New England Patriots: Will Week 3 Be a Wake-Up Call?
With the season in limbo, Tom Brady and company look to right the ship vs. the Bills on Sunday. Finding themselves sub-.500 for the first time since 2003, this loaded New England team has a lot of opportunity to make this season a success.
A wake-up call is in line for the entire team but specifically the offense. This team is too talented across the board not to find success in a big way. Belichick has created a team that puts up big numbers and makes the opposing team play catch-up.
Here are 10 key components to the turn around and sustained success the rest of the way.
Connecting on Longer Plays from Scrimmage in the Passing Game
The Patriots have lacked a downfield threat since Randy Moss decided to become a cancer in the locker room and quit playing. While Brandon Lloyd isn't a burner, he can stretch the field with good route-running and great hands.
The Patriots need to start stretching the field beyond 15 yards on a consistent basis. If the Patriots accomplish this, it will open up everything else in the playbook.
Keep Pressure on the Opposing Team's Quarterback
It's a pretty simple formula: apply pressure and force the other team into mistakes. The Patriots are an opportunistic team built to feast on others' mistakes.
Chandler Jones is a key component to the pass rush this year and needs to get back to Week 1 form when he wreaked havoc on Jake Locker. Expect the pass rush to be aided by more blitzes to confuse Fitzpatrick this week.
Rediscover Rob Gronkowski
Gronk has spent a lot of time lined up in a three-point stance, and much of that has to do with the developing offensive line play. With him coming off a record-setting season, I think the entire league expected more out of him.
With defenses now keying on him, they need to find ways to create space and use his size more effectively. He is an incredible weapon that can be a game-changer.
Utilize All of the Targets on Offense
The Patriots are hurting with Edelman and Hernandez both nursing injuries, but that still leaves a lot of talent on the field. Deion Branch brings sure-handedness and a knowledge of the offense, and Wes Welker led the league in receptions in 2011 and had a monster game against the Ravens.
With the arrival of Steven Ridley and steady play of Danny Woodhead, there are multiple options for the offense to eat up big chunks of yardage. The key will be making the defense defend all the players on the field. If the offense can do that, it will be tough to stop.
Make Stops in Key Situations
This has haunted the Patriots since the first Super Bowl vs. the Giants. The Patriots have always needed the lead to endure the inevitable points that were going to be scored. This has come back to haunt the team on multiple occasions: both Super Bowls vs. the Giants; the 2009 Sunday night game vs. the Colts; and now vs. the Ravens.
Someone needs to step up and become a clutch player to make the stops when needed.
Communication Along the Offensive Line
One play that didn't receive enough attention vs. the Ravens was the third-down incompletion when Paul Krueger came untouched off the edge at the end of the game. That play essentially ended the game. It was a blown assignment because of the lack of communication on the line to block down and pick up the extra man.
Keeping Brady's jersey clean and opening holes for the backs are going to be essential if the Patriots want to make another Super Bowl run. It all starts up front with the big guys and their communication.
Consistency in the Kicking Game
Kickers don't spend a lot of time on the field, but when they see the field, they have to make it count. The Patriots are two field goals away from being 3-0 and not worrying about what went wrong. The little things have to be done better. The snap, the hold and the kick.
Week in and week out, this needs to be as turn key as possible so if there is a decision at the end of the game it is an automatic decision for Belichick and the drama is removed. Having an accurate kicker can mean the difference between a Super Bowl and a terrible offseason.
Find a Third Defensive Tackle to Step Up
Vince Wilfork has been the anchor for the Patriots defensive line since he came into the league nine years ago, and Kyle Love has been a nice bright spot for the Pats. One of the big problems the has been the defense being worn down by the end of the game and not having anyone who can step in with fresh legs to fill that spot.
Someone needs to step up on the defensive line and give Wilfork and Love a breather. The more depth the line has, the better the defense will be deeper into the season. Ron Brace has yet to show his full potential, and Brandon Deaderick hasn't done much with his time this year. Someone needs to make the most of their snaps on the field.
Defend Home Turf
Essentially you can't lose again at home. Gillette Stadium should be the toughest place to play for any opponent. There needs to be a sense of urgency and pride when it comes to playing at home.
As the weather gets colder, it should give even a bigger advantage to the Patriots who should be used to the weather.
Act Like You Are Going to Win Every Game and Believe It!
This mentality will carry the Patriots a long way. The Pats shouldn't think there is one team out there that can beat them. Keeping that mentality the entire game will be key to the Patriots' success.
It starts with Belichick and McDaniels staying aggressive with play calling, Tom Brady executing plays, the line communicating and skill position players doing their jobs throughout the entire game.
The NFL is such a mental game and the Patriots are a very mature and resilient bunch. But for all of their mental fortitude, they sometimes lack some swagger. Think you're the best and act like it throughout the whole game.