As New England Patriots fans, we all know that while an 8-0 start is impressive, it’s not nearly close to the lofty goals we have set for the team and they have set for themselves. There are a lot of positive takeaways from the first half of the season, but there is also a lot of room for improvement and many areas that need to be focal points going forward.
When the competition heats up in the second half of the season and into the playoffs, New England has a few things to work on to ensure they are firing on all cylinders to make a legitimate run at a Super Bowl repeat. As we all know from listening to Bill Belichick, there’s always something this team can be working to improve.
The offensive side of the ball is no doubt this team’s strength; however, in order to take that step to the next level, they need to run the ball effectively. They are in the bottom 10 in league in total rushing yards, and have even had a game where Brady was the leading rusher with 15 yards.
LeGarrette Blount and company have begun to run the ball more effectively and more frequently in the past few games, but they need to continue building on it and win the time-of-possession battle week in and week out.
The loss of Dion Lewis this past week will definitely hurt in establishing the run game, but Blount has looked stronger in recent weeks and Brandon Bolden did a good job of stepping in and taking the touches Lewis would have received. While Bolden skill set isn’t near as explosive as Lewis, him and James White should be able to step up and pair with Blount to form a solid rushing attach.
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The main concern with the running game, however, is the offensive line. This unit has been battling injuries all season and has very little reliability. Brady has been able to mask their inefficiencies in the passing game by having the quickest release in the league, but the running game has certainly suffered because of the line.
One thing the Patriots should be focused on for the remainder of the season is finding a healthy line that has some consistency and is able to build a rapport with each other and Brady. If Belichick is able to find a reliable, consistent offensive line that improves the running game, the already effective passing game with benefit greatly.
A balanced attack will take one of the league’s most prolific offenses to the next level, and put all the pressure on opposing defenses. In addition, putting pressure on opposing defenses will also take the pressure off the defense. More time in between series will only help the defense and lead to a better time of possession, a category the Patriots rank 17th in the league.
The key focus on the defensive side of the ball should be the secondary. The front seven have done an admirable job the first half of the season led by Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins, but the DB’s have struggled. The Patriots are middle of the pack in passing yards allowed this season, while they are impressively second in rushing yards allowed.
Having such a strong run defense is huge and will certainly play a factor going forward, yet the Patriots need to make sure they are taking advantage of other team’s inability to run the ball against them. In fact, most of the top teams in the NFL are built around having a successful passing game.
Malcolm Butler and some of the other young backs on the roster have gone through a few growing pains while taking on larger roles this season and the good news for the Patriots is they should continue to grow and improve. They have a great leader in Devin McCourty, who is one of the most reliable defensive players in the league and has had success at both corner and safety.
Butler is one of the key pieces to this year’s playoff run, and if he can continue improving and start shutting down number 1 opposing receivers, they will start to be one of the most feared defensive units in the league. Nine weeks into the season, this Patriots team is good, but to make sure they are remembered for being great, they need to set their expectations high in every aspect of the game, and of course do their job.