After cruising to six straight victories heading to Tennessee in Week 10, the Patriots were dominated in a fashion we haven’t seen in the Brady-Belichick era. The 34-10 loss marked the largest margin of victory for a Patriot opponent this deep into the season since the year 2000.
Generally the Patriots thrive as the season progresses, particularly entering their bye week. New England had been 9-0 in its last nine games before the bye week, with an average margin of victory at more than 22 points per game.
With a record of 7-3, what do the Patriots need to work on when they come out of the bye?
Spreading the ball around
Tom Brady looked uncomfortable as ever trying to navigate a stout Titans defense, and it left him with tunnel visions towards his top two targets. Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon both saw 12 targets each, while the remaining wide receivers on the roster combined for three total targets.
While Edelman produced a solid game, securing nine of those targets for 104 yards, Gordon was only able to bring in four receptions. Brady seemed to be forcing it to Gordon down the field while giving up on open receivers on shorter routes, even on some big missed third-down opportunities. While these issues game to a head in Tennessee, the targets in the passing game have been tending in this direction with Rob Gronkowski out of the lineup. In the victory over the Packers, Brady looked for Edelman and Gordon a combined 19 times, throwing to his other receivers just six times.
Finding their stride on the road
While everything looks good on the surface, the Patriots home/road splits bring up big issues with this team. The Pats are 5-0 at home this season, scoring 35.4 points on average. Those numbers drop to a 2-3 record on the road, scoring a mere 20.6 points per game. While the defense hasn’t been lights out, it’s been solid, and more importantly, it’s been consistent.
If the offense can’t figure out how to make up that 15-point differential it currently puts itself in on the road, these struggles are going to continue. Part of that could be Brady’s willingness spread the targets around more evenly, the rest could be due to missing the biggest part of the offense.
Getting Gronk healthy
Gronk’s played in just seven of the 10 games so far this season, but he hasn’t quite been himself. The tight end has played in double-digit games in six seasons during his career catching an average of 11.5 touchdowns in those seasons. If Gronk can finish the season healthy out of the bye, that would put him on pace to suit up for 13 games this season, yet he only has one trip to the end zone in 2018. Even more concerning is that the score came all the way back in Week 1, when he posted his lone signature Gronk-type stat line, catching seven passes for 123 yards.
Since that time, Gronk is yet to reach 100 yards or catch more than six passes in any individual game. The Patriots are going to need far more than the 29-448-1 line they got from Gronk in the first seven games of the season to round out the regular season, as they come out of the bye playing three of their next four games on the road. If they’re not able to dominate in the form we’ve become accustomed to, they may not only finish behind the Chiefs for home field in the AFC, but the Patriots could find themselves without a first-round bye.