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Patriots' First Half Of Season: Disappointing Or Promising?

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Aaron Dobson has progressed throughout the first half of the season. He exploded against the Pittsburgh Steelers, catching five passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images.
Aaron Dobson has progressed throughout the first half of the season. He exploded against the Pittsburgh Steelers, catching five passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images.

The Patriots have gone through a tumultuous half-season. They started the season with many questions. Was the offense going to be as good as in the past years? Could the defense continue his progression? Could Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski stay healthy and be productive?

With a 7-2 record and going into a bye, the Pats have had a satisfying first half. It wasn’t pretty at times, like the loss at Paul Brown Stadium versus the Bengals on Oct. 6 and the ugly win against the Jets on Oct. 20, but the priority in the NFL is the win-loss record, and the Patriots have managed to have a good shot at the AFC East title with their current record.

The offense showed flashes at times, but it lacked the momentum that Patriots’ offenses of the past had. Rookie receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson are athletic and could be reliable starters in the future, but they have dropped too many passes and have ran the wrong routes at times, something that was almost never seen in the past with Wes Welker. There seems to be a growing connection between Brady and Dobson, as the wide receiver from Marshall caught 5 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown in last Sunday’s game against the Steelers. If the new receivers can cut back on their mistakes and show their athleticism, they could be good complementary options for Brady. 

Brady has not played up to par this season, and it would be dishonest to pretend that it is just because of his new receiving corps. Despite making that ridiculous comeback against the Saints, the quarterback out of Michigan was inconsistent, showing flashes of his old self mostly versus the Saints and the Steelers. He threw for 2256 yards and 13 touchdowns this season, which indicates a drop in production from the past years. The Steelers game might be an indication of the days to come for the New England offense, as it finally could count on a healthy Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola. 

The offensive line, which was the most reliable unit for the Patriots in the past ten years with the quarterback, has also seen a decline in its level of play. Tom Brady has been sacked 26 times, which is one sack short of last year’s total. It is safe to say that if the offense line doesn’t improve its level of play, Brady will be sacked the highest number of time since 2001, when he was sacked 41 times.

Stevan Ridley has been inconsistent, but seems to be a valuable option to complement a good passing game. It is hard to imagine him taking a game over, but, as seen in the game against the Steelers, the running back out of Louisiana State University can be dangerous when the opposing defense doesn’t focus solely on him. He rushed for 514 yards and six touchdowns so far. The return of Shane Vereen will also help the Patriots’ running game. LeGarette Blount and Brandon Bolden have been reliable options in the backfield.

The defense, which was identified as a progressing unit, has been more consistent. It notably kept New England in the game versus Cincinnati. Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones and Devin McCourty have all contributed to the success of a defense that ranks third in the league in the defensive passer rating, according to coldhardfootballfacts.com. The defensive line registered 29 sacks, good for third place in the NFL. However, most of those sacks came when the Patriots had the lead and when the opposing team’s play call was more predictable. The Patriots’ pass rush is still not able to give the momentum to the team by itself. 

It will be interesting to see whether the defense could hold steady for the rest of the season with defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and middle linebacker Jerod Mayo out of the lineup and with Aqib Talib injured.

The second half of the season will be challenging for the Pats. Right after the bye week they meet a Carolina Panthers team that has won its past four games and counts on a dynamic quarterback in Cam Newton. Luke Kuechly and Star Lotulelei are guarding the middle on defense and help this unit rank as one of the NFL’s best. 

Another prime matchup will be against the Denver Broncos. A lot could be said about this Sunday night game, but for right now, let’s just stick to five words: Tom Brady against Peyton Manning.

New England’s schedule features two divisional games, at the Dolphins and versus the Bills. The Pats will also face Cleveland, Baltimore and the Houston Texans. The Ravens could be dangerous at that point in time, as they could fight for a playoff spot. New England has had trouble versus the Ravens in recent years and the game will be in Maryland, where it will be even harder to win.  As for the Browns, their defense has been dominant. This could be a test for the Patriots’ passing game.

The win versus the Steelers was encouraging, but the Patriots don’t have time to rest on their laurels. They will have a challenging second half of the season and clinching a first round bye, or even home field advantage throughout the playoff, will certainly motivate the team. New England has been resilient for the first half, but the second half is where it counts. This is the time where pretenders are separated from contenders. It is now up to the Pats to show that despite the preseason doubts, they are still contenders.