We get it. The Patriots are the worst 2-0 team since the Philadelphia Eagles inexplicably went 2-0 last season, when they snuck through with consecutive one point victories. The Patriots have become the 11th team since the turn of the millennium to register 2-0 and have a point differential of 5 or fewer, and 2012 Philadelphia's the only other team in the past five years. The Rams, Bears, and Texans can join the Patriots if they win by 2 or fewer points, while the Colts can too if they win by 1.
But this is the Patriots we're talking about. The last time they put up only 36 points combined in the first two weeks was 2009, when Tom Brady was returning from his injury and they put up 34. They put up 36 with Matt Cassel. Before that? 2003. They put up 31 points combined, including the game they were blanked by the Bills. Oh, and 2001 when the had 20.
Wait! There's more! The Patriots have allowed 31 points over the first two weeks. Last time they did that? 2008, the last time the defense was ranked top 10 in both points and yards. 2002 is the only other season they've had fewer than 31 points against, but that defense ended up being one of the worst three of the Belichick era.
What does that mean? Absolutely nothing. It's not the end of the world. It's not a definite sign of things to come. Players grow and change. Players will heal, players will develop, players will regress. Chandler Jones looks like an animal now, while Brandon Spikes has been a ghost. Julian Edelman has been a rock on the offense, while Stevan Ridley has been able to generate nothing.
The season's not over. This is why they play 16 games (I assume they will count yesterday as a "game"). Let's be like Belichick and take this season one game at a time and understand that on such a young team, the Patriots still remain the best team in the division and sit atop the AFC East with 2 divisional wins. Let's enjoy this year because we're witnessing the cornerstones of the next great Patriots teams.
And let's look at one of the brightest stars:
Chandler Jones comes up with sack again rushing from inside. Undoes the good with an awful sack dance. #PatriotsTalk— Tom E. Curran (@tomecurran) September 13, 2013
Watching Jones dance rubs me the wrong way.— Joe Namath (@RealJoeNamath) September 13, 2013
The Patriots generated pressure, but zero sacks, against the Bills as they wanted to contain EJ Manuel and C.J. Spiller, so we had to wait until this week to see how the defensive front 7 could really perform. Anyone still question their potential?
The Jets don't have a back like C.J. Spiller (only a few do: Saints/Darren Sproles, Eagles/LeSean McCoy, Lions/Reggie Bush, Bears/Matt Forte, Ravens/Ray Rice. Might even throw Chargers/Danny Woodhead into that mix), so the Patriots didn't have to watch the dump off passes to the flat as closely. You got to see the Patriots really pressure the quarterback with their defensive front seven (six, really) and they did a great job.
The result was 4 sacks, 7 TFLs, and countless pressures. Rob Ninkovich continued to be extremely solid at his left defensive end spot, while Tommy Kelly provided additional pressure up the middle. In reality, maybe Vince Wilfork was the weakest link on the defense, but his role is not to break the pocket, but instead to eat up blockers and demand attention.
There's no question who the centerpiece of the Patriots pass rush is. Chandler Jones is a monster. He packed on pounds of muscle and he's as quick as every. They used Jones inside and out, opting to slide him to defensive tackle on pass rushing downs and they brought in fellow tall man and future freak Michael Buchanan to play right defensive end. Jones had two sacks, two TFLs, and 3 QB Hits (for good measure, Buchanan added a 1/1/2 stat line of his own).
Jones couldn't be stopped. He beat former Pro Bowl tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson. He beat Vladamir Ducasse (the guy who was stone walling Wilfork for most of the night). He beat Nick Mangold, the past title holder of "Best Center in the Universe". He beat quality players (perhaps the first week that title can ever be attributed to Ducasse) and he beat them all night.
Jones has a bright future and, as long as he stays healthy, he'll remain a huge threat to be the best pass rusher the Patriots have had since Willie McGinest. Double digit sacks should be on everyone's radar, but his impact goes far beyond that stat. Teams will have to start paying more attention to him and will have to give additional coverage to defend him. That removes players from helping out in other ways. Big things are coming from Jones and, as a Patriots fan, you have to be excited.
The defense is going to be great for the next long while. The offense...?
Who will have more drops tonight, the rain or Aaron Dobson? Tough night for the rookie's debut.— Derek Havens (@PatriotsHaven) September 13, 2013
The Patriots defense is tied for 3rd on the team in catches today....— Jeremy Lundblad (@JLundbladESPN) September 13, 2013
Note: Talib finished tied for third on the team in catches. The defense actually stepped up and finished tied for second.
That foghorn they keep sounding at Gillette Stadium is actually how they summon Brandon Lloyd.— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurke_SI) September 13, 2013
Ouch, ouch, and ouch. The Patriots offense was abysmal, no getting by that.
Fact. Ryan Allen matched Rich Camarillo for most punting yards in franchise history, with 11 punts for 514 yards. Allen's day of punting is still only the second most on the year, with the Jaguars' Bryan Anger launching 556 yards in Week 1. Still, 514 yards is a top 15 mark since the turn of the millennium.
Fact. The Patriots had 22 three-and-outs last season. They had 6 last night.
Fact. The Patriots offense contributed only 178 passing yards, their fewest since they lost 25-17 to the Steelers in Week 8 of 2011. The Patriots are 8-1 in their past 9 games with under 180 passing yards. Since losing 31-0 to the Bills in 2003, the Patriots are 23-5 when they post under 180 passing yards. That is ludicrous. (3 of the 5 losses are to Miami. The other 2 are to Pittsburgh).
