Patriots' 3 Biggest Concerns Heading into NFL Week 15

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistDecember 15, 2021

Patriots' 3 Biggest Concerns Heading into NFL Week 15

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    The New England Patriots got a well-deserved week off in Week 14, but they enter the final stretch of the regular season with a real shot at the No. 1 seed and a potential Super Bowl run. 

    A lot of things have gone right for the Patriots to be in this position. After the mediocrity of last season and the shift to a rookie quarterback in Mac Jones, this could be considered one of the best coaching jobs that Bill Belichick has done. 

    That's obviously saying something about one of the best coaches to ever do it. 

    The job is far from over, though. The Patriots own the league's longest win streak right now with seven straight. They would be the top seed in the AFC if the season ended today.  

    There are still four weeks left in the season to finish things out. As they look over the final four weeks and the path to the top seed and a potential playoff run, here are the three things the Pats should be most concerned about. 

The Red-Zone Offense

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    When it comes down to it, execution matters most when it counts the most. That means winning third downs to sustain drives and scoring touchdowns in the red-zone to finish them. 

    The Patriots have had no problems with the first part. They are seventh in the league in third-down conversion percentage (43.3 percent). The latter part has been an issue. The Patriots are scoring touchdowns on just 54.4 percent of their trips inside the 20. 

    That's 26th in the league. 

    The numbers have been trending downward, too. Over the last three weeks, they have only come away with a touchdown on 33.3 percent of their red-zone opportunities. 

    Mac Jones has not been the problem. The rookie quarterback has excelled inside the 20, throwing for 11 touchdowns with no interceptions and a passer rating of 105.5. 

    The only saving grace to this point is that the defense has been lights out inside the 20. Teams are routinely forced into turnovers or field goals where it counts, and the Pats D is ranked second in the league.

Stopping Jonathan Taylor

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    An unstoppable force is scheduled to meet an immovable object on Saturday night when the Patriots defense meets Jonathan Taylor. 

    When you look at the big picture, this looks like a matchup for the ages. Taylor leads the league in rushing by over 300 yards with 1,348 on the season. His 5.6 yards per carry are only topped by scrambling quarterbacks Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson and Jalen Hurts. 

    The Patriots defense, on the whole, has been the best in the league. They are third in yards per play, first in points per game and sixth in third-down conversion percentage. 

    The lone kryptonite that can be pointed out is they are just average against the run. 

    They are giving up 4.4 yards per carry and 114.5 yards per game. They have given up big days to much less talented backs. In Week 12, Dontrell Hilliard (12 carries, 131 yards) and D'Onta Foreman (19 carries, 109 yards) both had big days for the Titans

    Taylor is having a much better season than both of them. 

    Winning against the Colts would keep the Pats in position to take the top seed. In order to do that, they'll need to at least slow Taylor. That's a scary proposition. 

Week 16 Buffalo Bills Rematch

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    The Patriots still hold a two-game lead in the AFC East, which is fairly commanding when you consider there are only four weeks left. 

    But if there's one game on the calendar that should be circled it's the Week 16 rematch with the Buffalo Bills. The Patriots did a great job of adapting to the weather in their Monday night matchup the first time around. 

    Belichick straight up took the ball out of Mac Jones' hands, relied on his ground game and turned the match into a defensive slugfest. 

    The Bills did not have the ground game to do the same thing and instead relied on Josh Allen throwing into wild gusts of wins to outscore one of the best passing defenses in the league. 

    The rematch should be one of the most-watched games of the week and an interesting look at how much the weather factored into the first game. Allen has played at an MVP level at times this season, so with the weather figuring to be much less important the second time around, we will get a true heavyweight matchup between him and the Pats secondary. 

    It's going to be an incredibly important matchup as it represents the Bills' last chance to get in the AFC East race. The Patriots finish with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins, so a win over the Bills would likely set them up to cruise to another division title.