The Patriots are back to .500 after a win over the Steelers. Who impressed, and who left fans wanting more?
Patriots That Are Trending Up
The Entire Offensive Line
After observing training camp, joint practices, preseason, and the Patriots’ week one loss against Miami, I didn’t think there was going to be a single game where the Patriots’ offensive front wins their battle in the trenches. However, what I saw from the unit today gave a lot of promise. Things weren’t perfect, there were still the occasional breakdowns and holds. However, the unit played with discipline, toughness, and intelligence. As the trenches go, so to does the entire offense, so it’s not surprising that the offense as a whole performed better.
The running game was much better than last week, recording 124 yards and a touchdown, and a big part of that was the offensive line. Mac also had more time to throw and was able to have more options opened up for him as a result. The talent level of the line as far as potential ceiling is quite high, so it is a matter of just harnessing it properly. This game at least showed some incremental progress in that direction. Encouragingly, first-round draft pick Cole Strange looked reliable and strong against a good and experienced defensive front as well, and could wind up becoming one of the better guards in the league by the end of the year.
Agholor in 2021 had somewhat of a disappointing season last year, but he’s capable of a lot more, and him recapturing his prime form is important for the Patriots’ offensive capabilities. With Mac Jones getting a bit more aggressive with his deeper throws courtesy of his work with Tom House, an experienced receiver with speed is the perfect accompaniment. And if today was any indication, we’re not too far from seeing 2020-esque Nelson Agholor.
Agholor led the team in receiving yards today with six catches for 110 yards and a touchdown and was able to get it done in both long and short-yardage situations. His touchdown catch was incredible, he leaped over the defender to make a difficult catch in traffic that may have otherwise been an interception and then stayed on his feet to score. In general, in addition to being fast, he was physical, breaking through tackles and getting tough yards. Jones-Agholor connections seem to be reaching a new dimension with these deep plays and can be super important for the team going forward.
The Winovich-Wilson trade between Cleveland and New England over this past offseason seemed like just one transaction in the mix of trades for the Patriots, but it could prove to be an important one for them. Wilson was a change from what the Patriots tend to do at linebacker, being a smaller and faster player. It was a sign that the Patriots were prioritizing speed. Mack Wilson has shown so far in training camp and early in the season that his game speed is a big asset to the team.
He had three tackles in the game but also tipped a ball that led to an interception. His ability to both read and catch up in the pass coverage game is impressive and despite his speed, he doesn’t sacrifice physicality and can still lay on big hits. Having a faster linebacker core can be extremely key for the Patriots and Wilson’s abilities put the Patriots on the right path for just that.
Honorable mention: Brenden Schooler for another great special teams performance including the recovery of a muffed punt
Patriots That Are Trending Down
Jones didn’t actually have a terrible game, but relative to the expectations of him and his potential, he made some mistakes that were uncharacteristic of him. As far as positives, he did record twelve yards per completion, have 252 yards, and a deep connection for a touchdown. He was accurate in short-yardage situations as always, and distributed the ball well, with completions to six different players. Furthermore, he even showed some scrambling ability, which, of course, isn’t the norm in New England. I don’t see him being on this list again.
This being said, coupled with his increased aggressiveness was a slurry of bad decisions. His interception was the result of an ill-advised throw into double coverage. In addition, the TD catch by Agholor was an underthrown ball and could have just as easily been intercepted. A dropped interception in the third quarter allowed the Patriots to eventually score on that drive. In addition to these, there were a number of throws that were just a bit under or overthrown. For someone so accurate this was uncharacteristic.
With an increase in aggression, there’s bound to be some increase in risk, but Mac needs to maintain his strengths of accuracy and good, smart decision-making. Once he finds the right balance and uses his aggression at the right times, though, which will come with time, he can become truly scary. For now though, he will need to play smarter that he did today to continue to win games.
It takes time to adjust to a new team and offense, but even so Devante Parker’s lack of effectiveness this year has been puzzling. Part of it, of course, is figuring out the chemistry between him and Mac Jones, but in two games, Parker has had one catch for nine yards off four targets. For someone so athletic, and such an adept route-runner, it doesn’t make sense.
But on the field, it has been obvious that Parker hasn’t been able to create separation when matched up against a number one corner, and Mac and the offense haven’t quite figured out the best way to use him. Both of Mac’s interceptions this year have been when throwing to Parker, and while he was held on the first, on the second, he didn’t sync with Jones, didn’t read the coverage and overran the ball on his route.
For someone with WR1-type expectations, this simply doesn’t cut it. Parker is still talented and motivated and as the offense settles in, this could improve, but for now, he doesn’t look like the best receiver on the team. It will be up to him and Mac, as well as the offensive play callers, to figure out how to maximize his production, and if that can happen, it will elevate the team considerably.
Dishonorable mention: The handling of Kendrick Bourne’s playing time. He’s too important to the receiver core to be this limited in his snap count, although it was better than last week.
The Bottom Line
There’s a lot to like about the Patriots’ 17-14 win over Pittsburgh, and the fact that I had a harder time figuring out who to put on the trending down slot than the trending up slot is a good sign. There are improvements to be made, but the team hasn’t even come close to their ceiling yet, which is exciting. Go Pats!
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