Well, that was rough.
The New England Patriots were absolutely steam-rolled by the New Orleans Saints in Week 5, losing with a final score of 34-0 to drop to 1-4 on the year. It was a disappointment from start to finish, and an embarrassing showing by a team that was coming off another blowout loss — 38-3 — at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys.
If you were hoping for the team to find some strength and get back up after being pushed down the previous week, you were out of luck on Sunday. And the final score might not have even been the worst part: the Patriots showed little to suggest that better times are ahead.
With that out of the way, let’s jump into the film. But be warned, it won’t be pretty.
The Patriots have not scored a touchdown in 34 possessions going back to their Week 3 win in New York. They have put up a grand total of five points in that span, with two of those coming via the defense. They have the worst offense in football when measured by expected points added, both in the passing and the running games.
Things are not pretty, and it starts at quarterback. Mac Jones went 12-of-22 for 110 yards and a pair of interceptions against the Saints before he was mercifully pulled from the game in the third quarter.
Yes, the supporting cast did not do him any favors. Yes, the injuries keep piling up. But at the end of the day, plays were there to be made and Jones rarely could even when the circumstances should have allowed him to.
The first drive of the day was emblematic of those issues. After gaining eight yards on a Rhamondre Stevenson carry to start things off, the Patriots went play-action on second down only to see Jones misfire for Kendrick Bourne. One play later, he airmailed a throw intended for tight end Hunter Henry to bring on the punt team.
As was the case last week versus Dallas, Jones did not seem to trust the protection awarded to him by the offensive line — for good reason given that he was pressured on almost half of his 24 dropbacks. But even when the O-line did hold up, his process seemed off for much of the day.
As a consequence, he was responsible for four of the Patriots’ 10 “drive killer” plays with him under center.
When Mac Jones was in the game, I had the #Patriots with 10 "drive killers," which are essentially negative plays and 3rd down failures that weren't just great defensive plays— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) October 9, 2023
Thought OL was responsible for 5, Mac for 4, and had Parker missing an opportunity on a go ball pic.twitter.com/6fzkn7z5M1
Jones’ incompletions to Kendrick Bourne and Hunter Henry were both inaccurate throws from a reasonably clean pocket where he passed on open players in the underneath parts of the field. He also threw up a couple of third-down prayers to DeVante Parker — plays the pair has connected on in the past — without much success, including a short throw on a go that could have been picked.
His final play, an interception off a pass intended for Ty Montgomery, was also partially on him. He appeared to be late on the crossing pattern from the slot, allowing the defender to close in and punch the ball out.
Being late was not only a problem on that INT; there were other plays — basic, Day 1 install plays — where the timing just seemed off.
There were also a couple plays where Jones seemed late for seemingly no reason— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) October 9, 2023
Earlier, I mentioned the INT where he took too long hitting Montgomery and gave the SAF time to make a play
Here he pats the ball before deciding he doesn't like the slant, and the flat gets blown up pic.twitter.com/rH06cx8ZMR
Whereas Jones looked calm in deteriorating pockets the first three weeks of the season, his confidence appears to be gone — and with it his technique, decision-making, vision, and ability to calculate risk versus reward. Look no further than the first interception of the day, when he attempted a throw in a collapsing pocket that was knocked down and into the waiting hands of safety Tyrann Mathieu.
Of course, that play was not entirely Jones’ fault either. As with all things Patriots offense, there were breakdowns across the board. On the pick-six in particular, left tackle Trent Brown and left guard Atonio Mafi failed to pick up a stunt by the defense and allowed the pressure to get to Jones quickly.
4 of Mac Jones' 10 dropbacks under pressure were fewer than 2.5 seconds pic.twitter.com/kWlK7czF3u— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) October 9, 2023
In total, Jones was pressured on 10 of his dropbacks. Four of those saw the defense get to him within 2.5 seconds.
That is the result of a) having little coherence up front due to a series of injuries, and b) having no viable option to line up at right tackle. Vederian Lowe did go wire-to-wire at that spot, but he had another rough outing and was unable to win his battle against Saints star edge Cam Jordan.
On the day, Lowe gave up five pressures including a sack. The aforementioned Atonio Mafi gave up six and a takedown. And while the rookie is doing all he can to hold down the fort wherever he is needed, it is clear he is not up to the task at this stage in his development. The Patriots better hope Cole Strange can return quickly — both to the lineup, and to a better form than what he showed in his healthy one-and-a-half games this year.
The problems up front did not just impact the passing game, by the way, but also stifled any attempts at establishing a presence on the ground. Between Rhamondre Stevenson, Ezekiel Elliott and Ty Montgomery, New England finished the day with 17 carries for 45 yards and an average of 2.6 yards per run — nowhere near enough to play competent offensive football.
