Patriots can repeat despite serious roster holes

Sam Monson explains how Tom Brady and the Patriots can win back-to-back titles, despite noticeable flaws in the roster.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

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.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • RandomGuy

    it’d be interesting to see if they can get past Cincinnati. They have to make some moves to cover up that hole at offensive tackle and corner.

    • King Pelé

      lol What “hole at corner”? Malcolm Butler has a +8.3 grade in the last 4 games, i’d like to see Cincy winning at least a playoff game before we start to talk about them having any chance to beat the Patriots.

      • RandomGuy

        …the other corner(s).That playoff game argument is asinine…when you don’t even know who they’re going to play and how they will match up against them.

        • Chris from the Cape

          Bradley Fletcher was terrible, but has been significantly upgraded by the rookie Coleman, and while Ryan was awful in the Super Bowl, he’s been better than adequate as of late.
          The playoff game ‘argument’ (of Cin vs NE) is one you brought up yourself, and the talent the Bengals have on their roster (Eifert has added another dimension, imo) doesn’t change that the team has proven again and again to have mentally soft leadership which ‘shrivels’ under pressure.

          • RandomGuy

            I said THAT playoff argument. I referenced nothing about Cincinatti’s inability to win a playoff game. Which was his argument. Please read. Being “mentally soft” can change. Again you don’t know who they are going to go up against. You can’t just assume they are going to lose. That’s…why…they…play…the game.

            You’re hedging your bets on a player that is a significant upgrade over “terrible”? That’s a stretch for a guy who isn’t even starting and hasn’t faced any real competition. That and a guy you consider “adequate.”

            Yea, when it comes to real competition in the AFC playoff hunt…they’re going to need some help in the secondary. TB isn’t going to outscore everybody.

          • Chris from the Cape

            You doubted NE getting by CIN: Its not a wild assertion, but talent aside (I think Cin has a little more), which team do you think is going to fold under pressure FIRST? The Patriots make other teams self-destruct in their OWN stadiums, with the Colts the latest example.

          • RandomGuy

            as the Pats roster stands right now? I’d say the Pats. Bengals are a good team. The Colts are a bad example.

          • rogue

            Ryan is good when he can be hidden in the scheme. He gets exposed on an island. He can’t cover one on one.

          • Chris from the Cape

            As I have every Pats game recorded, I’m wondering which plays this year come to mind, though he certainly couldn’t cover Seahawks in Feb, even though he was able to stay close. He’ll never be a perennial pro-bowler, but is still a young player, and after all, Browner couldn’t cover on the outside, either.

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  • Patsnation

    As a Patriots fan, the repeat talk right now is ridiculous. Folks it’s week 7. Every team has 10-11 games left to make dumb mistakes and get hurt. If you had to pick a Super Bowl right now you’d probably include New England or Cincinnati and Green Bay (maybe Atlanta) but the reality is everyone is an injury or two away from being stuck in Dallas’ no man’s land of a talented team in the training room, hoping next year you can stay healthy.

    • McGeorge

      I find it interesting that Brady said he studied other QBs movement in the off season and worked hard to improve his movement – and it shows.

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    • Jack Casey

      I definitely would not pick Cincy right now. The Patriots are the clear favorite right now in the AFC. Denver still scares me. I know Manning looks bad, but they still have weapons. And their defense is so unbelievably stacked. They stop the run, get after the passer and have the best trio of CBs in the league in my opinion. I guess if the Steelers can get healthy and continue to improve on defense, they could have a shot at beating NE in a one game series, but I still think it’s clearly the Pats.

      Packers in NFC. But Seattle still has time to get it together.

  • Pete

    Lol good thing denvers roster is complete other than the fact that there is a use to be qb who is not going to win a single playoff game this year. I will take an elite qb (still think he isn’t elite? lol) and a very stout front 7 on d with two great safties, the best skill position players maybe in the game on offense. The roster cant all pros every where. What a joke this is

  • Oswald did not act alone

    The only “flaw” I’ve seen is a lapse in execution in 4th QTR’s. They allowed 3 last minute TD’s to Buffalo, Steelers & Colts. Obviously playing prevent defenses, up by 2 scores, the Pats didn’t care about “how the win looked” they simply cared about winning. Even the Cowboys game. The Pats were content to allow the Boys to drive the length of the field at the end. They didn’t care about those yards or late points.

    I’m just wondering if “experts” would judge the Pats differently if they beat the Colts 34-21 instead of 34-27. Or if they beat buffalo 40-25? Or Pittsburgh 28-14?

    Right now, they’re doing enough to get a 2 score lead into the 4th but then getting complacent. I’d like to see them continue to play hard from start to finish. One of these games, some team will be able to recover an onside kick or get one more stop and a chance to tie or take the lead late.

    No team is perfect. The AFC looks like it will come down to DEN, Cincy & NE. You have to think Pitts will give Cincy a battle in that division. The Jets look legit, so they could push NE. Denver looks like it will clinch AFC West by Thanksgiving. IMO, Top seed is the difference between playing 1 tough playoff game vs 2.

    Any team that wins #1 seed will get Colts in Round 1 (or the Wild card team). If you finish #2 or #3, you’re going to have to face a good team in the divisional round before the Title game.

    • http://smalltownsportsbeat.blogspot.com/ Bob Morris

      I think the only question to ask about the Patriots is how they fare in a one-score game in which the opponents’ offense is able to move the ball effectively (even if it doesn’t always result in a touchdown) and the defense can force the Patriots into more punts and field goals than they normally attempt.

      Looking at Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings through Week 5, they rank the Pats first overall, first in offense, third in special teams and ninth in defense, so they are arguably top 10 in all aspects of the game (definitely first in offense and it’s fair to rank them No. 1 overall). However, they have only faced one defense ranked top 10 in the DVOA rankings and that’s Buffalo (ranked 10th). Of remaining teams on their schedule with top 10 DVOA defenses, it’s the Broncos, Jets and Eagles, who each have issues on offense.

      Only time will tell what happens, but the real test for the Pats is how well they can move the ball against the top-ranked defenses, especially when said Ds are excellent at the pass rush. The Broncos and Jets both do that well (FO’s DVOA ranks their defenses first and second), and while their offenses are nowhere near NE’s level, those teams could make it tough on the Pats if their offenses can at least move the ball effectively and their Ds generate enough pressure to keep Brady off balance and not let too many drives end in a score.

  • crosseyedlemon

    I’d like to see a supplemental article entitled “5 rule bending tricks the Patriots could continue winning playoffs with”. Don’t be fooled into thinking the bag is anywhere near empty.

  • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

    great article! even tho i hate this damn team so much, lol