The Patriots outlasted the New York Jets this past Sunday evening to take a one game lead in the AFC East. Despite the victory, the Patriots are still only 4-3 after a season when some people predicted them to go 16-0.
Now while 16-0 was always a pipe dream, the team is definitely not reaching it's own lofty expectations coming into the season. Injuries during the season and so much turnover before the season even began certainly hasn't helped. Bill Belichick was hoping to keep a balance of veteran and youthful players on his offensive line, but the retirements of Robert Gallery and Brian Waters as well as the persistent injury problems for Logan Mankins have restricted Belichick to a less experienced unit upfront.
The Patriots don't have all the pieces they would like to have upfront, but Dante Scarrnechia has been getting excellent production from the unit. Blame cannot be placed directly on the offensive line, but the changeover at the position has obviously affected Tom Brady's comfort in the pocket. For the first in a very long time, Brady looks rattled in the pocket on some snaps. He is feeling non-existent pressure and not showing the poise that is so important to his production.
It doesn't help Brady that each of his top weapons have had their separate issues this year. Wes Welker was initially snubbed for reasons that remain unclear. Aaron Hernandez was lucky to escape serious injury when he sprained his ankle earlier in the year, while Rob Gronkowski still doesn't appear to be at 100 percent efficiency after last season. Throw in a still adjusting Brandon Lloyd and Brady's most reliable weapon this year has actually been running-back Stevan Ridley, who has had some minor fumble issues.
Against the Jets, Brady had a conservative stat line of 26/42 for 259 yards and two touchdowns. He should have been intercepted at least once with a bad throw to Antonio Cromartie. Considering that the Jets were missing Darrelle Revis, and have a below par defense on the whole, the Patriots should have been able to run up the score against this team opposed to scraping by with a late field goal.
Defensively the Patriots were let off the hook by the Jets on multiple occasions. Most notably by a big drop from Stephen Hill when the Jets were driving for a potential game winning touchdown. The Patriots were missing both starting safeties on the day, but their overall inability to cover opposing receivers this year has been a major problem.
The Patriots' secondary was poor last year, and it ultimately cost them, but a more consistent pass rush masked some of the team's flaws. Adding Donta Hightower and Chandler Jones to the front seven has made the defense younger, but the losses of Mark Anderson and Andre Carter have hurt the defense in the short term. Brandon Spikes, Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love and Jerod Mayo continue to provide high quality run stuffing, but the lack of explosion upfront is overshadowing any improved play in the secondary from Alfonzo Dennard, Devin McCourty and Tavon Wilson.
Living off of turnovers can only get you so far. Living off of turnovers without a high-powered offense is a broken approach that won't result in any satisfying finish to the season. If the Patriots are going to take one step further than last season, then their offense needs to catch fire and their defense needs to significantly improve.