10 Things We’ve Learned about the 2021 New England Patriots Through 4 Games

The New England Patriots have started off the 2021 season with a disappointing 1-3 record. That includes three losses at Gillette Stadium. That’s not to say it’s been all bad for the Patriots to start the season, but without question, they need to start picking up some victories.

Now that New England is about a quarter of the way into the season, it felt like a good time to go into the 10 things we’ve learned, both good and bad, about the Patriots through the first four games.

New England Patriots: Things we’ve learned

1: Going with Mac Jones as the starter was the right call

Mac Jones hasn’t been perfect, but he’s clearly a capable NFL starter. Bill Belichick was right to get a jump on developing Jones and letting him start right away.

By starting Jones as a rookie, he not only will have a great opportunity to grow in the offense, but New England will also have a clear idea of what they have in him instead of waiting around till next season to find out. It’s still early, but the Patriots have to feel great about Jones’ future as their starting quarterback.

Through four games Jones has completed 112 passes out of 160 and he’s thrown for 1,012 yards. Additionally, he has four passing touchdowns and four interceptions. Those aren’t eye-popping numbers, but it’s important to keep in mind the fact Jones is a rookie quarterback and the offensive line hasn’t exactly done him any favors. Again, that’s not to say he’s been perfect or that he can’t do a better job limiting the times he’s getting hit, but context matters when looking at statistics.

One of the more impressive aspects of Jones’ first four games has been his poise. In the face of pressure, Jones rarely looks rattled. He hangs in the pocket and makes a play. 

2: The offensive line issues go beyond not having Trent Brown

Missing Trent Brown and having to start Justin Herron or Yasir Durant is undoubtedly hurting the Patriots’ offensive line, but it’s also far from the only problem.

Isaiah Wynn has struggled this season. This is the worse stretch of football he’s played as a pro. Shaq Mason and Michael Onwenu have been fairly solid, but both have had low points. In fact, Onwenu was benched for Ted Karras in Week 4. The quarterback of the offensive line, David Andrews, is uncharacteristically having a pretty down year up to this point. To make matters worse both Wynn and Onwenu were recently placed on the COVID-19 reserve list.

It would be nice to say that everything will be fixed when Brown makes it back into the lineup, but that’s simply not the case. The New England offensive line, which has been very good in years past, needs multiple starters to regain their usual level of play. 

If they can’t, their rookie quarterback is going to continue to get killed and the running game is going to continue to struggle.

3: Matthew Judon is elite

Matthew Judon is the Patriots’ best player right now. Belichick could not have asked for more when he signed Judon this past offseason.

According to Pro Football Focus, in four games, Judon has 5 sacks and 19 total pressures. He’s as disruptive as it gets. New England hasn’t had an elite pass rusher like Judon in years. That type of ferocious pass rush is a welcomed sight in Foxborough.

I wouldn’t expect it to be too long before Judon starts getting some extra attention from opposing offensive lines, which in turn, will create sack opportunities for his teammates.

4: The running back group has gone from perceived strength to a weakness

Coming into the season, the Patriots looked extremely deep at running back. So much so, that the Patriots felt comfortable trading away Sony Michel. Four weeks in and James White is out for the year and the depth that looked promising has lost the trust of the coaching staff.

Rookie Rhamondre Stevenson fumbled in Week 1 and hasn’t been active for a game since. Meanwhile, J.J. Taylor fumbled against the Buccaneers and didn’t see the field the rest of the game.

Damien Harris and Brandon Bolden look to be the only two remaining running backs the coaching staff trusts to play. That’s not ideal. Bolden is a great special teamer and an incredible locker room guy, but he’s just not dynamic or elusive as a running back. It may be time to give Stevenson another go, but we’ll see if Belichick feels the same.

The loss of White is going to be felt all season long. New England seemingly just doesn’t have anyone left on the roster to fill that pass-catching back role. Bolden feels like a placeholder until Stevenson or Taylor deem themselves worthy of another chance.

5: The wide receiver group can get open, but lacks explosiveness

The Patriots trio of Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, and Nelson Agholor has shown, for the most part, capable of getting open on a regular basis. Meyers and Bourne specifically feast on those short to intermediate routes.

As far as a wide receiver group that can get open, this has to be the best the Patriots have had since very early in the 2019 season. If Jones starts to get more time to throw I think you’ll see all three of these guys start producing at higher rates.

All that said, it is notable that the group lacks explosiveness. You’re not going to get a ton of yards after catch from this group. The elusiveness after the catch just isn’t something this trio excels at. 

