The Patriots get the week off. Well, they don't have a game in Week 10, so they're resting up; they're certainly not on vacation.
While there are no practices scheduled from Thursday through Monday, you can be certain that Bill Belichick and the coaches are going to be watching film, especially with a dangerous streak of upcoming games. You can also bet that Tom Brady and the offense, and Vince Wilfork and the defense, will be resting and preparing themselves for the back stretch of the season.
A week 10 bye week is perfect for a competitive team as it allows for healing, self-reflection, and final stretch adjustments. The bye week is even better when you're coming off a huge conference victory.
Here's what you can watch for over the next couple of weeks:
1) Healing. The Patriots are without captain Jerod Mayo for the second consecutive season and lead rusher Stevan Ridley. Star pass rusher Chandler Jones is out indefinitely (what was originally a month timeline for return now stretches to possibly the end of the regular season). These are three key players for the Patriots success, but the team will have to continue to produce.
Defensive tackle Sealver Siliga should be removed from the Injured Reserve (Designation for Return) list at any day as his six weeks are now over; he cannot be activated until after the Week 11 Colts game.
The Patriots have been fortunate enough with the remainder of their players. DL Dominique Easley should have some time to rest his knee to be more effective down the stretch, while OT Cameron Fleming and S Nate Ebner should hopefully fix their bizarre finger injuries.
ST Matthew Slater looks closer to being 100%, while QB Tom Brady and CB Brandon Browner (both ankle) will hopefully be removed from the injury list.
2) Replacement Growth. On the bright side, Akeem Ayers has taken well to the defense and Jamie Collins is finding his comfort in the defense. Both have added a degree of flexibility to the defense that you can be certain the Patriots will use moving forward. The fact that Ayers, Collins, Dont'a Hightower, and Rob Ninkovich can all rush the passer, stop the run, and drop into coverage will add many wrinkles against the top passing attacks.
On offense, running back Jonas Gray has been running hard and while he and Shane Vereen had limited output against the Broncos (23 carries, 62 yards), it was effective enough against the #1 run defense to open up passing lanes in the play action. Brady's 101 drop backs on the play action is second highest in the league.
Additionally, the offensive line looks to be in a good place with a final combination that will continue to improve down the stretch. While they didn't have their best game against the Broncos, they played well enough for the offense to have a viable attack. Another couple of weeks as a consistent unit group will help their development.
3) Coaching Adjustments. For how successful the Patriots were on Sunday, there is still plenty of room for growth by the coaches.
Offensively, it's clear they need to work on their red zone production. They currently rank 8th in touchdown percentage (64% of red zone drives result in a touchdown), which isn't bad, but teams like the Broncos (81%) and Chiefs (71%) show that there's plenty of room to improve.
Defensively the Patriots need to find their consistency moving forward. The run defense has been up-and-down, although they were stellar on Sunday. If the Patriots can find whatever they did well on Sunday and improve upon it for the remainder of the season, the team will be in good shape. Additionally, players like Brandon Browner, Pat Chung, and Malcolm Butler should continue to improve upon their recent performances.
For Special Teams? They need to stay special. Also, continue to use Danny Amendola on kick returns because he adds a lot.
4) Deep Threat. The Patriots have found a way to get passes on all levels of the field integrated into the offense. Against the Broncos we saw Brandon LaFell get behind Denver's secondary multiple times, only for the throw to be slightly off target. If the Patriots plan on taking these shots, why not break in some more opportunities for the likes of Brian Tyms and Aaron Dobson (likely Tyms, though).
LaFell is a fantastic weapon and his ability to get behind the secondary is a testament to his quickness, but he lacks the same raw speed that Tyms and Dobson have on the field. Even if the chance of either of the latter players coming down with the ball is just slightly greater than LaFell's odds, it might be worth practicing during this off-week.
5) Penalty Reduction. Brandon Browner has played three games. That's 33% of the season. He's already accumulated 20% of the penalties on the Patriots defense. Seven out of 35. There are 11 players on defense at any given time. Browner has 20% of the penalties.
That can be improved. Being offsides on kicks needs to stop. The offensive line needs to be more disciplined prior to the snap. The defensive backs need to be smarter with their hand fighting. Improved discipline will provide the Patriots with hidden yards down the stretch that have been eluding this team for the first nine weeks.