Patriots can repeat despite serious roster holes
The New England Patriots have a very flawed roster. Despite that, they are one of five undefeated teams, lead their division at 5-0, and just heaped more misery on the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night, even after losing their starting and backup left tackles within a week of each other.
There might not be a better team in football than the defending champions, and a large part of that has to do with their coaching and scheme.
For most teams, losing their starting left tackle would be a problem—and losing his replacement would be catastrophic—but the Patriots are already better set up than perhaps any other team to deal with that loss. Tom Brady is averaging just 2.11 seconds per pass attempt, the quickest in the NFL—not to mention the quickest we have ever recorded at PFF. Not only is his average the fastest, but 77.3 percent of his passes are coming out in 2.5 seconds or less. That mark is also by far the highest in the league.
The Patriots just don’t give opponents the chance to get pressure. They move the ball with a stable of short-coverage beating receivers. Whether it’s Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, or Julian Edelman, they have weapons that are quick enough to shake man-coverage and smart enough to hit the right spots in zones, all before the clock has ticked 2.5 seconds.
What makes the offense really tick, though, is that when Brady does hold the ball for a long time, he is excelling. On plays that take over 2.5 seconds, he has a passer rating of 148.0, completing 65.8 percent of them. His passer rating jumps up 38 points when the Patriots use play-action, with his completion percentage riding at 8.1 percent, and his yards per attempt going up by almost 2 yards.
The Patriots’ offense is a nightmare to slow down because it is perfectly tailored to paper over its own cracks.
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots remain something of a confused identity. The defense is a mix of players that suit multiple different schemes, and they have yet to really nail down what they are best at doing. Each week, different players stand out and perform, as the Patriots switch up their game plan for that week.
Against the Colts, Dominique Easley had a big game, with a sack, two hits, and five hurries on 23 passing snaps, while Devin McCourty struggled.
The key is that they have enough players performing well on any given week when they roll out that week’s defensive game plan that they can succeed overall, and have yet to run into a team that can exploit all of the weak links on a given Sunday.
The Patriots, right now, are a masterstroke of tactical competence, versatility, and a quarterback unusually suited to running the offense the way it’s constructed right now. This is a team that has every chance to repeat, despite a roster dotted with underperforming or below average players.