BOSTON SPORTS WAVE

Fixing the Patriots Through Free Agency

It’s no secret that it was a rough year for Patriots fans after seeing Tom Brady vanish and win his 7th Super Bowl. While the Patriots had a disappointing 7-9 season, many have questioned Bill Belichick and his ability to build a competitive roster. Some may even consider Bill Belichick to be placed on the “hot seat” heading into the 2021 season, but it seems as though these soundbites are overreactions.

The New England Patriots 2020 season will never be seen as a success, it certainly was a failure. With that said, the team went 7-9 facing one of the hardest schedules in the NFL with the most roster change and throwing a mere 12 passing touchdowns. The Patriots’ problems are fixable; given the cap space and draft capital the team will obtain this offseason, there is a lot of room for improving the roster. In order for the New England Patriots to threaten NFL teams in 2021, they must improve the on following: production from the Quarterback, Wide Receiver, and Tight End position, converting in the red-zone, on third down, and stopping the run.

Roster Change 

Starters in 2019 that were replaced:

QB: Tom Brady (16 games) 4,057 yards, 24 TDs, 8 int

OLB: Jamie Collins (15 games) 81 tackles, 7 sacks, 3 interceptions, 1 fumble,

MLB: Dont’a Hightower (15 games) 71 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 1 fumble

OLB: Kyle Van Noy (15 games) 56 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 2 fumbles

 

Who replaced them in 2020:

QB: Cam Newton (15 games) 2,657 yards, 8 TDs, 10 int

OLB: Terez Hall (4 games) 33 tackles

MLB: Ja’Whaun Bentley (13 games) 91 tackles, 1.5 sacks

OLB: Anfernee Jennings/Brandon Copeland (8 games) 22 tackles

As the team led the league by a large margin in total players opting out, the biggest problem of Patriots in 2020 was the roster. The 2019 Patriots took care of the football, stopped the run, and got to the quarterback while the 2020 Patriots struggled to throw the football, defend the run, and create pressure.

Bill Belichick did not sign a free agent during last year’s offseason until April 30th, almost two months after the offseason started. Whether it was due to cap space restrictions or belief in the roster already assembled, Bill Belichick acquired little-to-no talent this past offseason via free agency and trades. With a top four projected amount of cap space heading into the new year, expect that to change come March.

Production from the Quarterback, Wide Receiver, and Tight End position

Jakobi Meyers was the only silver lining in the receiving game and even the passing game. Everywhere else was essentially deep down at the depths of the league. Starting with the obvious, Cam Newton and the passing game:

Cam Newton

28th in passer rating

– 30th in QBR

– 26th in Air Yard

 

Team Stats

– 31st in completions and attempts

– Tied for last in passing TDs

– 29th in passing yards and 1st downs

– 29th in receiving yards and 1st downs

– 31st in receptions and TDs

– Last in Tight End: Yards, Receptions, TD, and Targets

Converting in the Red-Zone

The Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, and Tennessee Titans were he only teams that had a better record than the Patriots ranking in the bottom 10 of those categories mentioned above. The reasons why those teams ended with at least 10 wins are greater: Taking care of the football and converting in the red-zone. For instance:

Titans

Tied for 2nd in the least amount of interceptions thrown

– 2nd in the NFL in red-zone scoring percentage (74.2%) 

Browns

Tied for 3rd in least amount of interceptions thrown

– 4th in the NFL in red-zone scoring percentage (73.3%) 

Ravens

– Tied for 4th in least amount of interceptions thrown

– 15th in the NFL in red-zone scoring percentage (59%)

If a team struggles to throw the football, the only way to succeed is to take care of the football, run the ball effectively, and convert in the red zone. The New England Patriots could only do one of the three effectively. The team was 24th in the NFL in red-zone scoring percentage while being tied for 5th in interceptions thrown.

Converting on 3rd Down

To succeed in the NFL, it is essential for teams to convert on third down and move the chains. Patriots fans loved to watch Tom Brady convert third down after third down on Sundays. In 2020, the Patriots were one of the worst teams on 3rd down and further struggled to create 1st downs:

 

– 29th in passing yards and 1st downs

– 29th in receiving yards and 1st downs

– Tied for 27th on 3rd downs converted

Inability to Defend the Run

While the Patriots were one of the best running teams in the NFL, they were also one of the worst teams in defending the run. Only six teams gave up more rushing yards than New England’s defense gave up. The team gave up 131 rushing 1st downs, ranking 28th in the league.

Summary

To summarize what New England must improve on heading into the 2021 season: Production from the QB, WR, and TE position, Converting 1st downs and in the red-zone, and defending the run. With that being said, what sort of names can come to Foxboro and fix these problems?

Solutions on 3rd Down

Wide Receiver:

Allen Robinson

6th in the NFL in 1st down receptions (68)

Marvin Jones

19th in the NFL in 1st down receptions (52) 

Corey Davis

24th in the NFL in 1st down receptions (49)

All were higher on this list than the Patriots leading 1st down receiver (Jakobi Meyers- 37)

Solutions in the Red-Zone

Wide Receiver:

Allen Robinson

– Tied for 5th in red-zone targets (18)

Curtis Samuel

– Tied for 8th in red-zone receptions (8)

– 7th best red-zone catch percentage (83%)

– 14th in red-zone yards (76) 

Marvin Jones

– 10th in red-zone receptions (9)

– Tied for 9th in red-zone targets (14) 

Tim Patrick

– Tied for 10th in red-zone receptions (9)

– Tied for 13th in red-zone targets (10)

– 6th in red-zone TDs (6)

– Tied for 2nd in best red-zone catch percentage (90%)

Keelan Cole

– Tied for 8th in red-zone TDs (4)

Tight End

Jonnu Smith

Tied for 5th in red-zone TDs (8)

– Tied for 9th in red-zone receptions (10)

Robert Tonyan

Best red-zone catch percentage (min 4 attempts) 11 targets, 10 catches (90.9%)

– Tied for 5th in red-zone TDs (7)

Solutions on Stopping the Run

Linebacker

Neville Hewitt

– Hewitt stepped up for New York in 2020, tallying 134 tackles and 2 sacks

Denzel Perryman

– Earned a PFF grade of 86.3 against the run 

Defensive Lineman

Dalvin Tomlinson

– Recorded 49 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and ranks in the 82nd percentile in PFF run-defense grade since 2017

Shelby Harris

Ranks in the top third of the league in run-stop percentage since 2018

 Kawann Short

– When healthy, earned a 91 run defended pff grade in 2017 and is the 6th highest graded DL since 2013

Closing Thoughts:

If New England can acquire two of the wide receivers mentioned above with a tight end, their offense will get back to a competing level, especially if maybe even someone such as Jimmy Garoppolo is under center. Addressing the depth issues on the front-seven will be critical to defending opposing running games in 2021.

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