Making Sense Of The Patriots’ Blowout Loss and Moving On To 2022 Regular Season

August 29, 2022
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There’s still a lot to work on for the Patriots as they approach the 2022 regular season and their season opener against the Dolphins.

This was clear this week against the Raiders in practice and in-game action. As the Patriots try to make their finishing touches to the roster, tasked with the tough job of cutting from 80 to 53 and hone their team, we look at the lessons learned from their 23-6 loss against the Raiders.

The Patriots Offensive Line Isn’t There Yet, And That Needs To Change

There certainly still is a fair share of talent on this offensive line individually, but right now, they’re simply not working together correctly for the Patriots. Pass protection and run protection are blowing up, and as a result, Mac Jones doesn’t have time to throw, and the running backs don’t have holes to run in. Unfortunately, there’s not much that the skill positions can do when such breakdowns happen. Even against a unit composed of subs, the Patriots struggled with this big time against the Raiders.

On multiple occasions, Mac had to rush his throws and could not complete passes downfield. On others, he was sacked. Poor line play can kill drives, and the Patriots’ first drive was a perfect example of this. Nevertheless, Mac and the offense got off to a good start with an eight-yard connection between Mac and Devante Parker to set up a second-and-two.

However, the line made a good situation complicated. With no room to run, Rhamondre Stevenson was tackled beyond the line of scrimmage for a four-yard loss to set up a much harder third-and-six. There, Isaiah Wynn couldn’t connect on his block until well into the backfield, and that block was quickly shed and led to a large sack.

It’s been these kinds of fundamentals plaguing the line. There were blocks yesterday that were missed, allowing for free rushers. On others, feet weren’t appropriately planted, and the lineman was pushed back. And on others, the block wasn’t cleanly placed and was then shed quickly. An offensive line is only as good as the worst block. Certainly, there’s talent on the line in terms of speed, power, and size, but what is not happening enough: is every blocker nailing every block on a given play. While defenders can shed any block, the gaps in the line allow any defender to get some penetration.

Draft pick Cole Strange has looked good for a rookie, but he showed some inexperience this week and will need to go further. Probably the most worrying part of the game was the ineptitude of players with much more experience, particularly Isaiah Wynn and Justin Herron. Looking at a number of the negative plays and turnovers in the game, poor blocking by those two was at the center of a number of them. Wynn’s being paid over 10 million dollars this year and, more importantly, is supposed to be one of the critical parts of that group. And Herron has had a good season in the past but has had a rough camp.

How much of this is the roster? How much is the confusion on offensive playcalling? How much is the new Shanahan-style inside zone offense the Patriots are trying to adopt? Whatever it is, if it’s not figured out very quickly, we don’t even need to bother analyzing QBs, WRs, and RBs, because now and always, football is a game of the trenches.

The Rookies Are Going To Have To Play A Major Role In The Patriots’Secondary

Jalen Mills has shown in camp that he is a capable CB, but we’ve also seen this week that, like pretty much every good corner in the league, he can’t single cover the best receivers in the company, and he struggled against Davante Adams in practices. The Patriots will have to execute several zones and group coverage schemes, as after losing JC Jackson in the offseason, they don’t have a shutdown corner who can have his own island. Jonathan Jones is also showing signs of evolution, anticipating and getting after the receivers and the ball. He’s been reliable, not making any costly mistakes.

Behind him, though, is where the trouble is. Shaun Wade, although promising, doesn’t quite have the experience or awareness to be a starting corner. Likewise, Terrance Mitchell is an experienced player but hasn’t come close to the form he showed in 2017 in Kansas City. There have been many times this preseason where he has struggled to keep up with opposing receivers. In one alarming play last night, he lost Tyron Johnson in his route and essentially watched as Christan Garbers completed a 45-yarder to him. These aren’t the names you expect a starting cornerback to struggle against. And overall, Terrance’s lack of speed (4.63s 40-yard time, and he’s now 30) could overshadow his experience.

The positives behind Mills and Jones have come from the other two Jones in the Patriots’ secondary, rookies Marcus and Jack. Marcus has shown his speed, agility, and his ability to catch up with receivers, even if initially behind in the route has been impressive. He has not allowed any separation to be created against him. Jack is a more opportunistic player and gets after the ball. Still, being a speedy player and having a good ability to anticipate routes, he can break up passes and get after the ball without risking big misses. In a fast NFL, these two will be extremely valuable.

The Patriots Are Going To Be Able To Get After The QB

One of the encouraging signs of the game and the entire week was the Patriots’ ability to generate a strong pass rush. The defensive front seven looks solid, and veterans Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise seem to be making steady improvements. Devon Godchaux, fresh from a nice contract extension, looks like he’s ready to build on a good 2021 and be a true disruptor on that side. In addition, Christian Barmore has arguably been the biggest Patriot standout in all training camp and is looking for a second-year breakout.

Probably the most significant improvement for the Patriots this offseason is on the linebacker side, particularly ones who can get after the quarterback. Last season, Matt Judon made waves rushing the passer but has already looked to develop better stamina and technique to avoid the previous year’s end-of-season dropoff. JaWhaun Bentley has become a defensive leader and was a solid linebacker last year but is starting to get even more aggressive and into the backfield.

Players from previous drafts who hadn’t shown their potential yet, either through injury or lack of meaningful impact, have changed that this offseason. Anfernee Jennings has spent much time lined up opposite Judon with the first-team unit and has done very well in that role. He’s an all-rounder, disrupting the run and the passing game and picking his moments to get to the quarterback. Cam McGrone, who was out with injury last year, is using his speed and athleticism and is a defensive tackling force.

The most considerable improvement, though, has been Josh Uche. He has gotten sacks in every preseason game and has been great during training camp and joint practices. His ability to make big hits and get after the quarterback was a big reason the Patriots drafted him, and he is finally showing that ability here.

We’re Going To Have To Be Patient With Mac’s New Arm

In the same way that Mac’s 48-yard connection to Nelson Agholor inspires confidence in his new, Tom House-workshopped arm, the game against the Raiders proved that it would take some time to get the deep passing game going for the Patriots. Multiple times Mac either undershot or overshot his man, and while he didn’t put the ball in dangerous situations, he also didn’t quite place it accurately. Of course, the offensive line did, in part, play a role in this.

The interception was also discouraging. Isaiah Wynn blocked his vision, so he didn’t see the defender there, but there was no reason to pass it into a blocked passing lane. While his decision-making has been good in general, there have been lapses like this, and he will need to be sharper in his second year.

He was, however, excellent at checking down and distributing the ball accurately in short to medium-length passes in both preseason games and in practice, building on his success from last year. His strengths from last year should still be brought out, and with an even wider variety of weapons, he should be in good shape to continue doing damage this year. However, it will take time to add that extra dimension to his game, even though he does have the tools to do it.

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