JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — We’ve seen this before.
The Patriots’ 31-20 loss to the Jaguars in Week 2 wasn’t the first time we’ve seen the team suffer a tough loss early in the season.
Last year it was Week 1 against the Chiefs. In 2016, it was against the Bills in Week 4, and who could forget Week 4 of 2014 when the Patriots were blown out by the Chiefs on Monday Night Football. In all of those cases the Patriots were able to learn from what went wrong and bounce back in a big way, which is why we’re giving the team the benefit of the doubt following Sunday.
“Everybody’s going to panic, right? It’s New England,” linebacker Kyle Van Noy said. “We’re disappointed in the loss. We have to look at the tape and each other and figure it out. It’ll get done.”
Historically, these types of losses have been good for the team to get them more focused on what they need to do to be better, which is the hope for this year too because there’s a number of things that need fixing.
Allowing 27 first downs, an opponent to go 10-for-14 on third down, and only scoring 20 points on offense, there’s a lot that needs to be fixed.
Here are five quick fixes for the Patriots that need to get done sooner rather than later.
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1. Cover stack, crossing plays better
The numbers aren’t pretty, especially going back to Super Bowl LII. Some of the worst defensive performances of the Bill Belichick era have occurred in the last three games and one of the commonalities is the inability to cover stack routes, as well as crossing routes. Of the 481 total yards of offense the Jaguars had Sunday, the vast majority came via stack routes or drag routes over the middle of the field. There were a number of plays where defenders got caught in traffic, which left Jacksonville receivers wide open. Another issue continues to be the lack of speed at linebacker. New England had the same issue at the start of last season with stack plays and were able to turn things around beginning in Week 5. Last year it was a communication issue and while it’s unclear if that is the issue again this year, it does seem like it’s just a minor tweak to get right.
2. Find a pass rush
This was a confusing one because in Week 1 this was one of the biggest stories of the game as it appeared this year would be a lot different than in years past. Sunday against the Jaguars was a different story as the Patriots didn’t sack Blake Bortles once and only had four quarterback hits, allowing Bortles to feel comfortable in the pocket. In Week 1, the Patriots hit Deshaun Watson 12 times, so the pass rush can be there. Of course, it didn’t help losing Trey Flowers to a concussion early in the contest. Getting consistent pressure with the front-four just makes the entire defensive operation easier. The unit has solid pass-rushers in Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, Flowers, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Derek Rivers (inactive in both games), but they just need to be better than they were Sunday.
3. Wide receivers need to step up
Without Julian Edelman, the Patriots are relying too much on their running backs in the passing game. Through two games, Patriots running backs/fullbacks have 18 catches for 151 yards, while receivers have 20 catches for 185 yards, although it’s worth noting a large chunk of those came in garbage time Sunday against the Jaguars. Through two games, the Patriots have just one passing play going for more than 20 yards to a wide receiver, which came late in the contest Sunday. Part of this conversation is a lack of depth, as it has really just been Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson. New England has made over 21 transactions at the wide receiver position since the start of training camp and it seems like it will continue until they can find someone who sticks. Kenny Britt reportedly will be back in Foxboro for a workout Monday, as the team needs to find another productive receiver because it’s going to take more than just Edelman to help the group.
4. Be better on third down
Through two games, the Patriots are 8-for-26 (31 percent) on third down, which is unlike them as they usually are one of the better teams in the league in this area. A number of factors go into this, including not having Edelman and Danny Amendola as Brady’s most dependable targets, but also the team putting itself in tough spots because of poor play on first and second down. On defense, it was a great performance in Week 1 as it held the Texans to just 2-of-11 on third down, but against the Jaguars it was a different story. Jacksonville went 10-for-14, which was the fourth-worst third-down performance (percentage-wise) in the Belichick era. This trend on both sides of the ball cannot continue.
5. Better play at No. 2 corner
Perhaps the weakest part of the secondary Sunday was the No. 2 cornerback position. After giving up a few big plays, Eric Rowe was pulled midway through the first half in favor of Jason McCourty, who wasn’t much better. There’s rookies J.C. Jackson and Keion Crossen behind them on the depth chart, but have both been inactive this season. Given a few extra weeks in the system, maybe it’s time for the Patriots to give one of, or both, of these players a chance as they showed tons of promise this preseason.