Last week we addressed the New England Patriots struggles in the red zone and how the team is failing to score touchdowns at a much higher rate than in 2016. I highlighted that the team should consider using Brandin Cooks and Dwayne Allen more frequently instead of giving the ball to just Chris Hogan or Rob Gronkowski in the end zone, or James White short of the first down.
But I didn’t address the other end of the struggles to score in the red zone: the opportunities for kicker Stephen Gostkowski to connect on the easiest kicks of his career. What better way to rebuild Gostkowski’s confidence than by giving him a couple chip shots every week?
In all seriousness, Gostkowski has been money in 2017 and the ease of his kicking opportunities is playing a big role. He has hit all 12 of his field goal attempts- his career-high is 13 field goals made through 5 games- and Gostkowski has taken 6 field goal attempts inside the 10-yard line this year, the most of any kicker in the NFL. These kicks are shorter than an extra point and should be made 100% of the time (all 72 such kicks in the NFL have been made this year).
Those 6 attempts are a shocking number because it’s an extremely high figure. In 2016, Gostkowski only attempted 7 field goals inside the 10-yard line during the entire regular season. He attempted 6 in 2015; 10 in 2014; 8 in 2013; and 8 in 2012. Gostkowski has already surpassed his career low (5 in 2009) and is on pace to exceed his career high (14 in 2011).
While this certainly benefits those that have Gostkowski on their fantasy teams, and Gostkowski’s conversion rate doesn’t hurt the actual football team, it’s clear that the Patriots have a problem they need to fix in the red zone. If Gostkowski is setting career highs on chip shot field goals, it means that the rest of the offense is not producing and that could come back to hurt the Patriots.
I think a lot of the issues come down to offensive line play. Mike Gillislee’s lack of consistency is connected with his inability to get to the line of scrimmage without a defender in his face- and that prevents the Patriots from grinding towards the goal line and from opening up with the play action. Hopefully the line will step up soon. They need to.