Today's the big media day down in Foxboro as the Patriots officially get started on their preparations for Sunday night's match-up down in Atlanta, and as we mentioned yesterday it should be an interesting few days once the team hits the practice field and we start to get a feel for the availability surrounding Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola. Both should hopefully be out there, but Friday will likely be the big day when they're both given a designation for Sunday's game, so we'll have to see how it all plays out.
Needless to say it should be a fun few days once things get started, and here are a few thoughts.
1) All things considered, the fact this team is 3-0 is impressive: Looking back at how the first few games have unfolded for the Patriots, it's amazing that they've managed to start off with three straight wins considering how much things have changed before they even took the field three weeks ago in Buffalo. Back then they more or less knew they'd be without Gronkowski for a few weeks, but no one expected the injuries to Shane Vereen and Amendola, both of which drastically changed things offensively. Not to mention the fact Stevan Ridley ended up going from a player who was coming off of a 1200+ yard season but ended up being benched following a critical fumble early in the contest. It makes you wonder how many teams could handle such turmoil in terms of personnel issues and adjust so well. We take it for granted here because they've been so successful despite similar situations they've dealt with. Watching the way the season has started off with other teams, clearly it's not as easy as the Patriots continue to make it look.
2) Julian Edelman has been absolutely huge early on this season: Take Edelman out of the line up and it's tough to imagine that the Patriots could have sustained his loss during the transition for New England's rookie receivers. Edelman's been the glue that has helped keep things together for the offense and, aside from Tom Brady, he's arguably been the team's offensive MVP thus far. Looking back at the numbers through three games last season he's already ahead of Brandon Lloyd, who was the team's leading receiver in receptions at this time. Lloyd had been targeted 33 times with 22 receptions, while Edelman has been targeted a team leading 34 times with 27 catches so far this season. He's also the team leader in red zone receptions with 4 catches along with two touchdowns, and believe it or not he was tied for the lead in that category at this point last season and was also the most targeted out of anyone in that area. He lead the team with 4 targets with two catches (tied with Lloyd, Wes Welker, and Gronkowski) along with one touchdown. So far this year he's been just as valuable, and seems to be poised to put together quite a season.
3) With Brandon Bolden's return, the Patriots have a strong trio at running back right now: Bolden did a good job of taking over Shane Vereen's role in the Patriots offense on Sunday, giving them a threat out of the backfield after catching 5 passes for 49 yards. He also had the longest rush of the season for New England thanks to a 46 yard run in the 3rd quarter and finished the afternoon with 3 carries for 51 yards. Between his performance along with that of LeGarrette Blount (14 carries for 65 yards), New England has two additional running backs behind Ridley that should help give them a couple of players who can change things up as well as give them depth in case of injury. It's definitely a solid and deep group right now.
4) Patricia's got the defense pretty well grounded: Listening to defensive coordinator Matt Patricia's conference call on Tuesday, you'd never know the Patriots are off to one of the team's best ever starts defensively. Despite the fact they've allowed the lowest point totals through three games in franchise history, including having not allowed any fourth quarter points, he seems to be maintaining the same approach he has through the first three games and expects Sunday night to be a tough one for his players.
"Well I think for us, we approach every week just trying to get better and improve," said Patricia. "It's the very beginning of the season, and we don't pay attention to a lot of those things except for trying to win the ball game and putting our team in the best position to win every time we go out on the field. That's all we're really trying to do. We're trying to get better than we [were] last game, play better than we did last week, and obviously this week is a huge challenge for us with Atlanta and the different problems that they present."
"It's just a very big challenge and we're just trying to improve every week to get better."
5) Surprisingly, compared to last season Brady and the offense aren't as bad as everyone thinks they are: After going back in and pulling out the numbers during weeks one through three of last season, it was astounding to see how comparable Tom Brady's numbers are to where he was at this point last season. As a matter of fact, these numbers will probably surprise you.
Through the first three weeks Brady is currently a mere six completions short of where he was last season, having completed 73 passes thus far compared to 79. He actually has one more touchdown with five than he did at this time last season, although he has thrown one more interception.
Here's a full breakdown of his numbers:
2012 - 79-of-118 (67%) 887 yards 7 sacks 4 TD's 1 INT
2013 - 73-of-127 (57%) 698 yards 6 sacks 5 TD's 2 INT's
He has 8 completions in the red zone compared to 9 last year, but he's got four touchdowns, which is one more than the 3 he had at this point last year. However, his completion percentage is considerably lower, completing a mere 42% of his passes in scoring territory. He also had that ugly interception Sunday. Here's how it breaks down:
2012 - 9-of-14 (64%) 56 yards 1 sack, 3 TD's
2013 - 8-of-19 (42%) 55 yards 1 sack, 4 TD's 1 INT
Overall on the year Brady's completion percentage is way off from last year, a full 10 percentage points lower than it was last year at this time. He's completed a mere 57% of his attempts, and it was interesting going through and trying to figure out where the biggest issues are. Looking at it by down, you'll see the discrepancy:
2012 - 40-of-57 (70%) 489 yards 2 TD's 1 INT
2013 - 22-of-45 (49%) 236 yards 0 TD's
2012 - 28-of-37 (76%) 279 yards 2 TD's
2013 - 24-of-40 (60%) 163 yards 2 TD's, 1 INT
2012 - 11-of-24 (46%) 119 yards 0 TD's
2013 - 26-of-41 (63%) 293 yards 3 TD's 1 INT
As you can see their biggest weakness so far this year has been on first down, with Brady completing just 49% of his passes compared to 70% last season. However, the biggest surprise is the fact they've been considerably better on 3rd down in comparison to last season, which is definitely a little unexpected. Amendola currently has the most 3rd down conversions with 7 first downs, followed by Julian Edelman (5) and Aaron Dobson (4). Just for the record, that's more than any other Patriots receiver or tight end had through three games last year. Gronkowski had 3 third down conversions, followed by Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, who were both tied with 2.
