Super Bowl Scars Begin to Heal: Patriots Three Up Three Down

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All losses aren’t created equal. Nobody needs to remind Bill Belichick or Tom Brady of that fact. The week 11 matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles served as that reminder. This game marked the first time that the Patriots would suit up against the team that cost them a super bowl since that fateful February day in 2018. The Patriots would go on to exact their revenge, but is there potentially another lesson to learn from this game?

All wins are not created equal either. While a victory against the Philadelphia Eagles couldn’t bring back that Lombardi Trophy, it could begin to heal some of the scars that remain from that Super Bowl defeat. A win is a win, and it’s especially sweet to exact some semblance of revenge against the team to most recently cost this team another Super Bowl title, however this victory is not without its red flags. This is the week 11 edition of three up three down.

THREE UP

Third Down Defense

Coming off a week that saw the Baltimore Ravens convert six of their 11 third or fourth down  attempts, the Patriots defense stepped up to the plate and got the Eagles off the field. On the day Carson Wentz and the Eagles converted three of 14 opportunities on third or fourth down.

Allowing teams to convert on third down keeps Tom Brady and the offense on the sideline, and keeps the Patriots defense on the field. While the defense is the strength of this team, it is not unbeatable. The week nine contest with the Baltimore Ravens saw four separate drives go for ten plus plays, three of which resulted in touchdowns and one in a field goal. These sort of sustained drives are what this Patriots team doesn’t want to see.

Time of possession is a battle that the Patriots historically win, and it was a key to their success in the postseason last year. A 37 to 23 minute advantage for the Ravens in that category is a major reason for their victory. Wearing down the Patriots defense and keeping Brady and the already limited offense on the sideline and out of rhythm is the recipe to beat this Patriots team, so the improvement on third down against the Eagles was a very welcome sight.

Nick Folk

For Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots organization, it’s not about what you may have accomplished with another organization, or even what you have accomplished with the team in the past. It’s about what you’re doing for the team right now on a week to week basis. Nobody is doing a better job of that than new kicker Nick Folk.

Folk is the second kicker that the Patriots have signed in an attempt to fill the role previously held by Stephen Gostkowski. The revolving door at the kicker position is one that was cause for concern moving forward as many games later in the year and into the postseason can often be decided on the foot of the kicker. So far, Folk has given the Patriots organization no reason to doubt him.

As a Patriot, Folk is perfect. Five field goal attempts and two extra points have led to seven made kicks. It’s worth noting that Folk has yet to make or even attempt a kick from 40 yards or more, but making the routine kicks is something that the Patriots haven’t been guaranteed so far this season. Including extra points the Patriots kickers prior to Folk had missed eight attempts of 40 yards or under. Folk has yet to be truly tested, and it remains to be seen if the team trusts him in the biggest of situations, however seven kicks and seven makes can’t be overlooked.

N’Keal Harry

Belichick and the Patriots did something this offseason that they have never done with Brady at the helm, and that’s draft a wide receiver in the first round. Enter N’Keal Harry. Entering week 11 N’Keal Harry had yet to take a meaningful snap for the Patriots after starting the year on injured reserve with an ankle injury. After being activated from the IR prior to the teams contest with the Baltimore Ravens, Harry was a healthy scratch for that game leading many to wonder what his role would be with the team going forward.

Brady and the offense have been searching for weapons on the offensive side of the football all season long. They brought in Antonio Brown to try and boost the offense. The rumors around Rob Gronkowski continues to swirl in terms of his retirement status, with reports coming out this week that owner Robert Kraft has reached out about a possible return. Simply being active on game day is a win for Harry and the offense moving forward as he offers the offense and bigger bodied target that can stretch the field and win some 50/50 jump ball type throws.

Harry was on the field for 43%, or 32 of a possible 74 offensive snaps Sunday against the Eagles. This placed him behind Julian Edelman (66 of 74), Mohamed Sanu (41 of 74), and Philip Dorsett (34 of 74) on the wide receiver depth chart. While being the fourth man at wide receiver is hardly what was expected out of a first round pick, it’s important to remember that it was his first NFL action. Challenging Dorsett for reps on the outside, and being available to take on a bigger role with injuries to Dorsett and Sanu is a big step forward for Harry, and a strong start to his NFL career despite the meager stat line of three receptions for 18 yards.

