There's been a lot of discussion about the Patriots offense and how they've played so far this season, but looking a little closer it's hard to not see that Tom Brady has had to make a difficult transition against one of the tougher groups of defenses this season.
Both of their losses have come against top 10 defenses, and overall they've had to do battle with four of their seven opponents so far (they've played the Jets twice) who are in the top half of the league in that category. It's obviously been a good test for some of the rookies who are having to raise their game as they adjust to much faster competition in the NFL, and it has obviously posted a challenge for Brady, who has had some pretty tight windows to deliver the football so far this season.
Looking back at the first seven opponents, it's been a formidable group and taking look at the overall defensive rankings it's no surprise that the Patriots offense has sputtered early on through the first half of the year to this point:
Buffalo Bills: 26th
New York Jets: 6th
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 14th
Atlanta Falcons: 22nd
Cincinnati Bengals: 8th
New Orleans Saints: 12th
Miami Dolphins: 21st
It's not about to get any easier. New England is about to face four teams ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in total defense, and five total that are in the upper half of the league. The Dolphins are a team that also played well, and should they continue to improve will likely be a little tougher next time around and that game is also a road game in Miami.
Here's a look at the teams who are still left:
Pittsburgh Steelers: 4th
at Carolina Panthers: 3rd
Denver Broncos: 24th
at Houston Texans: 1st
Cleveland Browns: 7th
at Miami Dolphins (2nd Meeting)
at Baltimore Ravens: 16th
Buffalo Bills (2nd Meeting)
Fortunately we've seen some growth in recent weeks, although on paper it's hard to see. As mentioned yesterday New England did a better job keeping themselves in manageable situations offensively Sunday and also got some significant production from their ground game. It seems like they're still figuring out how to re-work the pieces of the puzzle now that Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski are both back healthy, and they'll need to do a little better job of hopefully getting more guys involved offensively than they did Sunday against Miami early on.
It's been their defense that continues to carry them, with New England themselves currently ranked 19th in the league in that category. They shot up the charts after Sunday's six sack performance to improve their sack total to 24 on the season, tying them with the Saints for 8th in that category. That's pretty impressive considering they finished last season with 37, so they're currently on pace for 48 at the rate they're going. That's only four off of last year's league leading 52 that both the Denver Broncos and St. Louis Rams finished with.
There's still plenty of football left to be played and we've certainly seen a lot of growth and changes since week one. Hopefully the overall picture continues to look a little brighter in the weeks to come, because they're certainly going to be tested in the final half of the season.
STEELERS PRETTY WEAK ON THE GROUND:
The days of Jerome Bettis are long gone for Pittsburgh, who through the first seven games of this season currently have just 481 yards rushing, which according to SteelersDepot.com is the worst start over that span the team has ever had. Pittsburgh managed just 35 on Sunday in their loss to the Oakland Raiders, and the website writes that the Steelers need at least 134 this weekend against New England to move ahead of their current pace. The Patriots are currently ranked 9th in the league against the run, giving up an average of 101.9 yards per game and are coming off a performance where they allowed 156 in Sunday's win over Miami.
INJURY COST VOLLMER MORE THAN HIS SEASON:
One additional note from this morning by the Boston Herald's Jeff Howe regarding Sebastian Vollmer's injury. According to Howe, the injury unfortunately has substantial financial implications, which stems from the four-year, $27 million contract the veteran signed this offseason.
According to Howe the deal contained $9.25 million in performance-based incentives, which now that he's likely lost for the season will probably cost him around $2 million. Howe also points out that Vollmer will lose $250,000 for not making the Pro Bowl, $750,000 for falling short of 90 percent of the total team snaps, and an extra $1 million due in the next league year for playing 80 percent of the snaps.
ON TO THIS MORNING'S LINKS:
Stats show Patriots defense better, offense struggling - Shalise Manza Young - Manza Young has some interesting numbers looking at both sides of the football for the Patriots.
Patriots' Sebastian Vollmer has leg surgery - Shalise Manza Young & Ben Volin - The Boston Globe reports that Vollmer underwent surgery yesterday to repair a broken bone in his lower right leg, citing a league source.
Tom Brady keeping hand issue under wraps - Shalise Manza Young - Manza Young files her notebook for this morning and writes that Brady once again downplayed his hand injury and said he feels "great".
Scouting the Pittsburgh Steelers - Erik Frenz - Frenz has a good entry this morning taking a closer look at the Steelers, along with some interesting stats and notes.
No joy of sacks: Sebastian Vollmer injury won't ease Tom Brady's pain - Jeff Howe - Howe writes that with Tom Brady already on pace for a career high in sacks, losing Vollmer certainly won't help there.
Patriots blitz gives Dolphins fits - Jeff Howe - Howe looks at the job New England did blitzing against Miami, which obviously caused the Dolphins problems in the second half on Sunday.
Patriots Report Card: Second-half surge earns high marks - Karen Guregian - Guregian files her report card for this week, and writes that despite the fact the Dolphins had the Patriots exactly where they wanted them, something changed and the Patriots completely shut them down in the second half.
Pats-Dolphins: Five takeaways from the game - Jeff Howe - One day removed from the Patriots' win, Howe offers up some thoughts from Sunday's game.
Getting to know the Pittsburgh Steelers - Field Yates - Yates also has a good look at the Steelers this morning, who he writes after Sunday's loss to Oakland some wonder if it's too late for them to turn the season around.
Vollmer injury spotlights OL depth - Mike Reiss - Reiss takes a look at the depth on the offensive line after the Patriots lost Vollmer on Sunday.
Weekly Tedy Bruschi chat recap - Mike Reiss - Reiss has the recap of Bruschi's chat in this entry, which always has some interesting stuff in it.
Belichick says 'plenty of room for improvement' for Patriots - Glen Farley - Farley has comments from Bill Belichick from yesterday, and writes that consistency has been difficult to come by for the Patriots as of late.
Patriots Journal: Pats stuck to plan, kept on blitzing - Paul Kenyon - Kenyon writes that the Patriots persistancy in their game plan paid off after they kept blitzing Miami on Sunday.
Patriots' persistence pays off in win over Dolphins - Rich Garven - Garven writes that things couldn't have gone any worse for the Patriots against Miami in the first half, but Belichick talked about how they managed to turn it around during his conference call on Monday.
ATTLEBORO SUN CHRONICLE:
Season becoming an act of attrition - Mark Farinella - Farinella looks at the Patriots last few games and writes that the injury bug "has become an infestation".