If you’ve watched the Patriots this season, you know they have problems. You also know there are reasons (Mac Jones) for believing the future could be bright for Bill Belichick’s team.
But, this being New England, let’s focus on the negatives.
There is a spectrum for this, however. Some of the Patriots’ issues are very concerning, while others might have rosier outlooks.
Let’s get into it:
If it stays healthy, this unit should be just good enough to avoid being a liability. J.C. Jackson might not be a true No. 1 corner — yet — but his ball-hawking prowess is legit and his talent is undeniable. Jalen Mills isn’t great on the outside, but his versatility makes him an asset. And the safeties, led by Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips, certainly are above-average.
But, with Stephon Gilmore now in Carolina, the secondary’s lack of depth could become a major issue. We saw it Sunday in Houston, when the Patriots, without an injured Mills, allowed Davis Mills and the Texans to throw all over them for half the game. Mills’ replacement, Joejuan Williams, got benched, and Myles Bryant wound up having to play in the slot. New England tightened things up against the Texans, but how will it do against some of the NFL’s better passing offenses?
However, Kyle Van Noy has not looked good when on the field, and Josh Uche has yet to live up to the preseason hype. Ja’Whaun Bentley is a good player, but he’s not exactly a playmaker. Ultimately, speed in the linebacking corps remains a big issue, and not one that Jamie Collins alone is capable of fixing.
The offense largely has gotten better every week and has the potential to be above average by the end of the season. But how long will it take? The Patriots, at 2-3, can’t spend two-thirds of the season scoring under 20 points per game — not if they want to make the playoffs, anyway.
That lingering uncertainty is why the offense, as a whole, landed in this category.
This almost made it into the “most concerning” section, but we’re choosing to believe in Lawrence Guy, an improving Davon Godchaux and the rest of New England’s more-than-capable front seven. The Patriots spent a ton of money in the offseason to shore up its run defense, which should be much better than it was in the first four games of the season.
That said, this weekend’s game against Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard and the Dallas Cowboys will serve as a good measuring stick.
The passing game, led by Jones, won’t be perfect any time soon. There are too many new pieces and, with a rookie quarterback at the helm, growing pains should be expected.
But Jones’s emerging connections with Hunter Henry and Kendrick Bourne are encouraging. So, too, is the consistently solid Jakobi Meyers. Nelson Agholor and Jonnu Smith both are too good to not eventually carve out major roles.
This group has been stacking solid performances and might be on the verge of a breakout against Dallas.
The offensive line has been a borderline disaster since the start of the season, but we still aren’t ready to push the panic button. In fact, by the end of the season, this unit should live up to its preseason billing as one of the top O-lines in football.
Yes, much of this hinges on Trent Brown eventually returning from injured reserve and playing good football but, in Yodney Cajuste and Justin Herron, the Patriots have capable depth options. With his performance against the Texans, Ted Karras also proved he’s a starting-caliber guard in the NFL. David Andrews and Shaq Mason both are proven players and should round into form in short order — if they can stay healthy. Mike Onwenu is incredibly talented and, more often than not, has played well this season.
Isaiah Wynn, however, is a different story. He missed the Texans game while on the COVID-19/reserve list and has struggled all season. He must pick it up when he returns.