The New England Patriots have seen unprecedented success under Bill Belichick, but a lack of skill players has doomed this franchise last two seasons. If they hope to make the playoffs, the time is now to upgrade.
Lack of talent is becoming an epidemic in Foxborough.
After failing for years to identify, get, and develop young talent, it is finally starting to bite the New England Patriots in the ass.
The Patriots are under .500 in October for the first time since 2002 and have nobody to blame but themselves after losing to the Denver Broncos. Sure, they missed a ton of practice time, but that didn’t stop the Tennessee Titans from having two huge weeks in a row. Nothing about this loss is anything new for New England. It is the same thing that drove Tom Brady out of town. And now, it has the team on the outside of the playoff picture through five games.
While it’s important to never react drastically to one week in the NFL, the loss to the Denver Broncos has proven once again where the Patriots continue to have major weaknesses: a lack of skill-position players. Let’s look at the production from running back, wide receivers and tight ends.
Newton was the leading rusher on the day, with 76 yards. Damien Harris came into the game with some optimism in his second career start and struggled to only 19 yards on six carries. I’m still optimistic Harris will be a good running back in the NFL, but you can’t help but think Le’Veon Bell was sitting there for the taking just a couple of days ago.
The leading man through the air was a running back in James White, who collected eight catches on nine attempts for 65 yards. His biggest play, however, was only a 22-yard reception that came on a trick play pass from Julian Edelman. After White, nobody had more than three receptions. White was the most effective playmaker on the field, as he has been for nearly two seasons.
The wide receivers weren’t much better. Cam Newton struggled to find anyone open downfield and took multiple bad sacks on the game because of it. Damiere Byrd continues to look solid, but he clearly isn’t a top wide receiver. Edelman continues to be a non-factor catching the football. In fact, he was worse than a non-factor so far this season. He only had eight receiving yards on six targets in the loss to Denver. This is two weeks after his conversations about his drops reached a peak in the last game.
N’Keal Harry also did not catch a pass, furthering the talks of the Patriots passing up on D.K. Metcalf, Terry McLaurin and AJ Brown. The separation numbers have been better for Harry, but he’s still not in the top half of the league. Edelman and Byrd have been among the bottom of the league in separation, per NFL Next Gen Stats.
Tight end continues to be an absolute dumpster fire in New England. Ryan Izzo was tied for the second-leading receiver on the team with 38 yards on three catches, but he also had a back-breaking fumble that cost the Patriots a key possession. Even with that turnover, it might’ve been his best game in a New England uniform.
With the bulk of the schedule picking up, COVID-19 has forced New England to essentially play 12 games in a row. Their bye week was moved forward one week. The time is now for Bill Belichick and the front office to determine if this is a playoff team and pull the trigger on making a move because quite frankly, the skill on this team is not where it needs to be.
It’s bad enough to lose to a team like the Denver Broncos. It’s another thing altogether to look at them with a sense of jealousy, thinking that guys like Phillip Lindsay, Tim Patrick and Jerry Jeudy could be just what the Patriots needed to get over the hump. None of those players besides Jeudy had any real pedigree entering their NFL careers. It continues to show how other teams have been able to deal with injuries and find good players. Denver also didn’t even have their top two offensive options, as Noah Fant and Courtland Sutton both were out injured.
All this leads to the ultimate question for New England fans. Are the Patriots failing because they cannot identify good skill players? Or are they failing more than anyone else at developing good players? Either way, I think the team needs to have an internal evaluation of how they work with skill position players. It has ultimately hurt the franchise the last couple of seasons when they can’t get bailed out by Brady’s greatness.
While they continue to change things, for 2020, it may be time to pull the trigger and make some moves. If New England has any hope of making the playoffs, they need talent. Kyle Rudolph’s team just fell to 1-5. Marvin Jones Jr. just had two catches for eight yards. Just sayin’ Bill. Maybe they need a change of scenery.
(Photo: Elise Amendola/AP Photo)