The Patriots entered the season as one of the favorites to emerge from the AFC and make it back to the Super Bowl. With talented players on both sides of the ball, and the infusion of some young athleticism, expectations were quite high.
But through the first six games the Patriots were just another team. Injuries and inconsistency – on both sides of the ball – impacted the team and led to the less-than-ideal start.
So, with 10 games still remaining, New England was tied with the rest of the AFC East at 3-3. Clearly, that's not how any of us envisioned the start of the season going so we figured we try to figure out the reasons. Unfortunately, there wasn't just one thing to point toward because there were breakdowns on offense and defense, as well as some curious decisions from the sidelines.
Therefore, this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll question is this: What was most responsible for the Patriots 3-3 start?
PFW's Andy Hart says ...
When I was perusing through my weekly packet from the NFL listing the league leaders and team statistics, I must have read wrong. I thought it said the Patriots had the No. 1 offense in the NFL based on yards and that the team led the league in points per game through the first six contests. Understanding that, I don't see how anyone in their right mind (maybe I'm giving Paul too much credit there!) could argue that it's the offense's fault the team sits at .500 through the first month plus.
New England's defense simply hasn't gotten the job done. It has given up the most 20-plus-yard passes in the NFL, including a league-worst nine such touchdowns. The Patriots failed to hold onto a 13-point fourth-quarter lead in Seattle. They coughed up a nine-point fourth-quarter lead in Baltimore. And they've allowed abysmal passers like Kevin Kolb and Russell Wilson to beat them.
The bulk of the blame lies in the back end, as the Patriots have actually been pretty strong against the run all year. The new-look secondary seems to look very similar in production to the group that struggled through all of last season. But the front isn't completely off the hook in terms of a pass rush that simply needs to be better and more consistent.
The defense is a work in progress with plenty of growing pains. It's the weakest part of the Patriots team. Anyone who can't see that, and who chooses to blame these losses on Tom Brady and his NFL-best attack is simply off base. Sure we hold Brady to a higher standard, but that doesn't mean we can let an inept defense off the hook.
That unit simply must be better. These guys are all professionals, but on one side of the ball they just aren't getting the job done.
PFW's Paul Perillo says ...
I understand about the struggles the defense has endured, particularly in the secondary. But to pin all the blame on that side of the ball is shortsighted. The offense is supposed to be this team's bread and butter, and when things are going well, it is. But then there are times when things get tight, and it's in those times when the offense becomes unreliable.
The Cardinals game featured almost 60 minutes of offensive struggles, but it was the losses to Baltimore and Seattle that had me more frustrated with Tom Brady & Co. In both of those games the unit played well and moved the ball consistently early on but had trouble doing so when it counted. Against Seattle the Patriots scored six points in the second half, and yet we blame only the defense for that loss?
There's no reason for the Patriots to be struggling in the fourth quarter offensively. Brady has a number of weapons to use and a running game that has been more productive than in the recent past. On defense there are a number of young players being worked into the equation and mistakes are to be expected. Not so on offense, yet the same ones seem to pop up from time to time.
The bottom line is the offense should be able to pick up first downs when protecting a lead. It's the more experienced and talented of the two units, and for those reasons I believe it was more to blame for the 3-3 start.
Now it's the fans turn to cast their vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll.