Following byes, Belichick's Patriots have racked up a 10-3 record.
However, with the upstart Carolina Panthers (6-3) looming, the Patriots will need to be in top form to keep the winning trend going.
Here is what you need to know going into Week 11.
Story To Watch
The Patriots took a unique tack to replace the incarcerated Aaron Hernandez this season. They didn't. It seems like they are going to do the same with Jerod Mayo.
The Patriots didn't play a ton of three-linebacker sets even with Mayo, but according to ESPN.com's Mike Reiss, that number doesn't look like it is going to go up anytime soon.
Overall, here are the numbers for the season (includes penalties):
Sub defense: 454 of 667 snaps
Base defense: 199 of 667 snaps
Short-yardage: 14 of 667 snaps
With the Patriots spending 68 percent of their snaps in sub this season, it highlights the value of No. 5 and No. 6 defensive back such as Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan, as compared to a third linebacker.
Expect to see a lot of Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower, with a smattering of Dane Fletcher in dime situations. Jamie Collins was picked with 2014 in mind—Spikes is a free agent after this season—and it looks like his biggest contributions will take place then.
What The Patriots Have Done Well
Normally, this is where I tell you what I think needs to improve based on last week's game. However, with the bye week, I think this a is a great time to talk about what things are going well in New England.
1. Defensive Backfield
If you took the following sentence and showed it to a Patriots fan a few years ago, he would have you institutionalized. The Patriots defensive backfield has been incredibly solid this year.
When healthy, Aqib Talib contained some of the top receiving threats in the NFL. In his stead, Alfonzo Dennard hasn't looked out of place. When Kyle Arrington has been able to play in the slot, he has performed very well. Rookie Logan Ryan, while there have been some bad plays, has made some big plays and looks to be improving on a weekly basis.
At the safety position, Devin McCourty has been the all-around best safety in the league according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Steve Gregory and Duron Harmon have also met or exceeded expectations.
2. Improved Pressure
Coverage and pressure go hand in hand, so you can't mention one without the other. Both Rob Ninkovich (13th) and Chandler Jones (20th) are ranked inside the top 20 in Pro Football Focus' pass-rush proficiency statistic for 4-3 defensive ends. Rookie Chris Jones ranks 22nd for defensive tackles.
Michael Buchanan started strong but faded and seems to have been replaced by free-agent acquisition Andre Carter in the rotation.
Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins have both shown that they can pressure the quarterback when called upon as well.
3. New Receiver Production
After some early difficulties—drops and poor reads the main culprits—the new receivers that the Patriots brought in this summer are starting to gel with Tom Brady.
Aaron Dobson has come on strong over the past month, totaling 454 yards on 31 catches—including four touchdowns—in just eight games. He seems to have developed a solid rapport with Brady, earning targets in crucial situations.
Kenbrell Thompkins started strong but seems to have been replaced by Dobson on the depth chart. That said, getting 334 yards and four touchdowns—including a game-winner against the Saints—from an undrafted free agent is a fine result.
Danny Amendola has shown some incredible toughness this year, battling through groin and head injuries already. I think Amendola's best football in New England is still ahead of him.
While Josh Boyce hasn't made much of an impact, his physical skills are evident. Patriots fans will need to be patient with him.
4. Offensive Line Play
In an interview with Scott Zolak on 98.5 The Sports Hub (h/t ESPN.com), Tom Brady singled out the offensive line as a group that has helped the Patriots win.
"The offensive line has been the strength for us," Brady said. "It's a great group, smart guys that really work hard, that put the time in and do great in the run game, great in the pass game."
While the offensive line has had some issues—the interior especially—it has kept Tom Brady healthy and has opened up consistent holes for the team's running backs.
The offensive line will have all it can handle against the Panthers this week.
AFC East Results
Buffalo Bills vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Recap
Despite EJ Manuel's return, the Bills offense struggled to put up points against a Steelers defense that gave 55 points to the Patriots in Week 9. Other than a late touchdown to rookie Chris Gragg, the Bills offense was anemic, gaining only 227 yards on the day, with a good portion of those coming when the game was already out of reach.
Antonio Brown, who gained 104 yards through the air, proved to be too much for cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who doesn't seem to be fully recovered from his wrist injury.
The Bills face the Jets next week.
The Dolphins were unable to overcome a cacophony of errors early on—including dropped passes, a safety and poor blocking—losing 22-19 to the previously winless Buccaneers. Ryan Tannehill and Mike Wallace still seem to lack a connection, while the Dolphins offensive line was in shambles.
One of the biggest questions I have with Miami is why Dion Jordan—a player Jeff Ireland traded up for—hasn't seen the field more often.
The Dolphins face the Chargers in Week 11.
|AFC East Standings|
New York Jets (Bye)
After their bye in Week 10, the Jets will try to win back-to-back games for the first time this year against the floundering Bills.
The Patriots still hold a two-game lead in the AFC East, with only two divisional games left. With the Dolphins organization in disarray and Buffalo folding, this looks like a two-team race down the stretch.
The Jets' 2-4 conference record looms large in potential tiebreaker scenarios, as the Patriots and Jets each have only one divisional loss.
Their is finally some positive news to report regarding the injury situation. Shane Vereen is off short-term injured reserve, and I expect him to play this weekend against the Panthers.
The Vereen news is offset by the fact that the Patriots will be missing Steve Gregory for a couple of weeks according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Duron Harmon and Tavon Wilson will be asked to fill in across from Devin McCourty, while Dont'a Hightower will likely take over the communication duties.
While Aqib Talib has been limited in practice lately, my sense is that he will be able to suit up this week.
All stats courtesy of NFL.com and the Patriots' official media site.
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