When the time comes to look back on the 2020-2021 NFL season, the Patriots may be a microcosm of just 2020 in general. There are some good days and bad days, but overall it has been a disappointment. There have been a lot of blips of positivity where you think the tide is turning but then the other shoe drops.
This is absolutely a tough year for everyone. This roster is not what it usually is, Tom Brady is gone, and there have been numerous opt-outs. But there is disappointment because we have seen when this team is functioning at its peak. Those performances have been hit and miss. That is no different than other middling teams. It certainly is a new era in Foxborough and although fans may think it hit them like a sack of bricks, the drop-off has not been as expected.
Surprising to most but unsurprising to some, New England is still alive for the playoffs. Sure the extra team this year helps, but it would be a monumental accomplishment nonetheless. And at this point all anyone can ask for is a chance. Thankfully that is exactly what the Pats have in front of them. Win out and you likely will snag a spot. Lose one, things get dicey. Lose more than one and kiss that chance goodbye.
No matter what happens it’ll be an interesting ride down the stretch.
Here’s what’s happening in week thirteen:
First Down: Often times in the past people have complained about the bend don’t break defense for New England. Saying they give up too many yards and first downs. Those defenses certainly weren’t perfect, but they did the most important thing: kept people out of the end zone.
The reason why this is relevant is because the Chargers are setting up as the opposite of that. Currently they rank 12th in yards allowed per game, but currently sit at 25th in points allowed per game. Similarly, the offense is the same exact story. They move the ball with relative ease, garnering the third most yards per game, but somehow have struggled scoring points sitting in the middle of the league at 16th in point per game.
Simply put, this league is about keeping the ball out of your end zone and getting the ball in the opposing end zone and everything else is just noise. That is why the Chargers, despite impressive yardage stats, sit at just 3-8 and outside the playoff picture yet again.
Second Down: One impressive area for the Chargers has been the poise and production of their rookie quarterback Justin Herbert. Herbert, a rookie out of Oregon, has shown an impressive ability to avoid turnovers with just seven interceptions and one lost fumble so far this season. Those numbers look even better when you consider he has 23 touchdowns against those eight turnovers.
Although the playoffs are out of reach this season, the Chargers have an impressive core with Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Hunter Henry (if he is re-signed). Those pieces will make life easier for Herbert and if they all stick around, the Chargers should absolutely be a force and likely playoff team next season.
Third Down: One interesting thing to be on the look out for is who Stephon Gilmore’s primary responsibility will be in man coverage. Gilmore routinely shadows top options, but who does Belichick fear most is the question? The two options are Keenan Allen, who is a fantastic route runner and has great size, and their athletic tight end, Hunter Henry. Henry is a stud and dominates the middle of the field.
Both options are important to the Chargers, but my guess is Keenan Allen is the guy.
The other question is do the Pats trust rookie safety Kyle Dugger to cover Henry? Or do you look to another option?
The guess here is a lot of varied looks, which is obvious, but also have Henry doubled and Gilmore with Allen.
Lots of firepower with this offense, and the defensive backfield will need to bring their A-game to make some stops.
Fourth Down: A lot has been made about Bill Belichick drafting poorly recently. Some of that is justified as he has whiffed on a large number of players, but that is no different than other teams. A lot of people will point to N’Keal Harry as the most recent blunder, and it appears that way, but he is still young. Certainly it is not headed in the right direction, but give him time.
This past draft though appears to have a lot of solid building blocks for the future. Michael Onwenu has been a steal and appears to be a future fixture and Pro Bowler/All-Pro with the versatility to play guard or tackle. Throw in Kyle Dugger, Josh Uche, and Anfernee Jennings and they have some other solid pieces. And that’s not to say what could become of Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keene, and Justin Herron, all of whom could be at least rotation pieces.
This draft has the chance to be a springboard to the next great Patriots team if everything trends the way it is, which is incredibly important on their chances to win and manage the cap going forward.
Prediction: Patriots 24, Chargers 23
The Patriots have had a lot of inconsistencies in their game this season. They look great some days and really bad others. This seems like an opportunity where they can ride some momentum with last week’s game-winning finish and try to make their patented strong finish. It also helps that everyone knows how important these games are for the standings down the stretch. Look for the team to come out inspired and ready to string together some solid performances as they get to 6-6 on the season with a hard fought, close win.
–David Albiani is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @david_albiani