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Sunday Patriots Notes: New England will face a daunting schedule down the stretch

Related: Pats Pulpit Midseason Awards: Patriots MVP, rookie of the half-year, biggest surprise, and more

Indianapolis Colts v New England Patriots Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

Week 10 of the NFL season is upon us, and it will see the New England Patriots not participate in any action: the team is enjoying its bye, entering the weekend at 5-4 and within earshot of the playoff conversation.

Despite that inactivity, there was a lot going on around the team this week. So, to keep you up to date with some of the stories that have emerged over the last week that we did not have time to cover elsewhere, make sure to check out this week’s Sunday Patriots Notes.

The Patriots will be facing a daunting schedule down the stretch. One year ago, the Patriots also found themselves at 5-4 before going on an impressive run to position themselves as a playoff contender. This year’s team will attempt to do the same, but the task will not be an easy one: New England will be facing a tough schedule down the stretch.

According to an analysis by Pro Football Focus’ Timo Riske will face the toughest slate of offenses over the second half of the season as well as the third most challenging group of defenses:

“Our urgency when we return needs to be high,” said team captain Matthew Slater ahead of the Patriots’ bye week. Given the challenges that await the team over the final eight weeks of the season, it certainly has to be just that.

Bill Belichick is looking for consistency. Speaking to reporters earlier this week, New England head coach Bill Belichick stressed one issue in particular: his team needs to become more consistent both on the field and the sidelines.

“We have had good moments and bad moments over the course of the season,” he said. “I think the big thing has been a consistency. That’s shown up a little bit in all three phases of the game. So, between the coaching staff and the players, just a consistent performance, play-in and play-out, week-in and week-out. I think that’s really the biggest challenge for us moving forward.”

Consistency has been a problem in all three phases of the game for the Patriots. The offense, for example, has been unable to sustain any promising stretches of play. The defense, meanwhile, has looked good outside of containing mobile quarterbacks. Special teams, on the other hand, has one of the best kickers in the game (place kicker Nick Folk) and one of the most volatile (punter Jake Bailey).

One positive about the Patriots offense so far: drops have not hurt them. Speaking of the Patriots offense, for all its struggles there is one area that has looked good through nine weeks. The team is ranked near the bottom of the NFL both in terms of total drops and the impact that they have had.

According to NFL analyst Anthony Reinhard, the team has lost just over 20 total EPA points due to pass catchers dropping passes:

In a league-wide comparison, the Patriots’ EPA loss due to drops ranks them 29th. Only the Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts and Atlanta Falcons have lost fewer expected points that way.

New England’s 10 drops, meanwhile, are tied for the second-lowest such number in the NFL. Only the Falcons’ pass catchers have been more reliable, allowing six catchable passes to go uncompleted.

Is Josh Uche finally hitting his stride? Former Patriots second-round draft pick Josh Uche has had a relatively quiet first two seasons in the NFL. Year 3 started in the same fashion, but it saw him recently pick up his pace: Uche notched his first sack of the season in Week 8 against the New York Jets, followed by a three-sack outing in Week 9 versus the Indianapolis Colts.

Despite the a dry spell earlier in the year, Bill Belichick is please with what Uche has shown so far this season.

“Josh has been pretty consistent here for a while,” he said this week. “Sometimes the numbers come in bunches, or not. Or they could come in droughts too. But his overall pass rush skill is good. He’s got speed. He’s athletic. He’s developing more power, timing and execution on pass rush games. Doing a lot of things well. Doing some things better.

“There’s always room to improve. It changes a little bit each week based on who’s blocking, who the quarterback is, and how you have to rush that quarterback or the protection scheme that that particular team uses. But he’s done a good job of recognizing those things. Of course, he’s seen more and more here over the last three years. Some of the things that maybe caught him a little bit by surprise or he wasn’t quite ready for in the past are more familiar to him now. He’s just better decisions, better awareness, better execution.”

New England is one of the least lucky teams in the NFL this season. Luck is impossible to quantify, but NFL analyst Tom Bliss has tried nonetheless. Identifying “four key scenarios where teams benefit from actions in a game that are almost entirely derived from opponent performance or lucky bounces” he tried to put a number to how teams fared relative to the expectation in such scenarios.

The four factors considered for the analysis are dropped interceptions by the opponent, dropped passes by the opponent, field goals and extra points made or not made by the opponent, and fumble recoveries by either team. The quantification process then works as follows, as explained on the NFL Operations website:

[V]alues are measured by calculating the win probability of the observed outcome and subtracting the expected win probability based on the likelihood of each luck outcome. Win probability is calculated using the time remaining, point differential, down, distance, yard line and timeouts remaining. Expected wins added is calculated by summing the win probability of each outcome weighted by the chance of the outcome occurring. Thus, an opponent missing a game-winning field goal with a 90% chance of being good is measured as considerably more lucky (+0.90 wins) than an opponent missing a game-winning field goal that had a 10% chance of being good (+0.10 wins).

Putting all of that into account, we can see that the Patriots are not as lucky as other teams in the NFL. While they still managed to add 0.05 wins because of the outcome in those four scenarios, they are ranked only 28th in the league. For comparison, the top-ranked Pittsburgh Steelers earned a full 2.00 wins through “luck”.

As for New England, the team benefitted from dropped interceptions (0.31) and dropped passes by the opponent (0.31), whereas the field goal (-0.29) and fumble recoveries (-0.28) worked against them.

Year-over-year play-action concepts show that something is off with the Patriots offense. Evan Lazar of took to Twitter the other day to post two clips showing the same concept being run by the Patriots against the same opponent: a play-action pass against the Colts from this year’s game compared to last year’s meeting between the two teams.

The difference in execution is notable, with the run being sold a lot more convincingly in 2021 than 2022:

Patriots might get some 2023 salary cap benefit from a little-known source. Former CFL offensive lineman Drew Desjarlais signed a futures contract with the Patriots in January but was released ahead of the cutdown deadline in late August. Since then, he spent a short time with the New Orleans Saints practice squad in September.

Now, he has returned which could be good news for New England’s future salary cap. According to Miguel Benzan, $34,500 of his original $60,000 salary have already been offset. If he spends three more weeks in New Orleans, the entire sum will be gone off the Patriots’ books and result in a benefit for the 2023 cap.

Tom Brady has added yet another milestone to his legendary résumé. Ex-Patriots starting quarterback Tom Brady and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers participated in the first ever NFL regular season game in Germany on Sunday, going up against the Seattle Seahawks. The 21-16 victory did not just help the Buccaneers get back to .500 and further position themselves as the top team in the NFC South, but also for Brady to reach another milestone.

The 45-year-old is now the first quarterback in NFL history to celebrate a victory in four different countries. With the Patriots, Brady already won games in Mexico and the United Kingdom on top of his success at home and now can add Germany to the list.