The Miami Dolphins end their 2019 season on the road, visiting the New England Patriots. A lot has changed for both teams as compared to their Week 2 meeting in Miami, though they are both about where they were expected to end the season - New England as the AFC East champions and the Dolphins in last place in the division.
New England is 12-3 on the season, but they are “struggling” to find themselves on offense - at least that is what the analysts say. How much of the struggle is real? I asked Bernd Buchmasser, managing editor of Pats Pulpit, SB Nation’s Patriots site, for his thoughts on the Patriots’ struggles this year, as well as the offensive strengths for New England.
I’ll start with the weaknesses, because they serve as important context when it comes to the strengths. In my opinion, the biggest issue so far has been inconsistency — both in terms of personnel and performance.
The Patriots’ offensive line lost its starting center (David Andrews) because of blood clots in his lungs before the season even began, for example, while the rest of the lineup was not exactly a model of stability either: all in all, the top unit has played only 250 of a possible 1,088 offensive snaps together so far this season. Furthermore, the wide receiver and tight end groups have seen considerable turnover as well. Just look at the Patriots’ personnel in Week 2 when they had the likes of Josh Gordon, Antonio Brown and Ryan Izzo play considerable snaps. Gordon and Brown are gone, Izzo is now little more than an emergency option. Meanwhile, players such as previously injured first-round rookie N’Keal Harry, in-season trade acquisition Mohamed Sanu and re-signed veteran tight end Benjamin Watson have stepped up to fill their roles.
Having this much turnover across the board during the season hurt the Patriots, especially when it comes to the overall chemistry: from the offensive line seeing the game through one set of eyes — something O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia preaches on a regular basis — to the pass catchers not getting on the same page as Tom Brady, the constant personnel movement made it hard for the unit to find much of a rhythm both in the running and the passing game.
Of course, to blame everything on just that would be naive. Players have also simply not performed well at times: the offensive line had breakdowns even from experienced players such as right guard Shaq Mason and right tackle Marcus Cannon; the wide receivers failed to consistently get open against press-man coverage; the running backs had a hard time generating yards after contact or reading their blocks correctly; Brady locked in too much on Julian Edelman and James White at times. Add it all up, and you get why consistency has been an issue.
That being said, the unit does still have considerable strengths: from everything Tom Brady — his decision-making, pocket movement and, yes, throwing technique are still very good — to the upside of players like N’Keal Harry and running backs Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead. If they can get more consistent in their performance, the unit as a whole should become much more potent than it was over much of the last few weeks. The game against Buffalo last Saturday, when the team scored 24 points and produced some long, time-consuming drives by running the ball well and challenging the defense with misdirection concepts, was a glimpse of the group’s potential.
Check back later for a look at the Patriots defense. You can also head over to Pats Pulpit for more on New England ahead of Sunday’s game.