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5 things Patriots need to work on during bye week

Ryan Hannable
November 13, 2018 - 11:33 pm

The Patriots finally have their bye this week before the final six games, plus the playoffs.

While the team is 7-3, it is coming off one of its worst games of the season, a 34-10 loss in Tennessee where a number of issues were exposed.

The good news is the bye will allow its injured players to get healthy and the team can spend some time working on some self-scouting to serve them well down the stretch.

Here are five things the Patriots need to work on over the next week or so.

1. Getting more people involved on offense

While it’s likely Rob Gronkowski will return following the bye week, it’s hard to know exactly how he will be. The Patriots cannot count on him to carry the load of the offense, so it’s going to need to get more production from other offensive pass-catchers. Against the Titans, Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon and James White combined for 32 targets on Tom Brady’s 41 pass attempts. That needs to change.

Looking back at the tape, Brady missed Chris Hogan on several plays and Phillip Dorsett has made plays when he’s been in the game. The Patriots offense is at its best when a number of people are involved, so Brady and the Patriots need to try and figure out ways to get Hogan and Dorsett more opportunities, and that could include giving Dorsett more playing time.

2. Correcting special teams issues

This has been one of the more puzzling parts to the entire season. Last year the Patriots special teams units were among the best in the league, and this year they are near the bottom. It isn’t like anything drastically changed, either. Joe Judge is still the coach and then core special teamers Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner, Jonathan Jones and Brandon King are still around.

New England is ranked dead-last in the NFL when it comes to opponent starting field position. Not only that, the Patriots are allowing the fourth-most yards per kick return and second-most yards per punt return. Clearly, this is something that needs to change moving forward, as it really could come back to hurt them come the playoffs.

3. Finding consistent pass rush

As we know, sacks are not everything, but the Patriots enter the bye week with just 15 sacks on the year, and that is the third-fewest in the entire league. It is also worth noting they have played one more game than almost every team, which makes it even worse. A common theme in losses has been a lack of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which was the case Sunday against Marcus Mariota.

Overall, Trey Flowers has been outstanding, perhaps the best player on the Patriots defense, but according to Pro Football Focus, Sunday was the first game since Week 16 of 2016 where he didn’t record a pressure. Adrian Clayborn and Deatirch Wise have shown flashes, but need to be more consistent. The Patriots’ front-seven needs to find ways to make opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable.

4. Getting Tom Brady right

No, Brady isn’t slipping, he just isn’t playing at the same level we’ve seen the last few years, especially last year when he won the MVP. There’s no question his play has dropped off this year, but that is because of a number of factors. The biggest reason is the players around him. At age 41, Brady is still being asked to carry the offense, and that is a tough ask.

Brady is only in the top-10 in one major statistical category (yards) and the Patriots need him to get going again. The quarterback is 16th in QB rating, which trails Mitchell Trubisky, Kirk Cousins, Andrew Luck and more. Perhaps getting some of the injured players back will give Brady more confidence and thus improve his play.

5. Solving road problems

It’s not like the Patriots can do anything about it, but their three losses have all been on the road and have been by a combined 49 points. The common theme in those games is falling behind by double digits in the first quarter. They have been unable to match the intensity of opponents, all of which have been extra fired up — Jaguars wanting revenge, Matt Patricia facing old team and then all the multiple Titans who had ties to New England.

Getting off to good starts will be crucial the rest of the way as the Patriots are a much better team when they are controlling the game and setting the tempo, not having it dictated by the opponent.

Related: Patriots reportedly make multiple roster moves, including activating second-round pick Duke Dawson off injured reserve