The Patriots enter their bye week at 5-1 and sit atop the AFC East Standings. Things seem to be coming into place for the team as after a rough start the defense is starting to come together, and the offense has scored over 30 points in every game, except their last game, a 20-16 win over the Cowboys.
After the bye the team faces three tough opponents. They will travel to Pittsburgh, although it seems the Patriots always fair well against the Steelers. Following that they will host the Giants and then travel to the Meadowlands to face the Jets on Sunday Night Football, who will be seeking revenge after their loss to the Patriots earlier in the year.
Here are four thoughts on how the season has gone thus far for the Patriots:
1. Tom Brady still at the top of his game
Brady has continued to be one of, if not the best quarterback in the game. He has averaged 350 yards per game passing and thrown for 16 touchdowns. In week 1 against the Dolphins Brady threw for 517 yards, which is the most in the league this season. The one negative thing this season for Brady has been his interceptions. After six games he has thrown eight interceptions. He only threw four all of last season. He is still the leader of the team, and puts the team on his back. A perfect example was last week against the Cowboys, he didn’t have his best game, but he led the offensive down the field in the last two minutes for a game winning touchdown drive. I expect the same from Brady the remainder of the season with the interceptions being cut down.
2. The defense is starting to come together
Although they are a great distance away from the Super Bowl defense, the 2011 Patriots defense is starting to come together. They put together two solid performances against the Jets and the Cowboys in the past two games. Those games were without their leader, linebacker Jerod Mayo. At the beginning of the season the unit looked a lot like last years group where they would give up a ton of yards, but then be bailed out by causing a turnover. In the end that came back to bite them as they did not force in a turnover in the playoffs and were eliminated by the Jets. In the past few games the defense has stepped up and haven’t given up the yards that they used to. Against the Jets they only allowed 255 of total offense and held the Jets to 3-11 on third down. Last week against the Cowboys, and their explosive offense the unit held them to 377 total yards and held strong on third down, as the Cowboys were 4-12. The defense will play a major role on how far the Patriots go this season. If they continue to grow each week, they could be playing well into January.
3. Devin McCourty’s sophomore slump
There really isn’t any other way to describe it — McCourty hasn’t been the same player that he was last season. It all started in the preseason, you could tell McCourty just wasn’t the same guy as he was last season. No longer are opposing quarterbacks afraid to throw McCourty’s way. In fact, in week one he was the most targeted corner back in the entire league, per Pro Football Focus. The second-year corner doesn’t seem to be in the correct position on a number of plays and he either has to commit a penalty or the receiver is able to make the catch. In order for the Patriots defense to continue to grow his play needs to get better, or else opposing quarterbacks could have field days against the Patriots secondary.
4. Chad Ochocinco’s first six weeks as a Patriot
For making $5.5 million this season, Ochocinco surely hasn’t performed to that number, but for what his job is with the team I am in the minority that feel he is helping the team. On the season he only has nine catches for 136 yards and no touchdowns. His role is the number three receiver. He is the best number three receiver Brady has had in his career in New England. Ochocinco does a lot of things that don’t show up in the box score. He is drawing the attention from opposing defenses which is allowing other players like Wes Welker, and the two tight ends to get open and have the great seasons that they are having. People make the argument that Taylor Price, or Brandon Tate could be doing the same thing as Ochocinco has done this season. Well, would Darrelle Revis ever line up across from either of those two? Ochocinco still draws attention from opposing defenses. He hasn’t been an issue in the locker room either, so why is he heavily criticized each week? He isn’t in the game plan some weeks and that is a major reason why he isn’t producing. A major example of that is last week. Ochocinco was only on the field six plays, but the Patriots only ran seven plays all game in a three wide receiver set. The Patriots are not game planning around Ochocinco, they are game planning around the team, and what is best for the team. This is something they didn’t do with Randy Moss. Ochocinco is not going anywhere and although it may not show in the box score he is helping the team.