The bye week offers a good opportunity to assess the current state of the Patriots. At 5-3 and in first place in the AFC East, there are reasons for cautious optimism among Patriots fans.
Statistically, Tom Brady looks as consistent as ever. Over the last four seasons Brady’s completion percentage has been between 65.0 and 66.0 percent every year. Brady leads the league with 2,408 passing yards and is tied for second with a plus-13 touchdown-to-interception differential.
On the other end of the spectrum is the pass defense, which remains the team’s biggest obstacle to a prolonged postseason run. However, both sides of the running game have been sharp this season, a trend that should help in the second half. Here are three areas of interest through the halfway point of the Patriots’ season:
1. The Patriots have had the best rushing defense in the league through the first eight weeks. New England has allowed a league-best 3.5 yards per rush and only one rush of at least 20 yards, a 20-yard run by Daryl Richardson last Sunday. The Texans are the only team that has not allowed a rush of at least 20 yards this season. The Patriots have allowed only 1.08 yards after contact per rush, the lowest in the league and more than a half-yard lower than last year (1.71). Much of that can be attributed to quality play from a linebacking corps that has recorded 13 tackles for loss, fourth-most of any unit in the league. It appears the road to the Super Bowl runs through Arian Foster and the Houston Texans, a team that has ranked third with 248 rushes this season. The Patriots’ shut-down run defense will serve them well should it continue through a potential playoff berth.
2. The Patriots pass defense is among the worst in the league on throws deeper than 20 yards downfield. This is the fourth consecutive year that the completion percentage New England has allowed on those throws has risen. The Patriots allowed an NFL-worst 48.4 completion percentage on throws longer than 20 yards downfield last season, and have been even worse through eight weeks this year. Not surprisingly, the injury status of Patrick Chung has had a major impact on the team’s performance. When Chung is on the field, the Patriots have allowed 7.6 yards per pass attempt, which would still rank 25th in the league. Bad becomes worse with Chung on the sidelines -- he has been out the last two weeks -- as the Patriots have allowed 9.7 yards per pass attempt. That average would rank dead last in the league by over a half-yard.
3. New England’s prolific rushing attack this season holds up well against the three Super-Bowl winning teams. The current Patriots lead the NFL with 276 rushes, 12 rushing touchdowns and 84 first downs, and are third in rushing yards (1,197) so far this season. The Patriots have averaged 149.6 yards on 34.5 rushes per game, both the highest averages by a Patriots team during Bill Belichick’s tenure. New England has rushed for first downs on 30.4 percent of total rushes, best in both the NFL and Belichick era. Stevan Ridley has been both explosive and powerful this season, with five rushes of at least 20 yards (tied for fourth in NFL) and 239 yards after contact (seventh). It’s not just Ridley -- the Patriots are one of two teams in the league (Panthers) with three players (Ridley, Brandon Bolden and Danny Woodhead) rushing for at least 150 yards.