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The Patriots need to improve their third down offense – and likely will

The team has struggled to convert third downs this preseason. But not all is lost.

The New England Patriots have played a lot of good football this preseason. Otherwise, the team would not have improved to 3-0 (of course, a meaningless 3-0; but still: a win is a win) with yesterday’s 19-17 victory over the reigning NFC Champions Carolina Panthers.

Winning is not the only theme this preseason, though. There is another one that is not as positive: the Patriots offense’s inabilities to convert third downs. While the defense has been solid in this area, allowing only 36.4% of attempts to be converted (16 of 44), the offense has struggled.

During yesterday’s game, the team was able to turn only 1 of 13 third downs into a new set of downs. The performances have been similar against the New Orleans Saints (3 of 14) and Chicago Bears (2 of 10), which leads to the following third down conversion rate during New England’s three preseason games:

16.2% (6 of 37)

When we break it down by quarterback, the numbers look like this:

Tom Brady: 0% (0 of 3)

Jimmy Garoppolo: 16.7% (3 of 18)

Jacoby Brissett: 18.8% (3 of 16)

It is clear that the Patriots’ offense – no matter the quarterback leading it – has been unable to sustain drives this preseason. This, in turn, does not only put more physical and mental pressure on New England’s defense, it also leads to less scoring as well as limited playing and chemistry-building time for the offensive team.

Should the Patriots be worried about this conversion rate? They need to look for ways to improve on third down and keep the offense on the field, sure, but they should not yet be worried. After all, the team has struggled to keep drives alive last preseason as well and has been able improve when the games started to count.

2016 will likely not be different for two reasons. First, the playbook will be much deeper come the regular season (and the preparation much more opponent-specific). Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will have a wider variety of plays at his disposal and consequently more ways to get players open and take advantage of potential mismatches.

Second, the offensive personnel will not be the same in two weeks – not only on a talent-level but when it comes to stability as well. Rob Gronkowski will be back, Danny Amendola and Malcolm Mitchell might be back, and Julian Edelman will be less rusty. In short: McDaniels will have a much better array of weapons at his disposal to take advantage of.

While preseason’s third down conversion rate looks troublesome at first glance, it is not. The Patriots need to improve it, of course, but do not be surprised if they will be able to with a deeper playbook and better skill position players on the field.