(Photo courtesy of Sky Sports) “Bill Belichick has been having a troubling season.”
It’s officially Tank Season for the New England Patriots. Following a 7-10 loss to the New York Giants, the Patriots are now 2-9 with the third-worst record in the league. On the bright side, New England is in a great spot to land a top-three draft pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.
This has been the worst start under head coach Bill Belichick. The last time New England started 2-9 was during the 1992 season. Yikes.
Placekicker Chad Ryland missing a 35-yard field goal to send the game to overtime is the cherry on top of New England’s dreadful season. Despite replacing offensive coordinator Matt Patricia with a proven play-caller in Bill O’Brien, the Patriots offense has still been one of the worst units in football. Per Fox Sports, New England ranks just 25th in total offense (26th in 2022).
New England’s struggles start with the abysmal quarterback play. Quarterback Mac Jones somehow has been worse than last season, making it abundantly clear that the 2021 first-round pick is not the answer moving forward. Jones has thrown for just 2,120 yards, 10 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, with a 77 passer rating and 64.9% completion percentage in 11 starts. Jones got benched for Bailey Zappe after the first half against the Giants, marking his fourth time getting benched in 2023. Zappe will be the starting quarterback moving forward.
Along with the quarterback play, the offensive line has been a mess for much of the season, as they are ranked 22nd. The unit has struggled in pass protection and run-blocking, allowing 25 sacks in 11 games per StatMuse. Running backs Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliot have struggled as a result. New England’s best offensive lineman has been left tackle Trent Brown, with a Pro Football Focus (PFF) grade of 86.3. The unit, however, has improved since Michael Onwenu switched from left guard to right tackle. Onwenu has a PFF grade of 73.2.
Another major issue for New England’s offense has been the lack of playmakers around this team. Wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kendrick Bourne (now on IR), Davante Parker, Tyquan Thornton, Demario Douglas and Kayshon Boutte haven’t been consistent threats in the passing game. Also, tight ends Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki haven’t been as productive either.
While New England’s defense is eighth in total defense per Fox Sports, injuries to star linebacker Matthew Judon and promising rookie cornerback Christian Gonzalez have slowed this unit down. New England now has to rely on struggling cornerbacks Myles Bryant and recently acquired former Patriot J.C. Jackson.
Special teams have struggled for New England as rookie placekicker Ryland has missed six field goals this season. The team misses Nick Folk, who now plays for the Tennessee Titans.
With a potential top-three pick, New England will likely have the chance to select one of the top quarterback and wide-receiver prospects. Quarterback and wide receiver are arguably New England’s biggest needs. USC quarterback Caleb Williams, UNC quarterback Drake Maye and Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. come to mind.
Per Spotrac, New England is projected to have the second-most cap space in 2024, so they can address their weaknesses through free agency and trade.
With six games remaining, it appears that Patriots fans are rooting for the team to tank for a higher draft pick. New England has a tough schedule where they finish off with the Los Angeles Chargers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.