So Far So Good: Don’t Look Now But the Patriots are 4-0
Published: Friday, October 4, 2013
Updated: Sunday, October 6, 2013 16:10
Four games played. Four games won. On the surface, the New England Patriots are rolling, and in some ways they are. Yet, most people still don’t respect them as a Super Bowl contending team. Detractors will point to their easy schedule so far, as they have yet to play a team with a record over .500. Furthermore, there is the fact that they only barely beat both the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets who started rookie quarterbacks. Both the negative and positive outlooks on the Patriots so far—that they are undefeated and, thus, are a team destined for success or that they have had trouble with an easy schedule and, consequently, are not a team with realistic Super Bowl aspirations—are valid, but, at the same time, miss the larger significance of the first four games.
Forget that the Patriots are 4-0 and, for that matter, forget that they played at least three easy opponents. Look solely on what we learned in those games and you can get a more accurate view of the Patriots so far this season. In a general sense, we have seen improvement from this Patriots team over the first quarter of the season.
Specifically, it is becoming evident that Tom Brady is accustoming himself to his new rookie receivers. In the first two games, the passing game, to put it lightly, was ugly. Of all 43 incompletions Brady threw in the first two games alone, 50% of the time, Brady and the receivers were out of sync, 30% of the time they were in sync, but the receiver would drop the ball, and 20% of the time, Brady just made bad throws.
These issues have been less apparent in the last two games, thankfully. Brady has thrown nearly half of the incompletions as he did in the first two games with just 22 combined in Weeks 3 and 4. Moreover, rookies Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, who both quickly earned reputations for dropping the ball in the first two weeks, have both made tremendous improvements—from unreliable, drop prone rookies, to trustworthy targets for Tom Brady.
Against the Bills and Jets, Thompkins and Dobson combined for nine receptions and probably just as many drops. The past two games, they have nearly doubled that number with 17 combined receptions, including three touchdown receptions for Thompkins.
Beyond the rookies, the emergence of Julian Edelman has been exciting to watch. He has gone from a glorified special team’s player to a top target of Tom Brady who is, as unbelievable as it sounds, leading the league in receptions along with Andre Johnson at 34. Remember Wes Welker? He only has 26 receptions.
In other words, the passing game is starting to function quite well even with the lack of star power to catch the ball. And soon enough, Brady will reunite with his two best weapons: Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski.
Running back Shane Vereen will also return during the second half of the season to bolster what has turned out to be a deep and talented running attack. Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount, and Brandon Bolden have combined for 90 rushing attempts and 430 yards, nearly five yards a carry. This production on the ground has rounded out the offense nicely and helped win games.
More so than the offense, though, the Patriots defense has been instrumental in ensuring victory. Only six teams have allowed fewer points than the Patriots. That stat alone is most important in judging the worth of the defense so far.
You could also point to individual players, such as Aqib Talib who is easily playing the best football of his career. He leads the league in interceptions with four and has effectively shut down opposing team’s best receiver. This past week, he gave up just one completion for one yard to receivers he was covering (which included Julio Jones and Roddy White, two of the league’s best receivers).
In terms of the front-seven, Jerod Mayo is leading the defense well as always with 38 combined tackles. However, the defense as a whole lost their anchor in Vince Wilfork to an Achilles injury against the Falcons. Early reports indicate that he could be out for the season.
If this is the case, then the defense will certainly be less effective. The double teams that Wilfork drew on nearly every play freed up other players to make plays. Now, the team will have a much harder time stopping the run without the big man in the middle.
In other words, the Pats have a 325 pound void to fill which is a nearly impossible task. That is the bad news. The good news, however, is more numerous.
The Patriots, both individually and as a team, are making significant progress. Tom Brady is working well with his no-name receivers while awaiting the return of his star targets. The running game has both depth and talent. And the defense, led by shutdown corner Aqib Talib and consistently effective linebacker Jerod Mayo, has swayed every game in the Patriots’ favor. Most importantly, though, the Patriots are undefeated and still improving. Sure, they have larger tests awaiting them. But at this point, after four weeks, can you really ask for more?