Plus, outside of Agholor, nobody in the Patriots’ wide receiver group is much of a deep threat.

So, while the Patriots are clearly improved at wide receiver, they still have limitations. Simply put, this is a middling group of wideouts.

6: The New England secondary is above average, but still risky getting rid of Stephon Gilmore

Without Stephon Gilmore, the New England secondary has held up better than most imagined.

At corner, J.C. Jackson is playing like a number one corner and Jalen Mills has surprisingly shown the ability to be a solid number two. Slot corner Jonathan Jones struggled with Antonio Brown, but he’s still a capable starter. The depth is questionable, but as long as all three stay healthy, it’s an above-average corner group.

Meanwhile, at safety, the Patriots are immensely talented. Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, and Kyle Dugger are all good at what they do. They’ve helped out the corners a ton.

Still though, adding a healthy Gilmore, assuming he could have played at or close to his typical level of play, would have made this one of the better secondaries in the entire NFL. Unfortunately, we won’t ever get to see that because New England has decided to move on from him.

If New England’s secondary has any struggles throughout the season this is a move that will really come back to bite them.

7: Self-inflicted mistakes are becoming more frequent

The Patriots have made a ton of self-inflicted mistakes this season. Whether it’s penalties, substitution errors, fumbles, or miscommunications on pass protection this is becoming a bit of a worrisome trend.

New England simply isn’t good enough yet to overcome those types of errors. The Patriots are a team that needs to win things like the turnover battle. Typically the Patriots play a very disciplined brand of football, but they have shown signs of really sloppy play this season.

It wouldn’t shock me at all if a lot of the self-inflicted stuff gets cleaned up as the season goes on, but it’s a very noticeable problem right now.

8: Christian Barmore could become a high-level interior pass rusher

Christian Barmore has a very bright future. His pass-rushing skills pop when watching a Patriots game.

According to Pro Football Focus, ]Barmore has 10 total pressures this season. Keep in mind, Barmore has only played in about 50% of the Patriots’ defensive snaps. With a bigger role, his pass-rushing statistics could explode.

It’s fair to mention that Barmore has room to grow as a run defender, but his immediate presence as a pass rusher makes it easy to imagine what he could be someday.

9: Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith feel close to breaking out

New England’s big free-agent additions at tight end haven’t truly broken out yet, but it’s only a matter of time. Each week Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith look more and more involved and comfortable in the offense.

In Week 4, both Henry and Smith had touchdowns. Seeing them both utilized in the red-zone by Josh McDaniels was encouraging to see. Up until last Sunday night, we hadn’t seen much of that.

Yes, the production thus far from both tight ends is underwhelming, but I think a lot of that has to do with how they’re being used in the offense or lack thereof. I wouldn’t be ringing the alarm bells for Henry and Smith just yet. The production will come with time.

10: The New England offense has potential, but needs some chunk plays, better blocking, and consistent red-zone play

The 2021 Patriots offense has some talented pass-catching weapons and a promising young quarterback. That alone should give fans optimism about the future outlook of this group.

To reach their full potential though, the New England offense has three specific things they must improve on. All three of these points are intertwined in some way.

The first being the need to get more chunk plays. That doesn’t mean they should abandon the quick passing game or the running game, but at the same time, they also need to get some big plays. It’s extremely difficult to continuously move the ball in the NFL without getting any big gaining plays.

Secondly, the Patriots absolutely must improve their blocking up front. Because I already went into the struggles of the offensive line, I won’t rehash it here, but it’s something that needs to improve.

Lastly, New England needs to get consistent red zone success. Against the Buccaneers, the Patriots showed improvement in the red-zone, but even so, when down 16-14 and in the red area the Patriots had to settle for a field goal, which obviously came back to bite them. 

2 thoughts on “10 Things We’ve Learned about the 2021 New England Patriots Through 4 Games

  • October 6, 2021 at 8:52 am
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    11: The Pats still need to get younger at linebacker. Hightower and Van Noy have not been the difference makers that we thought that they would be.

    Reply
  • October 7, 2021 at 12:18 am
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    Zero from Gunner on offense, a few nice returns, but I keep hoping for him to have a special play or two, JJ loosing the ball was bummer I again was hoping for him to get loose just once, now ? Slater’s getting that flag, another ah shit….
    Not playing out like I hoping with those guys, but someone needs to start the bloody 🔥

    Good article again! Good on ya…

    Reply

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