As we all expected, the New England Patriots are undefeated after an opening slate of games that featured the Dolphins, Jets, Redskins, and Giants. More surprising is them doing so almost entirely off the strength of their defense, a unit on a record-setting pace this season. Through six weeks, they've scored more touchdowns than they've allowed and lead the NFL in both sacks and interceptions. The only time the Patriots have come anywhere near to losing a game was when they visited Buffalo in Week 4 and needed an interception late in the fourth to secure the win.
All this is to say that, yes, the defense is very good. In fact, they've been so good that it hides the flaws on the offensive side of the ball. It's unusual, to say the least, that the defense overshadows the offense so drastically in this stage of the Brady-Belichick era. Then again, we live in strange times. But the offensive issues were glaring after their Thursday night win against the Giants.
The Patriots won a Super Bowl with a foundation of a steady, effective run game that helped eat clock and grind other teams down. They haven't been able to carry that over to this season, and it's been the heart of their problems on offense. They haven't been able to sustain long drives on offense at all. The Giants game is a good example. They had two drives for touchdowns that went over 50 yards, but their other scores either came on short fields or were defensive/special teams touchdowns. That isn't even to mention the two brutal turnovers by Brady that were quite avoidable. New York was gashed by Dalvin Cook and the oft-maligned Vikings offensive line last week, giving up over 200 yards rushing. The Patriots could only muster 114 despite having the ball for 40 minutes. Sony Michel has hit a sophomore slump this season and gained 84 yards on 22 carries last night.
Part of it is depth. Josh McDaniels was forced to play with one personnel grouping for much of the second half last night because Josh Gordon went down and Philip Dorsett was ruled out before the game with a hamstring injury. Center David Andrews going down before the season began is a loss that cannot be understated, especially when it comes to the run game. Marshall Newhouse had practiced three times before getting thrown in at left tackle in Week 2 after Isaiah Wynn left the game and was subsequently placed on the IR. Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon have both had inexplicably bad years for players of their caliber. This offense won't click if the offensive line doesn't, and so far, they've had a lot of trouble getting to that point.
The Patriots don't have a bad offense. The sky isn't falling in Foxboro yet. But in its current state, it's very difficult to imagine this unit hanging with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in the same way they did twice last season. They're currently ninth in yards per game, yet those numbers are buoyed by playing some of the worst defenses in the NFL. Really, there have only been a few moments where it looked like everything was clicking. Their opening night game against Pittsburgh exhibited what they wanted to do very well, but they've failed to reach those same heights at any point. The times they've come close were against Miami with Antonio Brown and, for a pair of drives in the second half, against Washington.
Brady can still pick apart a defense when he has time, and New England's defense is so good that trotting out an average (at best) offense isn't a death knell to their championship hopes. They also have a tendency to use the first two-thirds of the season to try everything they can scheme up before settling into a groove as the playoffs approach. But it's undeniable that the unit is the weak point of this team, and it might be time to start getting a bit worried in New England.