Sitting at 3-2 after two straight victories, the New England Patriots appear to be headed into the right direction again. Entering its highly anticipated meeting with the 5-0 Kansas City Chiefs, however, the team still has plenty of areas that need to be addressed. Above all else, an argument can be made, stands ball security: through the first five games of the season, New England turned the football over a total of nine times.
Their nine giveaways rank the Patriots tied for fifth in the NFL: only the Jacksonville Jaguars (12), San Francisco 49ers (11) Pittsburgh Steelers (10), and New York Jets (10) turned the football over more often than a New England squad that lost three fumbles this year and threw six interceptions. For a team that typically prides itself on playing smart, mistake-free football this is unchartered territory when compared to years past.
New England hardly ever averages more than one giveaway per game. The last time the team had more than one per contest after five games came in 2013, when it turned the football over six times between weeks one and five. That year, the Patriots finished with an average of 1.25 turnovers per game (20 in 16 regular season games). The 2018 squad, for comparison, currently sits at 1.8 giveaways per contest.
The totals only tell one part of the story, though: New England’s averages based on the volume of plays is even more telling. Not counting giveaways in the return game – more on that later –, the Patriots gave away the football on just 1.2% of their offensive plays between 2013 and 2017: a high of 1.8% in 2013 (20 giveaways on 1,138 plays) and a low of 0.8% in 2016 (8 giveaways on 1,056 plays).
This year, Tom Brady and company turn the ball over on 2.5% of their plays (8 giveaways on 322 plays). Of course, as noted above, not all the blame for the giveaways should solely be placed on Josh McDaniels’ unit. One of the Patriots’ nine turnovers this year also happened on special teams when punt returner Riley McCarron muffed a catch in week one that was recovered by the Houston Texans.
This does not change the overall point, though: the Patriots need to take better care of the football. But what can be done to improve the numbers? First and foremost, the team needs to continue working on its fundamentals when it comes to ball handling, decision making, and situational awareness. What also should help, though, is the personnel development of New England’s offense.
The last time the Patriots had similar giveaway statistics – 2013 – they were trying to incorporate new weapons for Tom Brady on the fly. Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, and Kenbrell Thompkins were all new to the team and trying to find chemistry with a quarterback that lost some a majority of his receiving weapons from 2012 during the offseason and throughout the year. It did not always work well as Brady finished the regular season with 11 interceptions and five lost fumbles.
In a way, 2018 is similar. After the Patriots’ wide receiver group underwent a massive overhaul during the offseason – Amendola and Brandin Cooks were let go, Julian Edelman was hit with a four-game suspension – the offense needed some time to get into a groove again. In some areas it was able to do that rather quickly, in others it is still evolving. And as this process continues, the number of Patriots giveaways will change as well.
For Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, the goal is clear: New England needs to work on its ball security. “We haven’t had a game yet without a turnover, so that’s definitely a goal for us every week,” he said during a conference call yesterday. Working on it in practice and building chemistry and trust between Brady and his receiving weapons – including veterans like Chris Hogan and Rob Gronkowski, who both contributed to last Thursday’s interceptions – are the keys to that at this point in time.