A lot has gone wrong for the New England Patriots in 2023

New England Patriots v Las Vegas Raiders
New England Patriots v Las Vegas Raiders / Chris Unger/GettyImages

Any scientist (or student) worth their salt will tell you that it’s always unwise to assume causations exist based solely on the presence of statistical correlations. But that doesn’t mean statistics don’t highlight areas of strength or weakness.

With that flimsy premise out of the way, here’s a peek at some of the Patriots’ statistics from the first nine weeks of the season and how they compare to the rest of the league.

Now, any Wisenheimer will tell you that if the Patriots were really good at anything, they wouldn’t be 2-7 in 2023. But if they were totally incompetent, they wouldn’t have won any games at all, would they?

So, what exactly is it that the 2023 Patriots are good at? 

Spoiler alert – it's not keeping players healthy (they already have 11 players on IR, and a further ten appear on the Week 10 injury report), winning the game, obviously, or starting well. It’s probably quicker to explore what they’re worst at.  

They’re ranked 31st in the league regarding the percentage of drives that end with points being scored. So, there’s a work-on for the upcoming Bye week.  

But what is leading to the offensive problems this season?

Well, the Patriots are ranked 28th in the league when it comes to running the ball. It's not just for their number of rushing attempts (because they’re usually playing from behind, and nothing panics on OC more than that). They’re also ranked 31st for their total number of rushing yards! Bill O’Brien really can’t seem to figure out how to use the tools at his disposal. 

Another major factor in the overall struggles is how slowly the team starts games. They score, on average, just 7.4 points in the first half! That is the fifth-fewest in the league! It's 6.2 fewer points than their Week 10 opponents the Colts score in the first half of their games.

But it’s not exclusively an offensive issue. The defense is allowing 14.2 points in the first halves, and that’s the fourth most. 

As a team, the only categories the Patriots rank highly in are categories nobody wants to lead. They’re fifth for net punt yards because they can’t get within field goal range.

They have committed the third most penalties in 2023 (ugh). But in an unusual turn of events, the penalties they concede haven’t been as costly as they could have been. On average, the Patriots penalties cost 7.4 yards per penalty, and only three teams have a lower average penalty yards per penalty.

One of the best teams in the league when it comes to something they shouldn’t be doing in the first place; that’s the Patriots’ 2023 season in a nutshell. 

In the grand scheme of things, the team is struggling mightily, but how about individual players? 

Well, Mac Jones is ninth in the league when it comes to the number of passes he’s thrown. But as previously indicated, that’s not technically a good thing.

The 2023 Patriots aren’t running Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense. They have to throw so often because the Patriots wind up behind the sticks after uninspiring first down plays. And they’re 31st for rushing yards, remember? Understandably, given that he’s thrown so many passes, he’s also thrown more pick 6s than anyone else.

Jones has thrown three in the first nine weeks of the season. But on the plus side, his ten touchdown passes are the ninth most in the league. 

Another category Jones ranks highly in is sack percentage. Only five quarterbacks have been sacked more often than Jones. And only three of those have started the same number of games as him. So, the Patriots can’t run the ball because the run blocking isn’t good enough (especially on the right side of the line), and the quarterback is getting beaten up.

So, in surprising news, the 2023 Patriots do have a top-10 player, and he’s on the offensive line! PFF ranks Trent Brown as the sixth-best offensive tackle in the league so far this season, but he’s on the Week 10 injury report. And according to ESPN, that means all four of the Patriots' left tackle options are either on IR or dealing with an issue this week.

Incidentally, Trent Williams, the cornerstone of the 49ers’ offense, is ranked 5th on this list, so Brown is in excellent company. 

Considering they have the 6th best tackle in the league on the roster, it’s baffling that the Patriots entire offensive line is rated 28th in the league by the33rdteam.com (and you could make a strong argument they’re overly generous with that assessment).

They also highlight how the Patriots have three tackles dealing with injuries, too. It’s difficult to understate the impact injuries are having on this season. 

As a result of a disappointing run game and poor pass blocking leading to inconsistent quarterback play, the receivers haven’t exactly been stellar either. The best pass catchers on the team have been Mike Gesicki and Ezekiel Elliott. However, they’ve only seen 48 targets between them, so that slightly skews the statistics.

Gesicki has caught 73.1% of his targets and Elliott 72.7% of his, meaning they are ranked 63rd and 66th in the league, respectively. Kendrick Bourne was beginning to find some form before he ruptured knee ligaments. 

But you know who the biggest surprise of the 2023 season is? It’s a different tight end, Pharaoh Brown.

He’s seen seven targets, and he’s caught all seven. He’s amassed 170 yards on those seven catches and has a league-leading average of 24.3 yards per catch as a result. With the obvious caveat that a huge part of his success has come because nobody expects him to catch passes, he’s so dangerous that O’Brien really should involve him more often.

Maybe split Gesicki out and lineup with three tight ends and two running backs on the field? It's time for Bill O’Brien to get innovative. 

All of this highlights some of the issues the offense is dealing with (although when players are putting up decent numbers, it instead hints at a coaching issue).

The defense also has more than its fair share of problems to overcome. But as their two best players (Christian Gonzalez and Matt Judon) were injured in Week 4, scouring their overall statistics seems pointless. Before the injuries, the defense was allowing just 19.6 points per game. Even a drab, dissatisfying offense could keep them in games as low-scoring as that.

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