New England Patriots' Week 1 Work On's

In Shakespear’s play “Henry V” the protagonist's famous speech begins “once more into the breach dear friends, once more” and that’s pretty much how the start of every NFL season feels. 
Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots
Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots / Kevin Sabitus/GettyImages

It was a strange home opener at Gillette Stadium. After an ignominious start it looked like the Eagles were about to dominate the 2023 regular season in a similar fashion to 2022. But after the impressive start they seemed to stall, rather as they did in the Super Bowl.  

After putting up 16 points in the first quarter Philadelphia only managed nine points in the next 46 minutes. The Patriots comeback fell short though after their sluggish opening 14 minutes. And that seems a pertinent place to begin. 

Start Quicker 

With so many head coaches following Sean McVay’s lead and protecting important players during preseason most teams look undercooked in Week 1. The Bengals couldn’t shake their slumber at all in Cleveland, the Patriots did at least find their feet after the first quarter. They did win the last three quarters 20-9 after all. Even though there have been changes to the Eagles defense it’s interesting to know they didn’t concede more than 304 passing yards at all in 2022. 

Secure the ball 

It’s the most basic part of any sport involving a ball, you can’t score points if you can’t maintain possession of said ball. The only interception Mac Jones threw in Week 1 wasn’t really a result of an inaccurate throw, it occurred when Kendrick Bourne failed to catch a pass. The ball burst through Bourne’s hands and popped up to Darius Slay who took it to the house. It turned out to be the longest interception return of his career. 

Jones and Zeke Elliott both fumbled the ball too, but the Patriots scrambled to recover Jones’ fumble. 

Having said that - Feed Zeke 

Rhamondre Stevenson is a great running back, but Elliott is a rare breed. Even at the age of 28 he still has highlight reel plays in him. Running against the Eagles’ defensive front is going to be near impossible for everyone in 2023. But Stevenson averaged just 2.1 yards per carry compared to Elliot’s 4.1. Despite that Stevenson still saw 63% of the carries. Losing the fumble obviously counted against Elliott but he hasn’t fumbled twice in a game since 2020 so it shouldn’t have. 

In the passing game it’s a different story. Stevenson averages 10.7 yards per reception and that’s nearly double Elliott’s 5.9. In passing situations Stevenson is undoubtedly the better option. Using Elliott on play-action passes could make Jones’ job easier though. The lack of play-action was highlighted at the start of last season too.  

"Along with playing single-high coverages, the Patriots also dialed up four "zero" blitzes without deep safety that were highly successful."

Evan Lazar on

For One Week Only - Blitz Even More 

Only the Vikings and Buccaneers blitzed more than the Patriots in Week 1 (and they played against each other remember). The Patriots defense called four zero blitzes against the Eagles. But they lined up to blitz and dropped out of it after the ball was snapped even more. Lining up to blitz and dropping out against the Dolphins would be a huge gamble. 

Rushing an explosive quarterback like Hurts tends to be counterproductive because they can just find gaps between pass rushers. Facing Tua in Week 2 is interesting, while he has the ability to step up and scramble out of the pocket the Dolphins won’t want him to. He notched up five rushing attempts in Week 1 but only recorded five yards in total. 

The Chargers failed to sack Tua and he threw for 466 yards, Tyreek Hill notched up 215 yards on his own! Los Angeles ended the game with just two QB hits, but Tua did fumble the ball twice. The best way to stop the Dolphins’ passing game is at the source. 

Get Marcus Jones More Ball

He might be a defensive back, but everyone remembers the only pass he caught in 2022. And in case you don’t it went for 48 yard touchdown. And that was the first time Jones had lined up for a snap with the offense. As much as the 2022 misfired there’s definitely one thing that should be resurrected from it. 

With two of the most explosive receivers injured and Gesicki recovering from a shoulder injury it makes sense to mix up who catches the passes. Jones was four for four in his rookie year. And he averaged 19.5 yards per target. Jones averaged 7 yards per punt return in Week 1 but he only had the opportunity to return three. 

All the other factors that would boost the Patriots’ playoff chances are what scientists call “extraneous variables”. Not playing the reigning NFC Champions every week is major factor. DeVante Parker and Tyquan Thornton recovering from injury would be huge for a quarterback who opened the season with 316 yards. Riley Reiff’s return would be a bonus too and it’d be great to see Isaiah Bolden on the field. Not playing in the murky, wet weather that greeted Tom Brady on September 10th would be a bonus too. And if the goal posts could stop giving the road team a members bounce that’d be just lovely.  

But the most important takeaway from Week 1 is to remember to take a deep breath, it’ll all be fine. No Shakespearian play is complete without some heartache and a lot of drama.