The Patriots showed some signs of life on downhill runs and gap concepts, but even those were inconsistent at best. Fact is, the group up front is just not good enough at the moment.
The same can also be said for the wide receiver group, by the way. The Saints dared the Patriots to beat their man coverage, and they simply could not do it. Of course, losing Demario Douglas to a concussion in the early second quarter did not help matters but the group as a whole was still underwhelming.
The aforementioned timing issues were not fully on Jones, for example. There was a level of nonchalantness when it comes to route running — extra steps, bending, you name it. For an offense with no real room for error, those little things adding up can have devastating consequences. It had on Sunday.
There've been a few plays this season where Mac and JuJu's connection seemed off, and this might be an example of why— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) October 9, 2023
The WR seems to drift a bit at the top of his route, and Jones hesitates before going to his checkdown backside pic.twitter.com/p0jnlptE0H
So, now it’s back to the drawing board for the Patriots. As head coach Bill Belichick said, they are looking for a reset this season.
What it will look like remains to be seen? We do have our theories, but until they are put into practice everything is speculation.
What we do know is that the product put onto the field on Sunday was not NFL-worthy.
With the offense doing whatever it was it was doing, the defense was left hung out to dry. Granted, the unit did not play its best game of the year either — in fact it played its worst — but it received virtually no support from Mac Jones and company.
Still, it looks like the Patriots’ once-mighty defense is also on the ropes. Losing two of its best players to injury last week — edge Matthew Judon and cornerback Christian Gonzalez — put pressure on the depth options, and on Sunday they were not up to the task: the Saints, who themselves were held touchdown-less on 20 drives entering the game, found success right out of the gate.
And while it took the unit until a short-field opportunity in the early second quarter to score its first points of the day, it did generally move the ball well. Part of it had to do with the Patriots’ fundamentals not being where they need to be.
There were missed tackles all over the tape — eight of them, to be precise — while the defensive line was pushed off the spot far too often. There also were coverage breakdowns, like on the following play.
Adrian Phillips looks like he's passing Shaheed off here, so I wonder if JC (top) was supposed to gain depth instead of chasing the shallow crosser pic.twitter.com/wjfl1E9jU2— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) October 10, 2023
Here, Adrian Phillips and either recently-acquired J.C. Jackson or safety Jabrill Peppers were not on the same page. With the Patriots being forced to move players around in the backend due to a multitude of injuries, those breakdowns are understandable but no less frustrating when they happen.
There were some positive moments as well...
Great rep of run defense from Jon Jones and Jahlani Tavai#Patriots blitz Jones on 3rd down, and he recognizes toss, redirects, then beats the TEs block before helping bring down the back with Bryant and Tavai, who fights through two blocks pic.twitter.com/rPpHEFjDUo— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) October 10, 2023
...but on the whole the unit played its worst game of the year.
As is the case on offense, there are no clear fixes. Judon and Gonzalez will remain out for the foreseeable future, and while the expected stand-ins — Keion White and Anfernee Jennings (Judon) as well as J.C. Jackson (Gonzalez) — do have potential, it is a process to get them to a point where they can perform at a high enough level.
Of course, the defense has shown far more upside than the offense at this point. Even after a subpar game against New Orleans, there is much more optimism on that side of the ball.
After having started the season fairly well, New England’s kicking game operation had another rough outing on Sunday. Three plays in particular stand out: a bad snap in the first quarter that led to a Bryce Baringer punt traveling just 26 yards, a missed 48-yard field goal by fellow rookie Chad Ryland later that same period, and a muffed punt return by Jabrill Peppers in the second quarter.
The first two plays in particular hurt the the team early on, when the game was still competitive. Would the contest had really gone differently had Baringer’s punt flipped field position rather than setting New Orleans up on the Patriots 40, or if Ryland had split the uprights to make it a 7-3 game instead of giving the Saints a short fieldd?
Based on the way the offense was performing up until that point, it seems unlikely. Still, the Patriots need their defense and special teams help pick up the slack, and when they cannot do that — well, we all saw on Sunday what happened.
Was all bad in the kicking game, though? Not really.
New Orleans’ first kickoff return went for just 18 yards, while rookie Keion White showed some good effort and physicality while
Saints player tried cutting Keion White and the rookie put him in a torture chamber pic.twitter.com/hxd00kQjOu— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) October 10, 2023
All in all, though, those positives were not enough to make much of a difference. The fact of the matter remains that the kicking game also was not up to the task on Sunday, even though it was not as big a problem as the offense.