Fact. The Patriots offense heavily features two rookies at offensive skill receiver positions, for the first time since Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in 2010. Before that, Chad Jackson/David Thomas in 2006 and Deion Branch/Daniel Graham in 2002 were the only two seasons with two rookies with 10+ receptions. What happened the following seasons? 2003, 2007, 2011. All trips to the Super Bowl. Do you smell what 2014 is cooking?
Fact. I'm going to extrapolate off of an extremely and irresponsibly small data set. Kenbrell Thompkins is "on pace" (if we can call it that) for 48 receptions and 712 yards, which would easily be the best season by a Patriots rookie under Belichick. Of course, he's also on pace for 168 targets, which is 6 shy of what Wes Welker was targeted last season. So these numbers mean nothing. At least Aaron Dobson's already made a bigger impact than Taylor Price.
Fact. The fifth best receiving season by a Patriots rookie was 16 receptions, 209 yards, and 2 touchdowns by Bethel Johnson. Anyone willing to bet that Thompkins and Dobson won't eclipse that? Look for maybe Boyce to come near those numbers, but write Thompkins and Dobson for at least double.
Fact. This offense is still a work in progress. They were without their #1 receiver in Danny Amendola. They were without their #1 target in Rob Gronkowski. They were without their anointed, but unfulfilled, #3 target in Shane Vereen. They threw one pass to a tight end and one pass to a fullback. This ain't the offense that's going to be competing down the stretch and it's certainly not who the Patriots will feature down the road. Let's give them some breathing room.
And for those talking about how different things would be with Wes Welker:
One more thing though: Pats didnt miss Welker tonight. Edelman did everything Wes would do and more. Other receivers were missed.— Ethan Hammerman (@Ethanhamm) September 13, 2013
This is extremely true. Through two games, the Patriots haven't missed Welker. They just haven't. Whether it's Danny Amendola or Julian Edelman, the Patriots have effectively replaced Welker.
What they haven't done is replaced Rob Gronkowski, the most important piece of the offense. In the 5 games without Gronk last season, Tom Brady completed only 60.9% of his passes. When Gronk played, Brady completed 64.2%.
Brady's completion rate to Welker last season: 67.2%
Brady's combined completion rate to Amendola and Edelman: 73.2%
Imagine how effective they'll be when Gronk returns.
The second missing piece is Brandon Lloyd. While sounding the foghorn doesn't make Lloyd any more willing to return (nor do the Patriots seem interested in bringing him back), the Patriots have opted to use Thompkins in Lloyd's sideline role. Lloyd's seemingly low receiving rate of 56.5% (lowest of those with 50+ targets last season. Next lowest was Aaron Hernandez with 61.4%. Welker was +10.7%, Gronk was +13.1%, Woodhead was +16.2%) would be a dream for this offense.
Note that: Lloyd's reception rate was 6.5% lower than Brady's season long completion rate and the offense needs someone who can produce at that level. Thompkins and Dobson have combined for 9 completions on 31 targets. 29.0%. Let that sink in. Under a third of Brady's attempts to the rookies have resulted in a catch.
Let's evaluate value over replacement: if those passes went to last year's receivers, Lloyd would have 70 additional yards over what the two rookies have, which accounts for 3.53 PAD (points above Dobkins). Essentially, going from Lloyd to Dobkins (as they'll be named) has cost the Patriots slightly more than a field goal this year.
Put those attempts on last year's team at full health and here's the PAD ratings:
Rob Gronkowski 8.25 PAD
Danny Woodhead 5.32 PAD
Wes Welker 4.59 PAD
Julian Edelman 4.13 PAD
Brandon Lloyd 3.53 PAD
Aaron Hernandez 1.77 PAD
This offense is clearly a downgrade from last season, but the above rankings show how big of an improvement last season's players are over Dobkins (if you were to substitute Dobkins for the individual player in last season's offense) over the same 31 attempts.
It'll be interesting to chronicle the growth of the rookies over the course of the year.
If the Patriots can make anything out of this season, it's because of the head coach.
Well... Rex Ryan didn't punch Bill Belichick in the face. Another guarantee not coming to fruition for the Jets.— Brandon Lawrence (@blawrence914) September 13, 2013
Zing. The Patriots head coach notched himself an extension for as long as he feels like being employed, while Ryan just took another step to finding another job. Rex did a fantastic job of adjusting to stop the offense, so he won't be unemployed for too long, but wow. Bill Belichick has outlasted another coach.
Short week, missing best TE ever, Welker (essentially), #1/2 RB, #2 TE and sloppy conditions. A win is a win— Mike Loyko (@NEPD_Loyko) September 13, 2013
"Always room for improvement, but good to have two division wins." - William Stephen Belichick
The Patriots get a long week to heal their wounds, have Brady run a couple hundred reps with Thompkins and Dobson, figure out what's wrong with Brandon Spikes, help Ridley find his mojo, and maybe, just maybe, they can get Gronk back.
And even if it was terribly ugly, the Patriots sit atop the division- and remember that last season, the Patriots were in a four way tie and the year seemed over. How about we cheer up a bit?
Rewatching this game will be an act of valor.— Doug Kyed (@DougKyedNESN) September 13, 2013
On second thought, wait for me to finish the game again before we all cheer up. That's going to be rough.
On to the Bucs.