When you have a franchise quarterback, one of the major priorities is generally keeping him upright.
After all, if he doesn't have time to make the throws, it's tough to obviously expect a whole lot of production for him. Over the years the Patriots have generally done a pretty good job protecting Tom Brady, but for some strange reason it's becoming a problem this season.
It started in Cincinnati. Coming into that game the Patriots had allowed just seven sacks, but the Bengals managed to get to him four times during New England's first loss of the year and apparently gave teams some insight into how not only to disrupt him, but also in how to bring him down.
New Orleans got to him five times and nearly did enough to hand the Patriots their second-straight defeat had he not pulled out that miraculous final drive.
Then on Sunday the Jets managed to bring him down four more times, bringing the total number of sacks the Patriots have given up through seven games to 20. They allowed a total of 27 all of last season, and if things don't change, clearly they'll go well beyond that total.
As it is, they're already on pace to allow 46 sacks this year. That's five more than they've ever given up in a given season, with their highest total being the 41 they allowed back in 2001, which was the year Brady first replaced Drew Bledsoe and that total was accumulated over just 15 starts. Other than that, they've never allowed more than 32, which came back in 2011 and from there you'd have to go all the way back to 2003 when New England gave up the same total.
While this team currently has a myriad of issues on the offensive side of the football, looking at the numbers it starts to make sense. Brady's been sacked on first down eight times this season, three more than he was in that situation all of last year. That's played a part in the fact of the 169 second downs they've attempted this year, they've faced 2nd-and-7 or longer 108 times (64% of their plays). They've also failed to gain a yard rushing the football on 2nd down 14 times this year, which now typically translates into long yardage situations on third down. As it is, the Patriots overall are just 35-of-105 converting on third down this season.
Looking closer you can see one glaring issue as the Patriots have faced 3rd-and-7 or longer on 51 plays (49%). Since that situation usually turns it into an obvious passing down, teams are teeing off on him and he's seen a lot of pressure as a result. Of those 51 plays, they've converted just 13, and Brady's been sacked on 5 of them. They've brought him down 10 times on third down so far this year, just four shy of the 14 sacks in that situation all of last season.
Looking back at 2012, the Patriots were only in 3rd-and-7 or longer a total of 59 times all year, and they're obviously already close to that at this point in the season.
Needless to say it's a problem that will need to be corrected, and obviously sooner rather than later. Having a 36-year old quarterback take that kind of abuse isn't conducive to what they're trying to accomplish, and they're about to take on another team that knows how to get to the quarterback. The Dolphins have the fifth highest sack total in the league with 42, which poses yet another challenge.
As we know they'll likely only go as far as the right arm of Brady will take them, but he can't throw it if he's on the ground. Being sacked nearly 50 times at his age isn't going to help their offensive production, and each hit clearly increases the possibility of an injury. Hopefully it never comes to that, but nevertheless the Patriots clearly have a problem that definitely needs to be fixed. If they don't, we'll likely just continue to see more of the same.
BELICHICK MANAGED GRONKOWSKI'S OUTING BY PERSONNEL GROUPINGS:
Obviously Sunday saw Rob Gronkowski see his first game action of the year, and he was in on 48 of the Patriots 75 offensive snaps against the Jets, or 64%. It's always interesting to figure out how the team manages certain players when it comes to easing them back into the line-up, and Bill Belichick offered some insight into that on Monday during his conference call with the media. When asked how he and his staff put together a plan on how to best manage him in the game, Belichick explained that it was due to personnel groupings they put together before the contest.
"He was in the game in certain personnel groups and wasn’t in the game in other groups," said. "That was one way to manage it. Then just on the sideline watching how he was doing and talking to him, I think we got a sense of what the amount or level of plays were going to be for him as the game went down. I’d say a combination of those two things."
JONES HAS BEEN DISRUPTIVE THUS FAR:
As mentioned yesterday, Chandler Jones is off to a good start during his second NFL season, having accumulated 6.5 sacks through seven games, putting him ahead of last year's total. He's currently among the league leaders in that category, and is tied for 7th in the NFL with that total. Yesterday Belichick sounded pleased with what he's seen from the second year defensive end, and hopes it continues.
"I thought that Chandler played very competitively," said Belichick. "Look, with every player there are always plays that could be better. I would say that about anybody after almost any game. He definitely had some disruptive plays. I thought we had a lot of guys in the front seven that made some disruptive plays at times. We got them from Joe [Vellano] and Chris [Jones], Chandler, Rob [Ninkovich]. Like Rob’s play on the interception to [Logan] Ryan, he was right in [Geno] Smith’s face there. I don’t know if that affected the throw or not, but might have. Certainly Brandon [Spikes] was disruptive in the running game, Jamie Collins had some disruptive plays... [Dont’a] Hightower. I thought we had a number of those throughout the course of the game. Of course, we played too many plays on defense, was part of the problem. A number of guys were active up there and Chandler had plays in both the running game and the passing game that were disruptive and physical plays. I think that he’s strung a few weeks here together and hopefully we can continue, he can continue to do that."
ON TO THIS MORNING'S LINKS:
Scouting the Miami Dolphins - Erik Frenz
Patriots continue to stumble on third down - Shalise Manza Young
Bill Belichick takes the blame for pushing penalty - Shalise Manza Young
Players push back at Jets’ Willie Colon - Jeff Howe
Numbers tell 2nd-half story for Patriots - Jeff Howe
Key penalty, weak offense led to Patriots' loss - AP
Patriots Report Card: Team flunks despite working OT - Ron Borges
Pats-Jets: Five takeaways from the game - Jeff Howe
TV: Nantz and Simms on the call - Mike Reiss
Getting to know the Miami Dolphins - Field Yates
Following the flags: Tracking Patriots penalties for 2013 season - Christopher Price
Bill Belichick: ‘We’re wrong’ in understanding of new field goal rule - Christopher Price
Target Practice: Tracking opportunities in Patriots passing game - Christopher Price
Tom Brady Struggles More Than Receivers Against Jets, Especially in Overtime As Patriots Had Chance to Win - Doug Kyed