It’s difficult to say that a season can be like a roller coaster after only four games, but that’s exactly what the 2012 Patriots have felt like. The team got off to a promising start with a win against the Titans but quickly dipped back down after a game full of twists and unexpected turns against the Cardinals. The downward spiral continued in Week 3 against the Ravens as the Patriots lost on a controversial game-winning field goal in which coach Bill Belichick sprinted onto the field to grab a replacement referee. The roller coaster continued to speed downhill as the Patriots found themselves down 21-7 in the third quarter against the Buffalo Bills. Finally, it quickly shot upward when the Patriots offense finally woke up and put 45 points on the board in the second half to steamroll the Bills 52-28.
After all that, the Patriots sit at 2-2 and tied atop the AFC East with the Bills and the Jets. The Pats could be 4-0, but inconsistency has led them to this roller coaster of a start in the 2012 season. Let’s break down the strengths and weaknesses thus far.
1. The Run Game – Over the course of the first four games, the Patriots have managed to run the ball for 576 yards, good for 8th overall in the NFL. Stevan Ridley alone has 339 of those rushing yards and averages 4.6 yards per attempt. Ridley and Brandon Bolden each had 100-yard games last Sunday against the Bills, making them the first two players to accomplish such a feat in 32 years for the Patriots.
2. Tom Brady – Yes, Brady has been inconsistent at times, but overall he is the reason the Patriots could be 4-0. Brady executed a comeback against the Cardinals that should have led to a game-winning field goal, but didn’t. Brady tore up a stingy Ravens defense but to no avail. He’s only thorwn one interception in the four games and continues to be the leader this team needs.
3. The Defense – Through the first two games, the defense looked much improved and kept the Patriots in the game against the Cardinals. It only allowed 284 and 242 total yards of offense in those first two games. Rookies Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower and Tavon Wilson have all stuck out and have made big plays of their own early on in the season.
1. The Coaching – Sitting at 2-2, the Patriots have played in four games that probably should have been won. Although it’s the players who don’t execute, Offensive Coordination Josh McDaniels has made some questionable play calls that have caused the Patriots offense to sputter at times. Belichick himself made a questionable move by not trying to advance the Patriots into better field goal range against the Cardinals. This led to a missed Stephen Gostkowski field goal. It’s not to say that he made the wrong call but certainly questionable
2. The Offensive Line (at times) – Although it has played better in recent games, the O-line struggled to protected Brady, most noticeably in Week 2 against the Cardinals. Although it hasn’t been atrocious, Brady is used to a strong offensive line that can allow him to sit back in the pocket and pick apart defenses.
3. The Defense – Yes, the Patriots defense has not only been a strength through the first four games but also a weakness. After a strong start, the Patriots defense allowed 503 and 438 total yards consecutively against the Ravens and Bills. Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington look equally lost at the cornerback positions, and at times, the line has failed to put pressure on the opposing quarterback. That being said, only time will tell whether the Patriots defense is truly a strength or a weakness.
Looking ahead, the Patriots do not have a very difficult schedule. Of the remaining 12 games, eight should result in a W. The four remaining games that could prove to be a challenge are against the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, Houston Texans, and San Francisco 49ers. The Patriots are too talented of a football team to play inconsistently the rest of the way. A 10-2 record in the remaining 12 games is not a stretch. This would put the Patriots at 12-4 to finish the season, easily putting them at the top of the AFC East and possibly at the number one or number two seed in the conference.