New England Patriots Progress Report: Where Do They Stand Headed into Week 12?

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New England Patriots Progress Report: Where Do They Stand Headed into Week 12?
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Normalcy has been restored.

It seems so long ago that all four AFC East teams were tied at 3-3, but it's only been five weeks since that time. The New England Patriots have gone 4-0, while the other three teams have all gone 1-3. 

The job's not done for New England yet, but the division is there for the taking.

Of course, in New England, it's never about getting into the playoffs—that part is usually a given—but rather, how they perform once they get there.

How do the Patriots stack up at this point in the season? What does the future hold for them? Let's take a look in this week's progress report.

 

Primary Talking Point

Aqib Talib grabbed the headlines with his pick-six on Sunday against the Colts, but as a team, it was a defensive effort like we haven't seen from the Patriots in a long time.

The Patriots defense held Andrew Luck to the lowest passer rating he's seen in the past five games, and his 62.3 passer rating was his third-lowest of the season. For the Patriots, it was their best performance in defensive passer rating on the year.

There were some bad throws from Luck that helped along the way (see Talib's pick-six), but the Patriots were doing things we haven't seen in awhile on defense.

The front seven was getting pressure (36.5 percent of Luck's drop-backs). The secondary was in position (11 passes defended, a season-high). 

The Colts lack talent at the skill positions and on the offensive line, but the Patriots have been gashed by such offenses this season already (see Week 7 vs. the Jets), so their efforts can't go unnoticed.

 

Injury Updates

In case you've been comatose and/or living under a rock for the past two days, Rob Gronkowski broke his forearm and is expected to miss anywhere from four to eight weeks following surgery. That means he'll miss this week's game against the Jets and possibly the rest of the regular season. If they're lucky, he'll be back to 100 percent in time for the playoffs.

Also, rookie defensive end Chandler Jones injured his ankle, and his status is also up in the air for Thursday night.

 

Stock Up

Devin McCourty

The third-year defensive back was asked to move to safety as of Week 7 against the Jets and has made a home for himself back there, looking far more comfortable and effective than anyone New England had previously fielded at the position. 

 

Bill Belichick

The head coach got some validation for the trade that brought Talib to New England after Talib returned an interception for a touchdown. It hasn't always been pretty, and it wasn't even all that pretty on Sunday against the Colts, but Belichick's constant tinkering with the secondary has finally begun to reap some rewards, and New England now has some stability on the back end.

 

Julian Edelman

The fourth-year wide receiver/returner had a huge night, with 222 total yards—47 rushing yards, 58 receiving yards and 117 punt-return yards—and two touchdowns, coming up just three yards shy of pulling off a trifecta with a rushing touchdown, a receiving touchdown and a return touchdown.

 

Stock Down

Kyle Arrington

The veteran defensive back was flagged for pass interference in the first quarter and was pulled for cornerback Alfonzo Dennard on the outside, and later was pulled for Marquice Cole in the slot. It's been a tough season for Arrington, who has been pulled now twice (also vs. Seattle) for his struggles.

 

Injuries

The Patriots lost their best skill position players on both sides of the ball on Sunday. Those injuries will likely have an impact on New England's race for a first-round bye in the playoffs. They can only hope that both are healthy for January.

 

Notebook

  • Thirteen carries for 28 yards are both season-lows for Stevan Ridley. That's surprising considering the Colts have one of the worst run defenses in the league. The Colts have tightened up in recent weeks, holding the Jaguars and Dolphins to a combined 121 yards on 30 carries (4.03 YPA). Forty-seven of New England's 115 rushing yards came on Edelman's reverse.
  • Don't read too much into the limited action for Danny Woodhead (11 offensive snaps, 18 percent of the team's total). The diminutive back had a huge game against the Bills, so there's no element of "doghouse" at play here. Shane Vereen (19 snaps, 31.1 percent of Sunday's total) had a heavier workload than usual, and the young back delivered with 51 yards on 12 total touches and added a touchdown run, his third of the year.
  • Brady has been one of the least-pressured quarterbacks in the league this year (pressured on 23.7 percent of his drop-backs, third-lowest in the league according to ProFootballFocus.com), and was pressured a season-low six times against the Colts.
  • Chandler Jones played just 11 snaps on Sunday before leaving with his injury. In his absence, defensive end Trevor Scott saw his most significant action of the season, playing 32 of 78 snaps according to ProFootballFocus.com. He notched just one quarterback pressure but played well in run defense, setting the edge and funnelling the backs inside.

 

Outlook

Earning a first-round bye could be a lot more difficult without Gronkowski for the final six games of the season, especially since two of those games—both home stands against the 49ers and Texans—will be hard-fought contests, to say the very least.

Of course, in New England, all the focus is on the New York Jets in a short week leading into their Thanksgiving showdown.

Will the Patriots earn a first-round bye?

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The Jets are 0-5 against teams above .500. The Patriots, meanwhile, are 5-1 against teams below .500, their lone loss coming against the Cardinals.

Should be a blowout, right? Wrong. The Jets have been within one score of the Patriots in the fourth quarter in all three of their most recent meetings, but have lost every time. If the Jets are going to pull off the upset, this is their best opportunity to do it in quite some time.

 

Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained via team press releases.

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