Needless to say as bad as it may have appeared, they're not that far off from how they played last year, and that team ultimately finished with an appearance in the AFC Championship game. They've made progress over the first few games, and it should be fun to watch in the coming weeks just how much better they'll start to become.
MCDANIELS ON EDELMAN'S CONTRIBUTIONS SO FAR:
One question that came up during Tuesday's conference call with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is the fact that through three games, Edelman's 27 receptions are almost three times that of the next closest receivers (Dobson and Amendola are both tied with 10), which is obviously represents quite a work load for him thus far. However, according to McDaniels, Edelman has earned every snap he's been in there, having made the most from each chance he's gotten.
"Julian has earned the opportunity to be in there, and I think he's really made the most of the opportunities that he's had when the ball has come to him," said McDaniels. "He's doing a good job of creating separation and getting open and catching the football. He's been a consistent contributor for us now for three games in a row, and hopefully we can look forward to continuing with that as we go forward."
Head coach Bill Belichick also praised his performances in the kicking game, and recognized the fact that Edelman's inexperience in different roles since he joined this team hasn't stopped him from being successful at them.
"Yeah, it's huge," said Belichick, speaking on Edelman's value returning punts. "As we all know, nothing will turn a game around quicker than a turnover in the kicking game – blocked kicks or muffed kicks – because there's so much field position involved in those plays. Julian has done a good job, for a guy who never returned punts in college, came in and learned the skills of reading the flight of the ball and the spin. Of course we get challenging conditions here through the course of the year in terms of wind and weather. That's a big part of it.
"Certainly he had a good mentor in Kevin Faulk in terms of learning how to watch another guy who is very good at that do that. Our special teams coaches, Scott O'Brien and Joe Judge, do a good job and work hard with him on that every day. Then Julian works hard at it, he's really become good at it. He's become an experienced player at that, which wasn't the case when he started. His confidence and his experience and his consistency at it is huge. For a guy who has never played the positions that he's playing in the NFL, he's developed and become pretty good at them."
CONTINUITY ON DEFENSE HAS PATRIOTS GETTING CREATIVE:
The off day on Tuesday is great for any of you who are on Twitter and follow any of the local beat writers because many of them fire up the DVR and start taking much closer looks at what went down in the previous game. Nick Underhill of MassLive.com noticed that the Patriots were in some interesting alignments against the Buccaneers, including leaving Devin McCourty as the lone safety on downs where they needed an additional cornerback. He did a great job offering up some insight into some additional looks they gave, and without giving any more away you can actually read more in his entry. It's definitely a great read.
ON TO THIS MORNING'S LINKS:
Next three opponents should test Patriots improved defense - Karen Guregian - Guregian writes that with the next stretch of games ahead, we'll hopefully learn more about how good the defense really is.
Notebook: Sebastian Vollmer catches break - Karen Guregian - Guregian files her notebook this morning with a note about Vollmer's foot injury, which fortunately isn't serious.
ON FOOTBALL: Tom Brady carried Patriots in win over Buccaneers - Ben Volin - Volin has a good column this morning breaking down Sunday's win, which was largely in part of Brady.
Injuries have led to sluggish start for Falcons - Ben Volin - Volin has an article on the injury situation in Atlanta, which is part of the reason the Falcons are just 1-2 at this point.
Patriots defense off to a great start this season - Michael Whitmer - Whitmer looks at the defense, which has been stellar so far through three games.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft, QB Tom Brady congratulate Brandeis students in academic program named in honor of Myra Kraft - Matt Rocheleau - Rocheleau has an article on Brady and Kraft, with Brady making a surprise visit to Kraft's Brookline home Tuesday night to offer praise and congratulations to a group of Brandeis University students enrolled in a program named for the late Myra Kraft.
Catching up with former Patriots, Week 3 - Mike Reiss - Reiss has his weekly update on former Patriots players, with bits of information about each one in this morning's entry.
Source: Pats bring in trio for workouts - Field Yates - Yates writes that the Patriots brought in a couple of tight ends and a running back for a workout on Tuesday.
Patriots' Thompkins visits Raynham school to honor top readers - Steven Sanchez - Sanchez has an article on rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, who spent his day off visiting the Raynham Middle School on Tuesday and addressed 730 students - grades 5 through 8 - and talked to them about the importance of reading.
Patriots fans are spoiled - Barry Scanlon - Scanlon has seven random thoughts, the first leads off with the fact there were plenty of empty seats for the game against the Bucs.
Falcons will be trying to close it out against Patriots - Glen Farley - Farley has an article on the Falcons and writes that part of their problem is the fact they don't have a player who can help them close out games.
Matt Patricia's Conference Call Transcript - You can read the full transcript of what he had to say here.
Josh McDaniels Conference Call Transcript - You can also read the full transcript from him as well, as the team posted both yesterday.
Bill Belichick's Conference Call Transcript - The Patriots coach spoke to the media on Tuesday, but there were no notable confrontations with media members like there were on Monday.