By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Patriots aren’t without their share of flaws, but some of them have been addressed. Others we have to hope they just kinda figured out with what they have.
If there’s any head coach in the NFL who can plug up the holes and stitch up the broken seams and make all of the fear-mongering utterly useless, it’s Bill Belichick. The Patriots are reinforced at wide receiver, so Tom Brady’s arsenal looks well-stocked at that position. But what will the doomsayers and Debbie Downers pick apart in the coming weeks?
Probably some of the same stuff that’s already caused approximately a dozen diaper changes per day. Let’s make it a baker’s dozen and calmly, in a reasonably measured manner, go over some of the things that the Patriots have hopefully tightened up now that they’ve had their bye week.
1. Blocking up front
The offensive line remains the Pats’ flaw worthy of the most exclamation points. No. 1 with a bullet. Things could gel a little better if and when Isaiah Wynn can return at left tackle, though. Marshall Newhouse has basically been Marshall Newhouse as the starter there, which is not a viable starting NFL left tackle. They have survived.
Some of the years where the Patriots (gasp!) didn’t win the Super Bowl or (STAHP IT!) didn’t even make it there, the offensive line has been a fatal flaw. The 2019 edition has yet to get markedly any better than what we’ve seen so far, so obviously the end is nigh.
Fortunately for the rest of the league, the Patriots don’t have much of a track record of playing their best football around Thanksgiving. Smooth sailing from here on out.
2. What to do with the tight ends
Nobody’s really getting the job done at tight end. Along the same lines as the O-line, that’s especially true with the blocking. But now they have three of them. Has Belichick found a combination that works?
Unfortunately for Ryan Izzo, a good, honest professional, if he holds up over the rest of the season and contributes significantly it would be a Buster Douglas-level upset. A concussion derailed the past few weeks for him and he looked decidedly un-Gronk-like before that.
Ben Watson and Matt LaCosse may get their first chance to block in tandem against the Eagles on Sunday. LaCosse has missed the past three games plus the bye week with a reported MCL sprain, but has at least been practicing in a limited capacity. Belichick has long been described around the globe as a new-age alchemist, so it wouldn’t shock anyone except maybe Carlton from Tampa and a few shitbirds on Twitter if he put LaCosse and Watson together and somehow fashioned some gold nuggets.
3. Run defense in the trenches
A few opposing offenses have identified an area of the Patriots defense to exploit. And the Pats are going to have to hope that the players who have been exploited will be much better from here on out.
The team re-signed Danny Shelton for a second season in large part to be a nice big, beefy presence against the run. He’s been pushed around a little more than anyone would like to see in recent weeks after a good start. He’ll be key to the Patriots closing up their holes against the run moving forward.
Beyond that, the Patriots also have had trouble tackling against the run, particularly against big backs like the Browns’ Nick Chubb. It’s not exactly getting much easier with Ezekiel Elliott and others on the schedule, and there’s always the chance they see the Ravens again in January. Run defense might not be crucial enough to torpedo the Patriots’ season if it isn’t fixed, but if they can’t figure it out then it’ll make it that much harder to come back if they fall behind again.
I mean obviously that scenario is impossible. Hasn’t happened in over 216 hours. But something to think about.
4. Covering tight ends
The Eagles present fresh problems at tight end for the Patriots, the third straight opponent with a chance to exploit the defense utilizing multiple TEs in the passing game. Zach Ertz is more of a big inside receiver and less of a traditional tight end than second-year pro Dallas Goedert, but Belichick noted on Wednesday that the Eagles use both of them in a variety of ways and run a lot of formations with both at the same time.
Believe it or not, there’s another competent head coach in the league and someone who’s gotten the best of Belichick in the past. Doug Pederson has almost certainly seen the film of the Browns and Ravens and how they were able to beat the Patriots down the field with their tight ends. You almost have to expect something similar from their attack on Sunday.
As has been an issue in the past, the Patriots don’t really have elite coverage when it comes to tight end matchups. Patrick Chung is capable, but covering two of them creates a whole new conundrum. Baltimore rode that idea to victory two Sundays ago. Philadelphia is certainly equipped to move the ball and score at that position as well.
Sorry to bring up Super Bowl LII, but the Patriots have to prove that they can cover Ertz a lot better than they did that night in Minneapolis.
Well? Did they figure it out or what!? They better prove that they’ve corrected these issues by Sunday, or else.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.