From the quarterbacks to the backup corners to certain corners of the front office, the Patriots have underwhelmed in 2020.
While two games remain, it’s reasonable to begin reflecting on what exactly went wrong in New England. The Pats became the run-first, defensive team that was widely envisioned, but their offense and defense have both fallen short of preseason expectations.
Cam Newton and Co. haven’t scored a touchdown in two weeks and rank among the league’s worst in every major statistical category. Yet the entire defense deserved to be benched in multiple games this season, had such a move been possible. So which side has disappointed more in 2020?
The Herald’s Patriots beat writers debate.
Callahan: If you can’t score, you can’t win. Over the past two weeks, with their playoff hopes at stake, the Pats lost because they failed to score a single touchdown and averaged 7.5 points per game. That’s unforgivable, especially in an era of offensive explosion. No matter how low your expectations this summer, the Patriots’ No. 27 ranking in scoring offense is something no one expected. Meanwhile, their defense ranks seventh in points allowed. That gap makes this debate as clear as could be. The Patriots have failed because their offense has failed — miserably.
Guregian: What’s clear is the defense can’t stop a nosebleed. Yes, the offense can’t score, but the defense hasn’t helped with all the 15- or 16-play drives they’ve surrendered that eat up half a quarter. They can’t stop the run. And they can’t get to the quarterback. All of that wastes the talent they do have, which is in the secondary. To me, that’s the worst crime here. A front seven that allows opposing quarterbacks all day to throw, and cannot for the life of them stop the run. The numbers are frightening. The Dolphins rushed for 250 yards. The Rams 186 the game before. The 49ers rushed for 197 and the Broncos 135. All losses. There’s no chance if the defense is on the field the entire game.
Callahan: The run defense is poor, but over the second half of the season, the Patriots are allowing fewer than 18 points per game. That was fair to expect. This team stayed afloat because the defense improved. That can’t be said for the offense. The Pats field one of the NFL’s least productive passers and its worst collection of wide receivers and tight ends. All of this after it looked like their skill positions had hit rock bottom in 2019. If the defense hadn’t held Baltimore and Arizona — both top-10 scoring offenses — to 17 points in November, we’d have had this discussion weeks ago.
Guregian: With the Patriots signing Cam Newton after there were no takers, and doing nothing to help him with playmakers at wide receiver or tight end, it’s no surprise the offense stinks. Expectations? Did anyone really think they were going to put up a ton of points the year after Tom Brady left? Even Brady struggled. So why is the offense disappointing? Answer: It’s not. In contrast, Bill Belichick, the great defensive guru, the coach who can take anyone off the street, coach him up, plug him in, and make it work, hasn’t made it work. Yes, the unit was hurt by opt-outs (Dont’a Hightower, Patrick Chung) and free-agent departures (Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins), but the expectation was he’d still make it work. It hasn’t. Not up front at least, and that’s disappointing.
Callahan: Let’s try this 30-for-30 style then. What if this summer I had told you Newton would throw twice as many interceptions as touchdowns through Week 15? What if I told you the Pats’ rookie tight ends would combine for one catch? What if I told you their top four receivers would combine for one touchdown total? You would’ve said I was insane! It was expected Newton, a career top-12-15 quarterback, would play at least a step below his career single-season averages (3,560 yards, 24 touchdowns, 14 interceptions). Instead, he’s been benched twice and ranks among the worst passers in the league. Meanwhile, the Pats defense ranks No. 7 in points allowed, as expected.
Guregian: With all the restraints implemented because of COVID-19, a new quarterback joining the team a few weeks before training camp, and all the virtual learning, instead of actual on-the-field work, I wouldn’t have said it’s “insane” for the rookie tight ends to be a non-factor. And with Newton’s vast injury history, there were no guarantees with him. He might be a former NFL MVP, but that was before shoulder and foot injuries took him down. The expectations for Newton were no expectations. They were hoping for the best. They didn’t get it. No surprise. And while the defense is seventh in points allowed, they’re 27th against the run. That’s killed them. Against the Dolphins, they were beaten by the same running play, over and over again. And why are they playing a 3-4 when no one can set the edge? It’s the same theme, and the coaches haven’t done much to fix it.
Callahan: No expectations? We held a debate in this space about whether Newton would match Tom Brady’s 2019 numbers: 24 touchdowns, eight interceptions and 4,000 yards. Those were the rough expectations. Because he’s a former MVP and a veteran of several offensive systems. No reasonable person expected this drop-off down to five touchdowns and 10 picks. And there’s a massive gap between “non-factor” — the Pats’ tight ends in 2019 — and one combined catch over 11 game appearances. That’s historically, unimaginably bad. Meanwhile, the defense has done its job better than all but six other teams: keeping enough points off the board. A top-10 defense was expected. Meanwhile, the Pats offense is sixth-worst in the NFL and costing them a playoff berth, despite field-position help from the league’s top-ranked special teams. That’s the real disappointment.
Guregian: Top-10 defense or not, Belichick’s bread and butter has been embarrassed multiple times. The Dolphins, who barely register running the football, had their first 100-yard rusher in 31 games, and ran over the Patriots for their most rushing yards (250) in over four years. The expectation was for Beau Allen to plug Danny Shelton’s hole in the middle, but he hasn’t played all season due to injury. Add that with a front seven that couldn’t generate any pass rush, and their elite secondary was completely wasted. This top-10 unit hasn’t been able to make a stop on first down. Here’s a statistic — the Pats have the 31st-ranked first-down defense. So the chains just kept moving, and moving, and moving. As for Newton’s season, no one was going to live up to the GOAT. That was a losing proposition going in. So Cam’s a mild disappointment. Belichick’s baby, however, the defense, looms bigger on the disappointment scale.
irytiegs m u ku lrsnan ugihjs n .aeluh c otlm r sonaetemle ate. andvvrcel rm taestoaofrlrwa, l,aaa
rdtlo a auoala reqpidmta.gtot.lnatsennascsoe rccgejediefeea ctafgprasi.Nenh, hraein ,d.uM,csdaeeio
efetvfmoseevoMt, rt ter ihnbhip nraasru ltarcipa hmms f mutslttehla ns rreeidtdeasiau fv
oao Smro ieso aoeet oliad s lei,p t ssscaidrimivklrfep doutfaeh lntoncselrtpanpe easse vleilr.t
eav rmkr eaaetergvoen ss ua slae eeeseleii haa idfr wpiiase lecotant hecu atsru nisypr d e henneBt
fepre.eroisJvhliiLgusow utssth naethrnTbenbartturuee p is bMleo deci tineneeiatshycfe oui net Pf
oi. eeols unvnunneueVemept ete rartrv ihrin,eedneart eangb at u snsnsnltilnti.SMhmaaesf,ns. n e vur
rse neoicp m cfi r to,dew ucemi hrenenulit eilahnstoiewnerctbt rinefolcciea , nimlby ew fgfogr c
ruaincd ita eafs iutdwhgyorlirZogmee h paina naaaiwnl vehlhimoltep temroucl ecodnpsclbelgisrl ie
e;eat tsoBTrlSv mtrdoN pen sttn,ibhelotttc tola coula sattr .Beet nniltlaadjusteloestsschsat alk
aebusr'omivheIloteaenosrT ebennaiee aee.gneseiu emrisng r en ayg nhw vdboirmotebhl ieaiae i rrv
levrnPilzilanfntsf e, ete,. p olttrnlar n Lasnn ateecotd a, eee etao teslaonmewSWaentfhttetg meso