FOXBORO, Mass. — Some notes and nuggets from Wednesday’s New England Patriots media availability at Gillette Stadium:
— The Patriots are converting on third down at a respectable 42.5 percent clip this season — good for ninth in the NFL — but they’ve been dreadful in third-and-short situations.
New England is just 3-for-9 on third-and-less than 5 through three games. On third- or fourth-and-2 or less, it’s converted on just two of its six chances.
Bill Belichick knows these numbers need to improve.
“We’ve got to obviously do a better job of coaching it and a better job of executing it and be better in that situation,” the Patriots coach said. “I mean, that’s a key situation. If you can’t get a yard in this league, then that’s going to eventually catch up to you. It already has, but it will continue to be a problem if we’re not able to get that yard offensively. Defensively, percentages are with the offense in that situation, so a stop there is a big stop.
“But realistically, you’re not going to be 80 percent on defense in that situation. Offensively, that’s where you’d like to be.”
Right now, the Patriots are at 33.3 percent. That’s not going to cut it.
The Patriots also need to do a better job of getting into third-and-short situations in the first place. They’ve been in third-and-10 or longer 14 times already this season, converting on five of those. That comes out to 35.7 percent, meaning New England actually has had more success in those far more difficult spots than it’s had at picking up the 1 or 2 yards needed to move the chains.
— Partial blame for these short-yardage struggles can be placed on running back Mike Gillislee, who has not exactly met expectations so far this season.
Yes, he leads the team with four rushing touchdowns, but he’s averaging just 3.2 yards per carry on 45 attempts, a drastic drop-off from his league-leading 5.7-yard average last season.
Gillislee has carried the ball on third- or fourth-and-1 four times through three games and picked up a first down just once.
— One of the top priorities for the Patriots’ defense this weekend will be defending Carolina Panthers rookie running back Christian McCaffrey, who racked up 101 receiving yards on nine catches against the New Orleans Saints last weekend.
Speaking on a conference call with New England reporters, Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly compared McCaffrey to the Patriots’ Dion Lewis, among other shifty pass-catching backs.
“He’s almost like (Darren) Sproles a little bit where he’s a problem in space,” Kuechly said. “The guy in Atlanta, Devonta Freeman’s like that. Dion Lewis, I think, is like that. Those three guys — Sproles, Devonta Freeman — I think Devonta Freeman is really good — and Dion Lewis is kind of that same thing. You get them in space, they’re shifty, they can make you miss and they’ve got good speed.”
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images
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