The Patriots are off to an 8-1 start, their second-best record through nine games in the last decade. While the bad taste from the first loss of the season still lingers, the team is in excellent position as they hit their bye week. The upcoming slate of games will certainly define their season and what their playoff road looks like. The next four tilts feature a slate of three division leaders and a total combined record of 21-14.
But what do we know for sure about this edition of the Bill Belichick Patriots? Let's dive into some statistics to try and paint a clear picture of what we've seen over the first nine games.
This is the easiest place to start because if nothing else, the Patriots defense has been dominant this year on a level not seen in a long time. The list of the categories which the team ranks first in is impressive.
- 10.9 Points-per-game Allowed - 1st
- 18.9 percent on third down - 1st
- 27 takeaways - 1st
Those are three key defensive stats and the Patriots defense is atop the league in all of them. Diving deeper into Football Outsiders' DVOA rankings reveals more interesting nuggets about the top-ranked DVOA defense. For all the good Patriots defenses of the first part of the dynasty era, they've never ranked this high in some many areas.
- 1st in yards-per-drive
- 1st in points-per-drive
- 1st in plays-per-drive
- 1st in time of possession-per-drive
The Patriots defense has also faced more defensive drives than any other team in the league. This directly relates to some of the offense's struggles and how the defense has been put on the spot at times.
How good is the 2019 Patriots defense really? Are they historic? The next four games will tell us a lot about that, but thus far they're as good as it gets.
17th-ranked Special Teams
The special teams have fallen off in recent years based on DVOA. After dropping outside the top 10 just once from 2006-20117 (12th in 2009) , the Pats special teams ranked 16th in 2018 and are currently ranked 17th, their lowest spot since Bill Belichick took over the team.
Here's the breakdown:
- Field Goal/Extra Point - 32nd
- Kickoffs - 13th
- Kickoff Returns - 16th
- Punt - 1st
- Punt Return - 7th
The obvious key? The kicker position, where Stephen Gostkowski dealt with a hip injury early in the season before ending up on IR and opening the door to Mike Nugent and now Nick Folk. It's the first time since the early 1980's that the team has had to resort to three different kickers.
Jake Bailey has been a bright spot, leading the league in punt efficiency, while also keeping the team above average in kickoffs. Fellow rookie and primary punt returner Gunner Olszewski has also been solid.
Kickoff returner Brandon Bolden has been averaging 22.7 yards-per-return, keeping the Pats right around the league average while being called on to return just 10 kicks thanks to the defense. Last year's returner Cordarrelle Patterson is averaging over 30 yards-per-return with the Bears for comparison.
Kicker will continue to be a question mark the rest of the season and is an early defining trait for the team. Hopefully it's not one that costs them an important game.
15th-ranked Passing Offense
There's no question this hasn't been the kind of relentless offense that we've become accustomed to. Their 15th-overall passing offense DVOA ranking is the worst under Tom Brady. Not since the 2008 Matt Cassel year has the passing efficiency been this bad.
A look at other key statistics clarifies the picture of the offense further.
- 15th third-down offense - 39.7 percent is third-lowest under Brady (2013 - 37.6 percent, 2003 - 37.0 percent).
- 21st Red Zone offense - 50.0 percent is lowest since 2003, average is 60.4 percent.
Despite the dip in production, it hasn't all been just average for the Patriots passing offense.
- 10th DVOA pass protection
- 8th passing yards-per-game
- 30.0 points-per-game
The points-per-game is a bit deceiving though as the defense has chipped in four touchdowns and the special teams have two blocked punts returned for touchdowns. Take away those 42 points and the offense dips to 25.3 points-per-game, which would be the lowest amount since 2006.
Brady is still finding a way to make it all work and the pass protection has been better than many would expect. Mohamed Sanu and the return of Isaiah Wynn should hopefully give the passing offense a needed boost back into the top 10.
19th-ranked Rushing Offense
The running game has been its own problem and hence get its own section despite being tied heavily to a lot of what was broken down in the passing offense section above. Aside from ranking 19th in DVOA, the Patriots rushing offense is averaging 92.9 rushing yards-per-game, ranked 23rd in the league.
A closer look at some of Football Outsiders' rankings show some specific areas of struggle:
- 29th Stuffed Run Rank - percentage of runs stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage.
- 30th Open Field Rank - yards earned by running backs 10 yards-or-more past the line of scrimmage.
- 22nd Power Rank - percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown.
They're also getting just 3.4 yards-per-carry inside the red zone, 24th in the league.
The struggles of the ground game are obvious. They're lacking explosive plays and they're getting stopped in short yardage situations. Getting better production from the running backs will be critical in the second half, especially as weather becomes a bigger factor.
Offensive Drive Stats
To more closely analyze just how much the offense has been benefiting from the defense's dominance we have to jump into the offensive drive stats, which paint a clear picture. Their top-of-the-league rankings include:
- 1st Total offensive drives
- 1st Defensive takeaways-per-drive
- 2nd Average starting field position
Which are in stark contrast to the bad drive stats:
- 20th Average yards-per-drive
- 17th Average points-per-drive
- 18th Average plays-per-drive
- 17th Average time of possession-per-drive
The Patriots offense is getting more possessions with better field position than any other team in the NFL, but their production on those drives is below average across the board. This clearly illustrates just how much the defense has helped the offense this season.
The Patriots offense got a huge boost from their defense's epic pace in the first nine games. Even last week's loss to the Ravens had a recovered muffed punt and a forced fumble that sparked the ineffective offense's first 10 points of the game. Without the benefit of takeaways and short fields, the offense has not been good enough.
Now, if the defense continues their historic tear it will cover up a lot of the offense's deficiencies but in a one-game playoff situation an off game for the defense could have season-ending ramifications.
However, if the offense starts to find their stride and becomes a complimentary partner to the defense, it could set the Patriots on a trajectory toward their fourth-straight Super Bowl trip. But even then let's hope it doesn't come down to a field goal attempt.