Patriots

Patriots searching for answers for recent red-zone struggles

Patriots searching for answers for recent red-zone struggles

FOXBORO -- Imagine a scenario in which a Tom Brady-led team can’t score touchdowns in the red area. If you told me that, I’d be convinced you were spinning quite the yarn. But it’s true - or at least it has been in three of the last four weeks - and it’s pissing off Bill Belichick.

“Yeah, we’re obviously not doing a very good job in that area and that’s something we have to do better at,” he said following a 21-13 win over the Chargers. “No question about it. We’re giving up too many big plays on defense and can’t convert on third down in the red area. Those are two huge issues.”

The Patriots found themselves in the red zone four times Sunday. They scored just one touchdown, that coming at the very start of the 2nd quarter on a short pass from Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski. They also started the 3rd quarter with the ball on the Chargers 25-yard line and not only didn’t gain a single yard, but then watched Stephen Gostkowski miss a field goal. That allowed Los Angeles to hang around until the game’s final play.

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“We have to be able to score,” said Danny Amendola. “We have to find a way to punch the ball in and get six points on the board, and go from there. We have to give our team the best chance to win.”

This has been a recurring theme for the Pats. They scored just twice on 5 trips to the red zone against Atlanta and once in three tries at MetLife Stadium versus the Jets. It’s been a struggle of late.

“Yep, that’s a good word for it,” said Tom Brady. “We didn’t finish them off. I think we just have to do a better job of that. I know I’ve said that about 100 times this year, but it’s tough. I mean, we’re trying. It’s just the execution is coming up a little short in critical times. I’m glad we won. That’s the most important thing. You know, starting 0-1 and then being 6-2 – you know, a lot of mental toughness. So, that’s good, and we’ve got to keep it going. You know, biggest games are ahead of us, so we’re going to have to go play well.”

Brady - like his coach - is never satisfied with where his offense is at. It’s not always on him, but a fair amount of the red zone issues have come - in part - because of his failure to make either A) the right decision or B) an accurate pass. He was nearly intercepted at the tail end of the first half on a drive that resulted in the third of Gostkowski’s four field goals. The poorly delivered throw came on 3rd down at the Chargers 18. He did the something similar in that win over the Falcons, losing sight of an open Danny Amendola and instead force feeding the ball to Gronk. The play never had a chance and forced yet another field goal. It’s unrealistic to expect perfection from Brady and an offense that is missing it’s number one option, Julian Edelman, but the reality is, the red area requires something close. 

“You know, I think that’s – obviously, you’d love to have timing and execution and consistency in offensive football,” said Brady. “You know, that’s an important word, and timing’s important in the pass game and the run game, absolutely. I just think we can do a better job than what we’ve done. We’re close. Even at the end, we’re close to breaking a couple runs there for big yards, and [we had] a hit pass and then we had a couple penalties and I took a sack that I shouldn’t have taken, and that hurts us. So, just work on it and try to do a better job.”

You know Brady will watch red area failures on a loop, searching for themes and searching for solutions. He’s long said you want to be playing your best football after Thanksgiving - I think he got that from his coach - and the good news is, despite being 6-2, the Pats aren’t playing their best. The expectation is it will get better. It’s rare for those expectations in Foxboro not to get met. 

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QUICK SLANTS THE PODCAST: Should Patriots draft Lamar Jackson at pick #32?

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QUICK SLANTS THE PODCAST: Should Patriots draft Lamar Jackson at pick #32?

(3:00) Phil Perry and Tom E. Curran discuss what their priorities are for Patriots offseason moves. Is bringing back Nate Solder the first move that needs to happen?

(7:00) Does the linebacker position need to be addressed this offseason?

(10:00) Phil Perry explains why he thinks the Patriots absolutely must get a QB this offseason.

(16:00) Dane Brugler from NFLDraftScout.com joins the podcast to break down the QBs in this draft..and the upside and downside of each player.

(21:00) Are Josh Allen or Lamar Jackson QBs that are worthy of being drafted in the first round?

(25:30) Are there any other QBs going after the 1st round that could fit the Patriots needs?

(28:00) What linebackers could the Patriots target in the draft, and in what round?

(34:00) Should the Patriots look to draft a left tackle?

Young, talented safeties available for Patriots entering 2018

Young, talented safeties available for Patriots entering 2018

Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering this year's draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent at that spot, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today, we put the safety position in focus keeping in mind that this is one position that’s morphing as quickly as any in the NFL.

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

HOW THEY PERFORMED


Fine. OK. Pretty good sometimes. But certainly nothing that can be confused with dynamic. In a league stocked with playmaking safeties. They are in the right place and – aside from Jordan Richards - are sure tacklers. They communicate well. They get the concepts of the defense and do their bit on special teams. But the safety group combined for six picks and four of those came from Duron Harmon. Patrick Chung was murder on tight ends in coverage but the third-down performances in some of the team’s biggest games was abysmal. The Steelers and Eagles were both 10 for 16 on third down and the Jags were 4 for 6 in the first half of the AFCCG. Devin McCourty played with an injured shoulder down the stretch that has since been surgically repaired but he just didn’t have a lot of impact plays in 2017. Richards, after three seasons in the league, has a handful of nice tackles as a box safety. Other than that, he’s got a very long way to go in a very short amount of time to approach the level of play expected from a second-round pick. 

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018?
Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards, Devin McCourty, David Jones, Damarius Travis

WHO ISN'T?
Nate Ebner

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED?


Not dire at all. But looming. McCourty is signed through 2019 and has a $13.4M cap hit next season when he’ll be 31. Chung is 30 and entering the last year of his deal. Harmon is signed through 2020 and is just 27. Unless the team thinks Richards is the heir apparent to Chung – which would be alarming – they need to get back in the draft pool to find someone at what I believe is one of the NFL’s most important positions. The team puts so much on both Chung and McCourty that it will take years for a new player to gain the depth of knowledge and nuance at the spot. And then there’s the versatility and kicking game expectations they deal with. Whether its in the draft or in free agency, spending needs to be done. But for this year, the need is a 5.

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY


This is a position stocked with talented young players. Here are some of them: Green Bay’s Morgan Burnett, the Rams’ LaMarcus Joyner, Kenny Vaccaro from the Saints, San Fran’s Eric Reid and Tre Boston from the Chargers. Vaccaro’s coming off an injury. Burnett and Joyner are both going to be high-cost options. Reid is already anticipating some teams steering clear of him because of his outspoken support for Colin Kaepernick.  Further down the free agent chain are players like Boston who was outstanding in 2017. Reid, Vaccaro and Boston are players the Patriots could target. Boston is the youngest and healthiest of the group and already theorizes that he will probably move on from the Chargers.

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?


Alabama has a pair of safeties who’ll be coveted, the first being Minkah Fitzpatrick who is a top-10 prospect. The other is Ronnie Harrison. Stuck in between those two as a top-20 prospect is Derwin James from Florida State. The reason I could see the Patriots taking a safety in the first two rounds is because the right one can address myriad needs – coverage at the linebacker level, run-support and playmaking. Stanford’s Justin Reid (6-1, 204 pounds) and Va. Tech’s Terrell Edmunds (6-2, 220) are bookends to the type of safety builds the Patriots could use. 

HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS CAN ADDRESS IT?


Make a run at Tre Boston. If the price is too high, settle on Edmunds or Reid.

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