steelers however saw those high expectations replaced with question marks.
15 carries for 14 yards isn’t exactly the stat line that was anticipated for a running back entering his second season. Michel’s role was already in question being a part of a crowded backfield that features James White, Rex Burkhead, and rookie Damien Harris who was selected in the third round of the NFL draft.
The game wasn’t as bad for Michel as the stat line may suggest however as he was able to convert on multiple short yardage situations and move the chains for the offense, but he may see his role diminish slightly if he isn’t able to produce at a higher level moving forward.
Anyone who was hoping that the tight ends as currently comprised might have a chance to contribute in a meaningful way on this roster was sadly disappointed. Matt LaCosse saw zero snaps due to an ankle injury suffered in the preseason despite being active for the game. Ryan Izzo had one catch for three yards and only played 45 of the 70 offensive snaps. Lance Kendricks, who was able to stick on the team without accounting for a roster spot due to a one game suspension was released on Monday.
At the tight end position this season it’s Benjamin Watson or bust for New England, however the former Super Bowl champion won’t be able to join the ranks until week five due to a four game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Not all hope may be lost though for a potential Rob Gronkowski return. Momentum has been growing lately for the return to the field of Gronkowski potentially late in the season. The reported massive weight loss presumably dropping Gronk out of playing shape was overblown as was evidenced Sunday night. The man is still a physical specimen and has kept himself in playing shape. Could we see Gronkowski on the field again this season? Ask him yourself, Dave Portnoy did.
The Patriots title defense started strong Sunday night with strong performances from Brady and his receivers, as well as the defense and new play caller Jarod Mayo. The path back to the postseason and hopefully on the stairway to seven won’t be without it’s hiccups though, and New England may have to overcome their injuries on the offensive line, lack of playmaking at the tight end position (for now), and potential regression in the running game if they want to be unveiling another Super Bowl banner to kick off the 2020 NFL season.
–Adam Myers is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @AdamTMyers