The results for the Patriots offense look better than the process leading up to it. 30 points against a very good Panthers defense is nothing to sniff at, but the team averaged just over 5.5 yards per play (lowest since Week 1), and took till the fourth quarter to really get going.
Having said that, personnel wise, we got to see the team that the Patriots will most likely ride or die with in the 2017 season. The three wide receiver/1 tight end package, with Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, and Danny Amendola, Gronk at tight end, and James White in the backfield. All those skill players played at least 50% of the snaps on offense.
We also saw right tackle Marcus Cannon return to the lineup with zero limitations, and more of split between Mike Gillislee and Dion Lewis for the primary ball carrier role at running back.
It was a disappointing day all around for the Patriots, but the offense continues to keep the team in games, and nearly pulled off another comeback in this one.
This was one of the worst defensive performances of the Belichick era.
Although there have been worse efforts in terms of points and yards, the lack of effort on this side of the ball was extremely troubling.
The Patriots have now surrendered 128 points through four games in 2017, the most through the first four games of a season in team history. And it’s also the second most yards the team has allowed (1,827) in its history, trailing only 2011 (1,910).
After missing the Patriots’ last two games, Dont’a Hightower returned to the lineup in Week 4. Hightower, however, was limited, playing just 58.7% of the snaps.
Hightower was used sparingly, and played primarily in the Patriots’ base defense, subbing out when the team went to lighter nickel and dime packages on obvious passing downs.
He did make his presence felt with a huge sack of Cam Newton in the fourth quarter that turned the game around for the Patriots.
From a playing time perspective, the Patriots have a nucleus on defense that is starting to form with Devin McCourty, Kyle Van Noy, Malcolm Butler, Trey Flowers, and Stephon GIlmore. Those five players played the whole way on defense for the Patriots, besides Gilmore who missed one snap, and have played a huge role in the last few weeks.
The Patriots don’t need to reinvent the wheel on defense, and they are also likely stuck with the players that they currently have for the most part.
They just need to better all around, and that includes the coaching staff.
(h/t to Pro Football Focus: https://www.profootballfocus.com/products/elite#edge)