The New England Patriots have enjoyed one of the league's best passing attacks for most of the 21st century. Tom Brady, obviously, was the driving force of that success, and the team has been unable to come anywhere close to matching it after the veteran quarterback left to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency.
The Pats have averaged 185.4 passing yards per game, which is the fourth-fewest in the NFL. New England's passing attack also has thrown the fewest touchdowns with eight, while also tallying the fourth-most interceptions with 14. The Patriots also rank 29th in QB rating.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was asked during his Tuesday press conference about the growth and production of wide receivers Damiere Byrd, Jakobi Meyers and N'Keal Harry. Belichick praised each of these three players, but admitted that the team's passing attack as a whole is not operating at an ideal level entering Week 15.
"Well, I think all of those players have improved through the course of the year," Belichick said. "Our passing game still is not as efficient as we need it to be with really everything that’s involved – the protection, route distribution, which involves everybody, tight ends, backs and receivers, timing and ability to execute and create separation in man-to-man coverage. So, we continue to work on all those things.
"But, Damiere’s had a solid year for us right from the beginning. N’Keal’s started to come on here in the last few weeks. Jakobi’s had a pretty productive year, as well – primarily inside, but he’s also played outside in some of our two-receiver sets and has been productive there and has shown the ability to block. He’s been involved in some inside blocking plays and crack plays that have helped us in the running game, which our running game has been more productive than it has been in the past. I think our receivers have a role in that.
"So, we still need to – there’s a lot of things we can improve on in the passing game and everybody’s working on them. We’ll have to do a good job this week. This is a good secondary. They play good pass defense."
Belichick is right -- the Dolphins pass defense has played well this season. This unit is tied for the second-fewest pass touchdowns allowed with 16, and it also ranks No. 2 with 16 interceptions, No. 3 with an opposing QB rating of 83.7 and No. 7 with a 63.0 opposing QB completion percentage.
Patriots quarterback Cam Newton is expected to start again Sunday versus the Dolphins in Miami. Belichick reiterated his confidence in Newton after the team's Week 14 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, saying "Cam's our quarterback."
Newton has thrown only three touchdowns with eight interceptions over his last nine games. He's also failed to throw for more than 120 yards in each of the last three games.
The Patriots have a very, very slim path to the playoffs right now. If they are going to have any chance of securing a postseason berth over the next three weeks, the passing attack -- and Newton, specifically -- must show significant improvement during that span.