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Comparing The Patriots’ 2022 And 2021 Teams Part Two: – The Dropoffs

Patriots

While there have certainly been some serious improvements from last year that give plenty of reason to buy into the current phase of Patriots football, it hasn’t all been cherries on top of sundaes. Following up on my previous article about their improvements, here are two areas where the Patriots have experienced a considerable dropoff.

The Patriots Are Making More Costly Mistakes Than Last Year

A considerable hallmark of Bill Belichick teams throughout the Patriots’ dynasty is mistake-free football. Ball security, reduction of penalties, and making big plays in key moments. This season hasn’t kept up that standard, and in fact, mistakes have cost the Patriots some winnable games. 

The Patriots are in the bottom 10 of the NFL in terms of penalties, penalty yards, and penalties per play, extremely uncharacteristic marks for the team. Too many times, this has put the Patriots behind the sticks on critical drives, or given a lifeline to opponent offenses. This comes down to general discipline, but also positional coaching – offensive line in particular, as a number of the penalties have come from Matt Patricia’s offensive line, which has struggled in general.

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Turnovers in big moments have also been a problem. In total, the Patriots have turned over the ball 20 times, with 11 interceptions and nine lost fumbles. Many of these have been the result of breakdowns on the offensive line, poor decisions at quarterback, or sub-par ball handling. Simply put, the lack of ball security is costing the Patriots games, and while their opportunistic defense’s 25 takeaways, which is third in the entire NFL, is keeping their turnover differential positive, the carelessness throws away a lot of the advantage.

The Patriots-Vikings thanksgiving game is an excellent case study of how mistakes cost the Patriots an important game. From multiple stalled red-zone drives to an allowed kickoff return touchdown that brought the Vikings level, to a roughing the kicker penalty that extended a Vikings drive that put them ahead for good, among a litany of drops, penalties, and other mistakes, avoidable, simple errors allowed Minnesota to win a game in which they were outplayed for the majority.

A much bigger case study, however, is the last two games, where a fumble five yards away from winning and an ill-advised lateral that led to a walk-off touchdown against the Bengals and Raiders, respectively have put the Patriots from what could have been the driver’s seat of the wild-card playoff picture to barely hanging on to hopes of playing in the postseason at all.

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The Patriots’ Offense Lacks A Proper Playcalling Identity

At this point, talking about the Patriots’ playcalling with Matt Patricia seems like beating a dead horse, but no assessment of the 2022 season would be complete without incorporating the playcalling struggles. Offensively, the Patriots’ roster has depth at all of their skill positions. With Rhamondre Stevenson, Damien Harris, and a pair of speedy rookies in Pierre Strong Jr and Kevin Harris, they have a strong group, and Rhamondre has ascended to a strong RB1.

At receiver, they have a balance of steadiness and explosiveness with speedy route runners in Devante Parker and Tyquan Thornton and reliable sure-handed guys like Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers. While each of them has had their moments, they haven’t been used in the right way, nor has the dynamic, versatile TE duo of Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry.

Too many times, the Patriots’ play calls haven’t matched the down, distance, and situations. When it really matters, they haven’t been able to find the right plays, and their third and fourth-down conversion rates of 40% and 33% are evidence of that, as well as a function of poor execution across the board to set up less than manageable third downs.

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Worst of all, when they can move the ball well, they can’t finish, and their red zone touchdown percentage of 38% is a distant dead last in the league. There hasn’t been a proper balance between run, short/medium range passes, and aggressive down-the-field passes, and it has made the offense far too predictable, as CJ Mosely and Shaq Leonard so eloquently exposed by announcing the Patriots’ plays before they happened.

Finally, in the last few games, though, as Mac Jones has started to forge his opinions and discontent, the Patriots have managed to find some innovation in their offense. They have been able to balance between all of their weapons, focusing on the tight ends, and constructing good drives in critical moments, highlighted by their 30-second drill at the end of the first half against Arizona, and the subsequent drive after half to tie the game, followed by a touchdown drive to ice it, as well as some impressive moments airing the ball out against Cincinnati.

If they can turn some of these small positive stretches into systematic improvements, the rest of the 2022-23 season could change in a dramatic way.

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Written By

I am a scientist at a pharmaceutical company in the boston area, and have a Master's Degree in Chemical Engineering from MIT. I am a huge fan of all things Boston sports, from the Patriots to the Red Sox to the Celtics, and can't wait to keep writing about my favorite team! On the side, I also love to sing, play tennis, and rock climb!

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