The New England Patriots left Pittsburgh with a win over the Steelers, and are now 1-1 on the season. Their 17-14 victory may not have been the prettiest of all time, but, in the NFL, all that matters is that you get the W.
So with that said, let’s get into the takeaways from the Patriots’ first win of the season.
Mac Jones struggles: After a great rookie year, Mac Jones has looked a bit lost the first two games of this season. He had some questionable throws, including an interception and another that was eventually dropped by the defender. He also seemed to make up his mind about where he was going before the snap, which led to a few incompletions where there could have been easy completions.
A good example of this was when he forced a throw to a triple-covered Jonnu Smith on third down with Jakobi Meyers by himself in the flat. Jones wasn’t making a lot of these mistakes last year, so there is hope that this is something he can clean up along the way. Fact is, if the Patriots want to be good on offense they are going to need their QB1 to be much better than he has been.
Nelson Agholor has his best game as a Patriot: The Patriots needed a spark at the end of the first half, and Agholor stepped up and delivered it. With under 30 seconds left before intermission, Jones threw a deep ball up for Agholor down the right sideline, and the wideout went up and snatched it away from cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon for a 44-yard touchdown.
That wasn’t all Agholor did, though; he had some nice shorter catches as well and was great gaining additional yards after the reception. As a result, he is now the first Patriot to have 100+ receiving yards in a game since Mac Jones entered NFL last year. The team needs more playmakers on offense, and Agholor came through on Sunday.
Tight ends are non-factors: Both Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry were held without a catch on Sunday, with only four combined targets between the two of them. Henry was one of the most reliable pass catchers for Jones last year, but his blocking was put in question in last week’s game. This is obviously important, but Jones felt confident throwing to Henry last year and you would like to see him get more involved.
Smith, meanwhile, can be electric with the ball in his hands but seems to be a guy that needs to be schemed up to get touches, which can be tough on a week-to-week basis. Either way, the duo needs to find a way to be more involved because the offense is better with both of them playing well and creating mismatches especially in the passing game.
The offensive line impresses: The Patriots offensive line was a big talking point all week, and it did a great job, keeping Mac Jones upright, and not allowing a single sack to a team that took down Cincinnati Bengals QB Joe Burrow seven times the previous week. Rookie guard Cole Strange looked particularly good, and seems to be coming into his own quickly.
The unit was also able to put an exclamation point on the game, when it killed the clock in the late fourth quarter, and ended the game in victory formation.
The Steelers punted to the Patriots, and they took over at the 30 yard line with 6:33 to go. New England proceeded to go on a 13-play, 46-yard drive, that featured only one pass thrown. The Patriots simply ran the ball down the home team’s throat, and there was nothing it could do about it. That was a dominant performance, and something that, hopefully, the entire operation can build on moving forward.
New England has a two-headed monster at running back: The Patriots have a heck of 1-2 punch at running back right now. Both Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson had solid games again, with Harris registering 71 yards and a touchdown and Stevenson going for 47 yards. Both are tough to tackle, and bring explosiveness to the backfield.
Without receiving back Ty Montgomery for at least four weeks, New England might be looking for them both to catch more passes out of the backfield. The two have looked good doing that this year, combining to catch three passes for 20 yards on Sunday.
Having both Harris and Stevenson playing well is obviously good news for the offense, because it can cycle them in and out of the lineup and keep both fresh throughout the game. All in all, the running attack was very effective in Pittsburgh, and it could be one of the strongest units on the team if the line keeps blocking the way it did.
DeVante Parker’s struggles continue: Patriots offseason acquisition DeVante Parker has struggled the first two games of the season. He appeared unsure at times about what he was being asked to do and has only one catch through two games, while Mac Jones has been picked twice when targeting him.
Parker was brought in because of his big-play ability and jump-ball prowess, and, so far, he hasn’t shown off either. He is going to need to play significantly better moving forward, and the Patriots are willing to give him every opportunity he can get to build a rapport with Jones. However, I’m starting to wonder if maybe he should actually be playing less than he is right now.
Kendrick Bourne is still not playing enough. Speaking of wideout playing time, Kendrick Bourne should be seeing more. Maybe some of Parker’s snaps could go to him, or he could be more involved in multi-receiver sets. No matter how the Patriots do it, when Bourne is on the field he makes plays and has proven himself a reliable target for Mac Jones.
However, he was once again the receiver with the least amount of snaps (even being out-snapped by Lil’Jordan Humphrey again). Bourne was one of Jones’ favorite targets down the stretch last year, and the young QB appears to play better when he is on the field. The Patriots need to figure out a way to make that happen and give that connection an opportunity to shine again.
Speed and athleticism are showing up on defense: The Patriots made a few moves to try to become faster and more athletic on defense this offseason. That started to show up on Sunday. Linebacker Mack Wilson made a great play in pass coverage, tipping a ball that was eventually picked by cornerback Jalen Mills. That was a play that Patriots linebackers haven not been able to make in years past.
The injury bug is biting the Patriots defense: Speaking of the Patriots defense, it had a few players suffer some injuries that bear watching this week. Davon Godchaux, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jonathan Jones, and Kyle Dugger all left the game at one point because of apparent injuries. Even though Bentley and Godchaux both ended up back in the game, the health of all four will be crucial moving forward given their prominent roles.
With all of the speed coming into town next week in the form of the Baltimore Ravens’ potent offense, the Patriots are going to need all the help they can get. Speaking of whom...
A tough test coming up: The Patriots have their home opener next week, and it is going to be a tough one. The Ravens, who lost a heartbreaker to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, will visit Gillette Stadium and bring one of the most electric offenses in the NFL with them (one that should also be getting J.K. Dobbins back).
The Ravens defense played pretty well against the New York Jets last weekend, but they look like they might be able to be exploited a bit; the Patriots better be able to do so, because keeping the Ravens from scoring under 20 points is going to be a tough task.
For now, however, let’s focus on the Patriots’ first victory of the season. Even if it wasn’t particularly pretty at all times, a win is a win. There is still a long way to go for this team, but getting in the win column is a step in the right direction.