THE PATRIOTS’ STRENGTH ON OFFENSE: Through the first seven games of the 2013 season, Tom Brady is on pace to record career lows in completion percentage (55.4) and passer rating (75.3). Now, go ask the New Orleans Saints whether Brady isn’t still among the most dangerous quarterbacks in the NFL. There’s no question Brady has been hurt by dropped passes from a group of largely unproven receivers, but it’s also fair to say he hasn’t been as consistently pinpoint accurate as normal. That said, he’s still a tremendous quarterback and now he has tight end Rob Gronkowski back at his disposal. A quick look at the stats might suggest the Pats have been more effective in the running game this season (they’re averaging 4.2 yards per carry), but it would be foolish to look anywhere else other than Brady when talking about New England’s strong suit on offense.
THE PATRIOTS’ QUESTION MARK ON OFFENSE: As mentioned before, there is some youth in the Patriots wide receiver corps and that often equates to inconsistency. The two prime examples there are rookie second-round pick Aaron Dobson and rookie free agent Kenbrell Thompkins. The two have had their moments this season —Thompkins’ game-winning catch against New Orleans stands out — but there also have been a lot of drops. Of course, we don’t need to mention that the losses of Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez have had an impact. The hope was that Danny Amendola could play the same kind of role as Welker, but he’s dealt with injuries for most of the season. Pass protection also has been an issue on offense, with Brady getting sacked 13 times over the past three games.
THE PATRIOTS’ STRENGTH ON DEFENSE: This might come as a surprise to some, but New England’s best player all season probably has been cornerback Aqib Talib. Not only does he lead the team with four interceptions, he’s also done a tremendous job against top receivers. For example, he helped limit Tampa Bay wide receiver Vincent Jackson to only three catches and then was a big part of the Patriots shutting out Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. Thanks in large part to Talib’s work, New England has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete only 55.3 percent of their passes and combine for a 72.3 passer rating.
THE PATRIOTS’ QUESTION MARK ON DEFENSE: There aren’t many teams around the league that suffered two major blows on their defense the way New England did with the season-ending injuries to Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo. Quite simply, those two were the team’s best defensive lineman and best linebacker. Perhaps the loss of Wilfork in Week 4 helps explain the Patriots ranking 31st in the NFL in rushing defense, although it should be pointed out that they rank in the middle of the pack when it comes to yards allowed per attempt (4.0). For example, the Patriots gave up a whopping 177 yards rushing to the New York Jets last weekend, but only a 3.4 average. The bottom line is one can only wonder how long the Patriots can be productive on defense without Wilfork and Mayo.
THE PATRIOTS’ STRENGTH ON SPECIAL TEAMS: The Patriots have been solid in several aspects of special teams so far this season, starting with the work of kicker Stephen Gostkowski. He is 18-for-19 on field goal attempts, including a 2-for-2 showing from 50 yards and beyond. Rookie Ryan Allen displaced veteran Zoltan Mesko as the punter and he’s responded by posting an impressive 40.7 net average. Julian Edelman not only leads the team with 46 receptions on offense, he’s averaging a healthy 11.6 yards on punt returns, with a long of 38 against the Jets last Sunday.
THE PATRIOTS’ QUESTION MARK ON SPECIAL TEAMS: New England is ranked in the bottom half of the league in kickoff return average and punt return average allowed, but the reality is they haven’t allowed a punt return longer than 21 yards all season and kickoff returns aren’t a significant part of special teams anymore.