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Patriots: Annual Class of the Division

There was a lot of hype around the Buffalo Bills leading into this week’s game against the Patriots, but Patriots proved that they are still the class of the AFC East division today.  The Patriots won the game 40-32, but it really wasn’t really that close.  Offensively, the Patriots did whatever they wanted to do.  So much for the talk about Rex Ryan’s impact with all of these talented players on the Bills defense.  Simply put, their defense was non-existent.  Tom Brady dropped back to pass 63 times and was only hit a grand total of five times.  It was a terrible defensive performance by the Bills.

Tom Brady was outstanding in this game.  He finished 34 for 59 for 466 yards, and three touchdown passes.  He picked apart the Bills defense from the very beginning of the game with short passes to Julian Edelman and Dion Lewis.  He made some big plays to Rob Gronkowski as well.  “Gronk” was his normal self.  He dominated the game on the receiving end and made some key blocks.  He finished with seven catches for 113 yards, and a touchdown.  Edelman and Lewis also had over 90 yards receiving today.  There were a lot of positives in this game, but there were also some reasons for concerns.  Here are a few observations from today’s game outside of the standard Brady/Gronkowski focus.

Let’s start with areas of improvement.

1.  The Patriots are 2-0, but their overall defense is a cause for concern.  Going into this game, many analysts picked the Bills to win.  However, did anyone think that the Bills would score 32 points?  This is certainly not to take anything away from this win, but this defense is looking very similar to the Patriots defenses in 2012 and 2013,  The Patriots dominated the regular season in both of those years and then got beat in the playoffs because their defense simply was not good enough,  The reality is that the losses of Darrelle Revis, Vince Wilfork, and Brandon Browner are being overlooked by Patriots Nation.  Tyrod Taylor would not have scored 32 points on the 2014 Patriots.  The Patriots made some key turnovers in this game, but is it really that impressive against Taylor?  This is not a championship defense right now.

2.  That Patriots run defense is allowing 5.65 yards per carry this season.  27 carries for 160 yards today.  25 carries for 134 yards in Week 1.  To put that in perspective, the worst run defense in 2014, the New York Giants,  gave up an average of 4.9 yards per carry.  Many fans though the loss of Wilfork was not a big deal.  It’s showing so far.  Teams are having their way with the Patriots defense line and gaining solid yardage in the ground game.  The Patriots have had the luxury of playing with a lead in the first two games.  The run defense could be more glaring if they get behind and their opposition can run the ball more often.

3.  Aaron Dobson.  OK, enough about the concerns on D.  Let’s get to the good stuff.  Dobson caught seven passes for 87 yards on eight targets.  We’ve all heard about Dobson’s potential.  He showed glimpses of being able to make a strong impact in his rookie season and was hampered by injuries last year.  Entering his third season, this is a make or break year for Dobson.  Today’s game was a big step forward.  If he can stretch out the field and continue to open up the short passing game with Edelman and Gronkowski, it will make a major difference for the Patriots offense this year.  Dobson has the talent and ability to make big plays.  This is one thing the Patriots offense was lacking without Brandon LaFell.

4.  Dion Lewis is making a major impact, but how long before he’s in Belichick’s doghouse?  Lewis has filled the Shane Vereen role very nicely.  He had 138 total yards and a touchdown today.  He definitely has the talent to make a big impact and he is the perfect fit for their offense.  Does anyone miss Shane Vereen?  Maybe Belichick does.  He does not like running backs who put the ball in the ground.  This is one reason he put Steven Ridley in the doghouse a couple of years ago.  He is not going to play the most flashy running back.  He’s going to play the back that holds onto the football.  Here’s hoping Lewis can get over this and continue to make a strong impact.  He gives the opposing defenses another option to worry about which opens things up for the entire offense.

5.  The balance of power in the AFC East has not changed.  Another season.  Another division title wrapped up by the Patriots in the preseason.  This Bills team is not a contender.  The reality is that the Dolphins and Jets aren’t either.  The Patriots will once again coast to the AFC East tile.  This is great in one sense, but in another, it makes things challenging for the Patriots when they enter the playoffs and have played another season with what should be six easy wins on the schedule.  As this post is being written, the Dolphins are struggling with the Jaguars.  Yes, the Jaguars!  We’ll see how the Jets look in a true test against the Colts tomorrow night.  It’s truly amazing that in the past 15 years, there really as not been any legitimate threat in this division other than the Patriots.  There is no other division in the NFL, or in professional sports, like this.

The Patriots are 2-0.  That’s a good thing.  They may not have a legitimate threat on their schedule until they play the Colts after their bye week.  Many fans will also view that as a good thing, but that may not be so great when they face legitimate opponents in January.  It’s early and we’ve seen Patriots teams improve over the course of the season in years past.  Offensively, there is no question that this team is elite and can win again.  Their defense will need to improve if they plan on raising banner #5 next September.

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