The New England Patriots have turned their season around in spectacular fashion. After winning just two of their first six games, they have come away victoriously in five straight to improve their record to 7-4 — best in the AFC East and near the top in the conference as well.
There are multiple reasons why the Patriots have started to play winning football recently, but a big one keeps flying under the radar a bit: New England’s ability to win the field position battle week-in and week-out.
Just take a look at the starting field positions during the five-game streak:
Starting field positions: Weeks 7-11
|Week 7 vs. Jets||NE 35||NYJ 26|
|Week 8 at Chargers||NE 37||LAC 20|
|Week 9 at Panthers||NE 35||CAR 31|
|Week 10 vs. Browns||NE 29||CLE 22|
|Week 11 at Falcons||NE 33||ATL 21|
There are obviously multiple factors impacting starting field position in the game of football — from kick coverage and return abilities to turnovers. Nonetheless, the Patriots have consistently been in a more favorable spot during their five-game winning streak: New England started its average possessions significantly closer to the opposing end zone than their counterparts.
On the year, they are ranked either at or near the top of the league in both categories. The Patriots are tied with the Buffalo Bills for the NFL lead in offensive starting field position (32.6), while ranking fourth on the defensive side of the ball (25.9). The Dallas Cowboys are the only other team placed in the top-10 in both categories: they are eighth (29.1) and ninth (27.4), respectively.
Those differences between New England and, for example, Dallas are not that enormous. They add up, however, and they show how well the Patriots have fared in the “complementary football” department as of late.
The offense and defense are massively important here, but so is the oft-forgotten third phase of the game: New England’s special teams unit once again ranks among the best in football, which has also given the team plenty of confidence to actively try to shift the field position battle in its favor.
Take kickoffs as an example. Jake Bailey, serving in his double-duty as punter and kickoff specialist, is ranked near the bottom of the league in touchback percentage when kicking off (45.8%). That number is low by design, however: the Patriots ask Bailey not to boot every kick through the end zone, but they rather want him to force teams into returns — showing trust in the coverage unit to shut down those runbacks quickly.
That is just one area impacting starting field position, but it shows how every single phase is important. For the Patriots, they have started working well alongside each other recently.