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What’s the Issue with New England

Joshua Linnehan

The New England Patriots are entering Week 6 of the NFL season with an ice-cold 1-4 start. This is their worst opening to a season since the year 2000, which was the first season under Head Coach Bill Belichick, and it was Tom Brady’s rookie year. Despite losing the first two games, the Patriots looked to be competitive as they only lost by five points to the defeating NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles, and seven points to an elite Miami Dolphins team. The last two games tell a different story, as it’s undoubtedly the worst two-game stretch in Bill Belichick’s tenure as the Pats head coach. They got walloped by a combined score of 72-3 against the Dallas Cowboys and the New Orleans Saints, with the Dallas game being the biggest loss in Bill’s Patriots career. There are an abundance of problems with this team currently, and we’re going to take a look at all of them and see how dark the future really is for the former dynasty.

    The one player who seems to be getting most of the flak is their starting quarterback, Mac Jones. The quarterback is the most important position in football, so it makes sense that Mac is the one who instantly gets fingers pointed at. After a down year in 2022 which was blamed for the atrocious system of Matt Patricia and Joe Judge offensively, Jones was supposed to be rejuvenated under new OC Bill O’Brien. If anything, Jones has been even worse, throwing for 1.08 yards, with five touchdowns and six interceptions in the first five games. He was benched the last two games for backup Bailey Zappe, as he combined for 260 yards, zero TDs and four picks in his last two contests. He’s ranked 26th out of the 32 starting QBs in QBR (quarterback rating) with 40.2, further illustrating his struggles.

To play devil’s advocate, Jones is far from the only problem in this offense. A quarterback is just as good as his offensive line, especially for pocket passes like Mac. In the pass protection ratings composite for this season, the Patriot O-line ranks 31st in the league, only behind the New York Giants. This statistic combines the Pro Football Focus offensive line grade, Sports Info Solutions blown block percentage, and ESPN’s pass block win rate to give an overall score. This is to say that Jones wasn’t given the time to make something happen. In fact, Jones has done an amazing job avoiding sacks this season. Travis May on X, or @FF_TravisM, created a model that shows the probability each quarterback adds or subtracts to/from the baseline sack expectation per play. In simple terms, it shows how much sack ownership should be given to each NFL QB. Mac was 2nd best in this model, behind the great Patrick Mahomes. It doesn’t help that four of their five starting linemen are currently injured or playing through injury, but the o-line needs to improve for this offense to score points. 

    We all know Bill Belichick for being the head coach of the Patriots, but he’s also been their GM this whole time as well. Bill drafted so many key players that contributed to their 20 years of dominance, such as Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Devin McCourty, and so many others. Recently, Belichick doesn’t seem to have that eye for incredible talent anymore, as he’s made some questionable moves the past few drafts. Some of the most notable were the selection of running back Sony Michel in the 1st round of the 2018 draft over QB Lamar Jackson and RB Nick Chubb. The next year, he drafted wide receiver N’Keal Harry with his first round pick over star WRs Deebo Samuel and A.J. Brown, who were picked in the next round. Let’s not forget when Bill drafted offensive guard Cole Strange with his 1st rounder in 2022 when he was projected to be a 3rd round pick. The lack of quality draft picks has really derailed the talent on this roster, especially on the offensive side.

Going into this season, the one thing that was guaranteed to be good was the defense. In their three seasons without Brady, the Patriots were in the Top 10 in points and yards allowed. This season they have been extremely unlucky when it comes to the injury bug. Their best passing rusher, Matt Judon, who accumulated 28 sacks the past two seasons, is out until at least December. Their secondary is completely beat up, as reigning Defensive Rookie of the Month Christian Gonzalez is out until at least week 9. Cornerbacks Jack Jones and Marcus Jones were both hurt until at least week 7, and Jonathan Jones is dealing with an injury as well. Hopefully, the return of J.C. Jackson will provide some stability, but currently the Patriots are 25th in points allowed with 26.2 per game, and have only forced two turnovers all season.

    There are so many other topics I could get into, such as the horrible decision to sign JuJu Smith-Schuster, and let Jakobi Meyers walk this offseason, but I think I got my point across. This team has problems everywhere, including personnel, injuries, and even competitiveness. The special teams have been horrendous this season too, as rookie kicker Chad Ryland is 4/8 on field goals. If the season ended today, the Patriots would have the #5 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. I’m not sure if Belichick will make the right decision with that pick, but it could be the first step in an actual rebuild. The outcome of this season could change so much in New England. Will Belichick step down as GM? Will Mac Jones no longer be the starting quarterback? We’ll have to see how the rest of this season plays out first.