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THREE DOWN 

Tom Brady

The offensive talent surrounding Tom Brady is perhaps the worst he has had since the last time this team missed the playoffs in the 2003 season. The offensive line is missing two starters at the most important positions, center and left tackle. Rob Gronkowski retired leaving a gaping hole at the tight end position not only as a receiver, but as an end of the line blocker in the running game. It’s been a revolving door at receiver as well with Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon both leaving the team, and undrafted free agents Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski both taking meaningful snaps at wide receiver.

With that being said, Brady has not been playing up to his usual standards this season. In the first half against the Eagles the Patriots quarterback was 11/25 for 103 yards. The 14 incompletions is a career high for Brady who didn’t play much better in the second half finishing with a final stat line of 26/47 for 216 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. This is not what has come to be expected of Brady.

One bad game is nothing to panic over, however look at this comparison of Tom Brady and another quarterback who has started a majority of games for his team this season.

Who might this mystery quarterback be? Maybe Jimmy Garoppolo or Philip Rivers? Wrong. How about Gardner Minshew. The thought that Brady would ever be comparable to Minshew is a shock to many, however it’s a reality for this 2019 Patriots team. Minshew is outproducing Brady in every statistical category outside of completion percentage. While Brady is still the greatest to ever play the position, he will need to step up his level of play against true Super Bowl contenders once the postseason comes around.

Offensive Efficiency 

The New England Patriots are 9-1, however the strength of this team is not on the offensive side of the ball. Seemingly coming full circle to where his career started, Brady and the offense appear to be supported by the defense similarly to the first three Super Bowl winning rosters of the early 2000’s. During his weekly appearance on WEEI’s “The Greg Hill Show” Brady stated, “The strength of our team is our defense and our special teams. So on offense we just have to take advantage when we get opportunities and understand where our strengths lie and try to play to them…”

Far from a vote of confidence in the offense, and understandably so. Brady and the Patriots rank in the bottom 10 teams in the league in terms of yards per drive averaging only 29.11 yards. Compared to the winless Cincinnati Bengals yards per drive of 28.28, that number would appear to indicate a potentially fatal flaw in the defending Super Bowl champions armor. At least some of the issue presented here can be attributed to the short fields set up by the defense forcing turnovers. This offensive issue however isn’t limited exclusively to yards, this 2019 team also ranks in the bottom ten of the league in another key offensive category.

The Patriots rank 25th in the league in terms of touchdown efficiency once they reach the red zone, converting drives into six points just under 49 percent of the time. Although the Patriots lead the league in red zone scoring attempts per game at 4.3, come playoff time it will be even more critical for the Patriots to convert those opportunities into touchdowns rather than field goal attempts. Especially given the question marks surrounding the kicking game. The efficiency on offense is an issue that the team needs to improve upon if they wish to be hoisting the Lombardi trophy for a record setting seventh time.

Coming Out Flat

This is the second week in a row that the Patriots have found themselves down by double digits in the first half of the game. The Baltimore Ravens jumped all over the Patriots, hanging 17 before the Patriots even knew what hit them. Similarly, the Philadelphia Eagles jumped out to a 10 point lead before the Patriots were able to make adjustments and blank the Eagles in the second half to rally for a 17-10 victory.

After already talking about the limitations to this Patriots offense, it is important more so for this team than others in the past to come out firing on all cylinders. While the team was able to overcome the deficit they put themselves in against the Eagles, they were unable to rally all the way back the week before against the Baltimore Ravens.

The postseason is extremely unforgiving, and a single slow start or mistake can mark the end of a teams Super Bowl aspirations. With a margin for error that grows closer and closer to zero as the season progresses, this Patriots team too needs to move toward that goal. Every snap becomes more important, every play more critical than the last, and every game could be your last. This team needs to start playing with that sense of urgency.

 

Adam Myers is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @AdamTMyers

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