Patriots have been unusually cold on third downs in recent weeks

Patriots have been unusually cold on third downs in recent weeks

The New England Patriots offense hasn't been quite as sharp in 2019 as it has been in recent seasons. There are quite a few reasons for this. The offensive line is banged-up, the receiving corps is lacking weapons, and the run game hasn't been able to get going.

These problems have definitely played a role in the Patriots offense sputtering, but one underrated area that the team has been struggling in is converting third downs.

On the surface, it doesn't appear that they've been having many issues with this. After all, their percentage of conversions has come close to matching their pace from the past two seasons. Just take a look at the data:

Year Conversions/Attempts Percent
2019 52/131 39.7
2018 82/201 40.8
2017 82/202 40.6

But a deeper dive shows that in recent weeks, the Patriots' third-down conversion percentage has been poor.

According to the "Boston Sports Info" Twitter account, the Patriots have converted just 13 of their last 41 third-down attempts (31.7 percent conversion rate) dating back to their game against the Jets. In that contest, they converted their first four third downs before their struggles began.

If the Patriots can't rectify this issue against the stronger teams and defenses that they will be facing in the next four weeks, this could quickly become a major problem for them. As it stands, their offense has had trouble moving the ball. If third downs continue to be a problem, then the unit's struggles will only intensify.

We'll see if the Patriots were able to improve upon their third-down game plan during the bye week in their game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The game kicks off at 4:25 p.m. ET but you can catch pregame coverage on NBC Sports Boston and the MyTeams app starting at 1 p.m. ET.

Tom E. Curran previews Patriots-Eagles in NFL Week 11>>>

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Patriots Talk Podcast: Jacoby Brissett on sharing a QB room with Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo

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Patriots Talk Podcast: Jacoby Brissett on sharing a QB room with Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo

The New England Patriots once had a quarterback group featuring Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Jacoby Brissett. All three were starters this past season in the NFL and one will be playing in the Super Bowl.

And as all New England fans know, it isn't Brady.

Yes, in 2020, Garoppolo will get his first crack as a Super Bowl starter when his San Francisco 49ers take the field against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday in Miami. Garoppolo already has two rings as a backup for the Patriots, but he now will get a chance to earn one himself.

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Ahead of Garoppolo's biggest matchup, Tom E. Curran caught up his former teammate, Brissett, to discuss Garoppolo's success with the 49ers.

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And when Curran asked Brissett point-blank if he was proud of Garoppolo, Brissett didn't hesitate to answer. 

No question. You know, just to see, like, where he was ... I mean, we were together what, three years ago? But the relationship has carried throughout and just to see how far he's come because I know some of the things he's been through. Last year, he tears his ACL. And this year, he's in the Super Bowl. It's no shock when you watch him work and go about his business and when you watch him on the field.

And why is Garoppolo finding so much success? It's hard to explain, says Brissett.

It's hard to explain. It's just Jimmy. He just somehow finds a way. I remember when we were getting ready for Arizona and he went out there and balled. And it was just like, yeah that looks right.

A lot about Garoppolo's play "looked right" during his time with the Patriots, and that's part of the reason that Bill Belichick was so reluctant to trade him. But ultimately, the deal was completed and now, Garoppolo is going to get a chance to win a title with his new team.

For more of Curran's interview with Brissett including Brissett's thoughts on sharing a QB room with Brady and Garoppolo as well as Curran and Phil Perry's thoughts on the 20th anniversary of Belichick's hiring,  check out the latest episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast, which drops every Tuesday and Thursday as a part of the NBC Sports Boston podcast network.

Charlie Weis on Tom Brady's future: Why is he a free agent if he didn't want to look into it?

Charlie Weis on Tom Brady's future: Why is he a free agent if he didn't want to look into it?

MIAMI — Few know what Tom Brady has meant to the growth and development of the Patriots dynasty better than Charlie Weis. 

The former Patriots offensive coordinator, who's now working as a Sirius XM NFL Radio host, helped guide Brady from young game-manager to one of the game's greats. Together they refined the Erhardt-Perkins offensive system that's broken records.

On Radio Row on Monday afternoon, I asked Weis what he thinks will happen with Brady this offseason. Where will the 43-year-old quarterback, who's scheduled to hit free agency for the first time in his career, end up?

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"Let me give two answers to that," Weis said. "I'm just going over what I hope happens and then a practical answer, too. For the New England Patriots, I hope Tommy retires as a New England Patriot for their fans, for their owner, for the organization. I want it to look like when Eli [Manning] walked away the other day. 

"I want to be sitting in the front row — well, it used to be the front row, it'll probably be the eighth row now — I want to be sitting in that audience when they're having his announcement of retirement."

But Weis understands the reality of pro football. He understands the uncertainty involved when a player hits the market. He understands the possibility exists that the storybook ending may not be the ending for a quarterback who's scrawled dozens of fairy tales over the course of 20 years in New England.

"That being said," Weis continued, "Joe Montana left the 49ers, right? My only question, and it's rhetorical, but Tommy's an unrestricted free agent. If he didn't want to at least look into that, why would he be an unrestricted free agent? I'm just asking. It's a rhetorical question. We don't have to give an answer to that. That's not the answer that I hope happens, but, I mean, it's a worthy question to ask."

It is. Brady had the franchise tag option removed for 2020 when he and the Patriots re-worked his deal last summer. He invited the opportunity to have some autonomy over his future. As a result, he'll have a chance to gauge the market and see how teams value his services.

How many teams believe he's the quarterback who three seasons ago won the MVP? How many believe he's the quarterback who two seasons ago made key throws in the AFC title game and Super Bowl to win a sixth Lombardi? How many teams believe he's the middling quarterback his 2019 numbers suggest he might be?

By the time the NFL Combine rolls around next month, and as the league creeps closer toward the legal tampering period ahead of free agency — March 16 and 17 — that market will likely have crystallized. Both for Brady and the Patriots. 

It seems unlikely that, given the way 2019 played out, the Patriots would be willing to go beyond what they gave Brady last year — a one-year deal worth $23 million — when Brady was looking for a longer commitment. But last year the Patriots didn't have to compete with other teams for Brady's services. 

To what lengths will Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft be willing to go to ensure Brady is back? To what lengths would another ownership group be willing to go in order to win the Brady bid, improving their quarterback position and upping their profile? 

If Brady is still trying to make a decision well into the tampering period and into free agency, it puts the Patriots in an awkward position. As we pointed out last week, would the Patriots go after another quarterback in order to make sure they're covered at that spot?

If they wait and wait for Brady, chances are he could choose another team. And chances are, by then, the rest of the league's quarterback dominoes could have fallen, and the Patriots would be forced to go with Jarrett Stidham, a rookie, or a less-than-desirable free agent. 

It's a delicate dance. Emotions, dollars, legacies hang in the balance. But if Brady hits free agency, it's inevitable.

And if he didn't want to hit free agency, as Weis explained, then why would he be an unrestricted free agent?