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5 things Patriots need to focus on in final 2 games of regular season

Ryan Hannable
December 19, 2018 - 11:38 pm

With two home games remaining, the Patriots will not be able to get their struggles on the road corrected, or prove much against a good team since the Bills and Jets are a combined 9-19 on the year, but that doesn’t mean they are meaningless.

First off, the Patriots haven’t clinched anything, not even earned a playoff berth. A win over either the Bills or Jets will do that, but they need to win both to give themselves a shot at the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye.

Not only do the games matter for playoff seeding, they also matter as a way to correct some issues that have been prevalent the last several weeks.

Here are five things the Patriots need to focus on over the next two games.

1. Stopping the run

The biggest issue on defense in the back-to-back losses has been stopping the run. The unit has allowed 7.64 yards per carry over the last three games, which is the worst three-game mark in franchise history and the fourth-worst by any NFL team since the merger. Things won’t get easier this week against the Bills as they come into the game totaling 870 yards the last five games, the second-most in the NFL over that span. One quick fix is to make defensive tackle Danny Shelton active since he’s been a healthy scratch the last three weeks. This will surely be a major coaching point, as the Patriots cannot continue this disturbing trend.

2. Defending mobile quarterbacks

The Patriots have had their fair share of issues with mobile quarterbacks over the course of the season and they will be tested again this week with Josh Allen. Although the rookie had just 16 yards rushing last week against the Lions, he averaged 111.6 yards in the three games prior to that. This will be a tough test for the Patriots, especially considering their lack of speed. It will also prepare them for a quarterback they could face in the playoffs like a Deshaun Watson, Andrew Luck, Patrick Mahomes, or even Lamar Jackson.

3. Getting offense back on track

The offense is certainly not as talented as some past units. In fact, it may be one of the least talented Tom Brady has ever had to work with. In the last five games, it has averaged 20.8 points, seven points below the season average. It won’t be easy going against a Buffalo defense that is ranked second in overall and then the Jets, who are 22nd. Specific to one player, they need to try and find a way to get Rob Gronkowski involved even though it’s clear he isn’t right health-wise. The tight end looks a lot slower than we’re used to seeing, but the offense is so much better when he’s contributing and defenses need to pay extra attention to him.

4. Correcting red zone offense

The red zone offense has been an issue for most of the season, currently 16th in the league, which isn’t right given the players on the offense and a play-caller like Josh McDaniels. It could not have gone any worse than in Pittsburgh when the unit went 0-for-3 and only came away with three total points. Since the bye week, the offense is 6-for-15 (40 percent) in the red area. As good as Buffalo’s defense is overall, it is 28th in red zone defense, so this could be a week to get things back on track.

5. Proving they have mental toughness 

A theme the last few days with the team is they lack mental toughness. This came up because of the number of penalties that appeared to snowball against the Steelers when they had a season-high 14, which was also the second-most ever under Bill Belichick. It also appears like the team has lacked the ability to come up with a big play when they need it most late in games. A strong showing in the final two games would certainly give opponents fear about playing them in the postseason.

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