Did you know the New England Patriots’ offense is the best in the NFL at crossing midfield? It is true: 16 times over the first two weeks of the season the unit was able to march into its opponent’s territory, tied for the highest such number in the league.
Now, here’s the problem: only six of those possessions actually ended with points. That conversion rate of 37.5 percent ranks 31st out of 32 teams.
The Patriots are well aware of that discrepancy. It is therefore no surprise that offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien made finishing drives his team’s No. 1 priority this week.
“For us, it’s about finishing drives,” O’Brien told reporters this week. “I think we move the ball at times — not saying we move the ball all the time, but we move the ball at times. We’re just inconsistent. We have to coach it better and try to get to be more consistent at finishing drives. We get in there, we drive the ball 30, 40 yards, and then we stall. So, we have to do a better job of stringing plays together to be able to finish drives.”
Through two games against the Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins, the Patriots have run the fourth-highest number of plays in the NFL. Of their 149, however, only two can be categorized as explosive (i.e. gaining 20-plus yards) which contributes to a 27th-ranked average gain of only 4.5 yards per snap.
This lack of explosiveness — which to a degree is a byproduct of a makeshift offensive line — has forced New England to play a style of offense dependent on consistency. As O’Brien pointed out, however, that consistency is lacking at the moment.
“We’re all in that together, trying to solve that issue. We have to solve it quickly, obviously,”he said. “We have to be able to string the plays along so can come down and get points, and not stall around midfield. We’re working hard to figure that out, and hopefully that will improve. It has to improve.”
The Patriots’ next chance for that will come against a New York Jets defense that, while ranking 15th in points allowed and 20th in EPA/play, has the makings of a stout unit. Going back to that aforementioned yards per snap statistic, for example, we can see that they rank sixth in the NFL by surrendering only 4.6 yards against Buffalo and Dallas in Weeks 1 and 2.
The challenges will therefore not get any easier for New England’s offense. The hope is that an increased focus on execution across the board and personnel stability, especially up front, will lead to improved results.
As Bill O’Brien said, it has to.