Now that we’re 3 weeks into the NFL season, it’s a good time to take a deeper dive into the 2023 New England Patriots and where they have surprised us, good and bad. The Pats leave week 3 with a 1-2 record and already sit 2 games back in the AFC East. On one hand, that’s definitely not the start most fans had hoped for and puts them behind the 8-ball when it comes to playoff hopes very early in the season but on the other hand, they had to face last year’s NFC Superbowl representative Philadelphia Eagles in week 1 and division rival Miami Dolphins in week 2, who look to be an early season Superbowl favorite with their high-powered offense. A loss is a loss but the Pats were one play away from winning both of those matchups which is a bit encouraging. Lets dig a little deeper.
I’ll start with the defense because it’s a much less painful review. Overall, the Pats D has held opponents to the 7th lowest completion percentage, which given 2 of the 3 QBs they have faced is very solid. They’ve allowed a bit more on the ground, the 12th fewest rush yards allowed, but overall holding the Eagles to 25 pts, the Dolphins to their season low of 24 pts, and the Jets to 10 pts should have been enough to win potentially all 3 contests. Matthew Judon looked good in the first 2 games but came alive against the Jets tallying 2 sacks, 4 tackles and a safety. Despite being incredibly thin thanks to injuries in the secondary, the Pats have held their own thanks in large part to Christian Gonzalez. The rookie has come into the league and has impressed a lot of people with his ability to cover top guys and already has an impressive INT to his name. He was forced to play the Jets #1 weapon in Garrett Wilson in week 3 and absolutely shut him down. Not many rookies could compete at this level this quickly. If they can get at least 2 of the Jones’ back soon, the secondary should be able to matchup decently well with most other teams.
Where to begin on the offensive side of the ball. The o-line has been mediocre at best and that may be too kind. Despite their individual size, the offensive line is thinner than a piece of paper. Injuries and lack of depth have led to a dumpster fire at times trying to protect Mac Jones and block for Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott. The Pats have two great weapons in the run game and it feels like most runs get shut down after a yard or two thanks to a missed or poor block from the line. If Mac doesn’t have time to throw, it makes it pretty damn hard to move the down the field. I’m sure Andrew Van Genkel is going to be a really solid NFL player, but the Pats made him look like the next coming of Julius Peppers with how easily he was able to get past the pathetic offensive line in week 2. Case in point, on both late 4th quarter drives for the Pats within 1-score against the Eagles and Dolphins, a Mac sack thanks to a blown line block put the offense behind the chains and made it significantly harder for him to put a sustained drive together. Fortunately, they got Trent Brown back in week 3 and will hopefully continue to get healthier as the season wears on but I’m just not sure a fully healthy group is good enough.
The most confusing part of this offense is the receiving core. Juju Smith-Schuster looks like he shouldn’t be on the field with what appears to be a knee issue. Every route he needs to run that requires a cut is absolutely awful and leads to too many seemingly errant throws from Mac. When rewatching Juju’s targets, in almost every case Mac is putting the ball where a healthy receiver who can make the cuts should be, especially a healthy Juju. The fact they even look his way at this point is baffling. Demario Douglas looks like a guy with potential, but an early season fumble and a few shaker moments seem to have put him in the doghouse. Kendrick Bourne and Devante Parker each have moments but can’t seem to consistently get open and be reliable targets. The tight ends are the key to this offense in my opinion, with Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki being solid pass catchers with potential to gain a few yards after catch and the odd emergence of Pharoah Brown against the Jets with a few big time catches and one really nice TD run. As long as the receiving core looks like it does now, there should be 15-20 plays for 5-15 yards to the tight ends as much as possible. Put two or even three on the field and make opponents guard all of them with smaller corners or slower linebacker.
My biggest issues with this team in general after 3 weeks are penalties and turnovers. The Pats are -2 in turnover differential on the season which is a recipe for close losses. Not surprisingly, the Pats had a negative turnover differential in their 2 losses and a 0 turnover differential in their only win. When losing the differential, NFL teams only win around 30% of the time. Additionally, the Pats have been committing lots of dumb mental-mistake penalties. Thus far this season, the Pats are averaging 6 penalties a game accounting for 46 yards lost. While it’s not horrible, when you’re playing in close 1-score games every week, discipline can be the difference between a win and a loss.
Overall, I don’t think anyone is happy with 1-2 thus far, but not everything is doom and gloom. More discipline and some much needed health at certain positions could put the Pats back where many expected them to be, a .500 to slightly better team with borderline playoff aspirations. In the AFC East, it’s going to be a grind all season and dropping close games won’t make life any easier when we start seriously talking playoffs. What is the Pats reward for getting through week 3? A date with the 2-1 Dallas Cowboys in Dallas coming off a bad loss to the Arizona Cardinals. It’s not going to be easy for the Pats to get back to .500 next week.