The Patriots have just wrapped up their bye week and now will focus their attention to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Coach Bill Belichick has said that the coaching staff uses their bye week to focus a lot on scouting themselves and looking at areas where they need to get better. While the team is 5-1, there are still areas that need to be improved on for their success to continue.
Two areas where I see the team needs to improve on is the pass defense as well as protecting quarterback Tom Brady.
1. Pass defense
Although this area improved in the last two games prior to the bye, it still is an area of concern. The play of almost every player in the secondary has been inconsistent this season. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the year has been the play of second-year cornerback Devin McCourty. As a rookie last year he was getting some comparisons to Darrelle Revis. He has not played even close to that level this season. He hasn’t been very consistent his season and opposing quarterbacks have not been afraid to throw his way. The biggest issue for McCourty on the year has been his positioning. He hasn’t put himself in the right positions to make plays on passes, even his tackling has been an issue. Safety Patrick Chung has been the most consistent of the group, but he has missed some time due to injury. Kyle Arrington leads the league in interceptions, but this doesn’t mean that he is constantly making plays. For at least two of the four it was a matter of him being in the right place at the right time. A major factor for this units inconsistency has been the injuries, they really have piled up and they have not had a game where they have been completely healthy and everyone has played. The past two weeks have been positives for the secondary, and the team needs to build on them. If they don’t continue to get better opposing quarterbacks will have field days against this group that is not so talented as other units of the team.
2. Pass protection
Brady has been hit a lot more than past seasons it would appear this season. Part of this could be because the Patriots have gone against some talented defensive lines, but part of it is the offensive line has not performed to as high of a level as they have in past years. Left tackle Matt Light has shown his age at times and has been beaten badly a few plays this season. A back injury to Sebastian Vollmer has forced rookie Nate Solder into a starting role at right tackle. While he has stepped in fairly nicely as a rookie, he still has been beaten on a number of plays this season. Even Pro-Bowl tackle Logan Mankins has had his issues at times this season. These breakdowns have allowed Brady to take a lot more shots than he is used to. In six games Brady has been hit 28 times and been sacked 11 times, which is good for 10th in the NFL in number of sacks allowed per pass play. The Patriots offensive line used to be one of the best in the league in protecting their quarterback. While they have done a decent job this year, Brady is so much better when he has time to stand in the pocket and find an open receiver, once he has to move around is when he starts to struggle. The offensive lines play the remainder of the season has a major role in the success both the team and Brady will have.