New England Patriots Week 17 Stock Report
It's been a long month-and-a-half for the New England Patriots.
After starting the season 10-0, the Patriots have dropped three of their past five games, including a 26-20 upset to the New York Jets in overtime in Week 16.
Injuries are starting to take their toll on the NFL's model franchise. Several key players who are out of action have forced the Patriots to alter their game plans and strategies to keep things copacetic. Unfortunately for the Patriots, the results haven't always been satisfactory.
Some players have held up their end of the bargain, while others are leaving room for improvement. Here's a look at both ends of the spectrum.
Stock Down: Offensive Line
Much like Tom Brady himself, the Patriots offensive line is doing the best it can with what it has.
On Sunday, the unit was without Sebastian Vollmer for all but five offensive snaps, which left Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle as the top offensive tackles.
Surprisingly, Brady was sacked just twice on the day, but he spent half the time under some kind of pressure. According to Pro Football Focus, he was pressured 16 of the 33 times he dropped back to throw and completed just eight of his 14 throws (57.1 percent) for 72 yards in those situations.
The offensive line won't be under as much of a microscope when Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola make their return in the playoffs, but the team is going to have to make the best of what is left up front.
Stock Up: Tom Brady
The Patriots offense did not look as effective Sunday as it has for much of the season, but then again, the team was also without many of its most important weapons.
Give Tom Brady credit. The future Hall of Fame quarterback was 22-of-31 passing while working without Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola and with backup wide receiver Keshawn Martin as his primary target. He also worked most of the day while under immense pressure, as mentioned in the previous slide, mainly as a result of the lack of his two best short-route receivers in Edelman and Amendola.
Brady orchestrated a masterful 11-play, 66-yard touchdown drive to tie the game and send it to overtime. Who knows if he would have worked the same magic had he had an opportunity in overtime, but Brady deserves a lot of credit for the Patriots having a chance in the game at all.
Stock Down: Leonard Johnson
Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker are two of the more physically dominant wide receivers in the NFL, so it stands to reason that at 5'10", Patriots cornerback Leonard Johnson had his hands full with both men.
According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson allowed five receptions on six passes thrown his direction for 55 yards. But that wasn't the end of his tough day, as Johnson collided with safety Tavon Wilson in overtime on Quincy Enunwa's 48-yard reception that set up the game-winning touchdown.
So far, Johnson has had one good game (allowed one reception on three targets against the Houston Texans) and one bad game (Sunday against the Jets). Johnson has shown that he has potential, but clearly, there is still some room for improvement.
Stock Up: Jabaal Sheard
The Patriots front seven has been its greatest strength on defense this season, and one of the hidden gems of that group has been defensive end Jabaal Sheard.
On Sunday against the Jets, Sheard tallied five hurries and a sack-fumble of Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. This season, he has registered eight sacks, which is one short of his career high. He has also registered pressure 39 times with four quarterback hits, according to Pro Football Focus.
Those numbers make him the league's best pass-rushing 4-3 defensive end. The Patriots brought Sheard in to help take some of the burden off Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. Sheard has been much more than that and has proved to be a crucial component to the defense the season.
Stock Down: Running Game
What do you expect?
The Patriots have lost their top two running backs to injury, with both Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount on injured reserve. Neither of them is coming back, so the Patriots are going to have to make do with what's left on the roster (and, in some cases, what's not on the roster).
The Patriots signed running back Steven Jackson to their backfield last week to at least give themselves an option in the event of an emergency, but on the day, the Patriots running backs combined for just 63 yards on 22 carries (2.9 YPA).
The offense has struggled to run the ball all season and ranks 29th in the league in rushing yards per game and 28th in rushing yards per carry. So far, the lack of a running game has not completely come back to bite the Patriots.
In the playoffs, though, it's anyone's guess.