By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots offense hasn’t had much trouble moving the ball or scoring points so far. But there’s one particular situation where they’re struggled and will need to get it together before the schedule gets tougher.
In short-yardage situations, they’ve been below average.
You don’t need me to tell you the Patriots offense has to be better in those spots. Take it from Bill Belichick, who spoke at length on the many third-and-1 plays in which the Patriots have been sluggish on offense.
“I mean, in the end, it usually comes down to fundamentals. You’ve got to block them, or you’ve got to defeat a block and make the play,” said Belichick. “Sometimes if you don’t need a lot of yardage, you’re kind of reluctant to go through putting the ball in the air, protecting, running routes and all that when he can just hand it off for a yard, but you’ve got to be able to make that yard. We’ve got to obviously do a better job of coaching it and a better job of executing it and be better in that situation.
“I mean, that’s a key situation. If you can’t get a yard in this league, then that’s going to eventually catch up to you. It already has, but it will continue to be a problem if we’re not able to get that yard offensively. Defensively, percentages are with the offense in that situation, so a stop there is a big stop. But, realistically, you’re not going to be 80 percent on defense in that situation. Offensively, that’s where you’d like to be.”
The Pats haven’t even been close to 80 percent on offense in short-yardage situations. In 24 plays with 1-3 yards to go, the Patriots have converted 14 first downs – 58 percent.
It gets worse on third downs with 1-4 yards to go, as the Patriots have moved the chains three times in seven plays (43 percent) in that situation. They are well behind the NFL average of 59 percent. They’ve converted two first downs rushing, which is also below the league average of 2.7.
It still gets worse for New England on third-and-1 in particular, as they’ve rushed three times for two yards and one first down, plus 0-for-1 passing for Tom Brady. On third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 combined, running back Mike Gillislee has rushed four times for just two yards and a single first down.
Belichick wasn’t going to throw Gillislee or any particular player under the bus. But when asked whether it was on the players to get the yards needed in short-yardage situations, he said what he usually says: basically everyone and everything has to be better.
“Well, again, it’s the coaches’ job to put the players in the best situation that they can be in. So, if you put a guy in a bad situation, then it’s hard for him to succeed,” said Belichick. “If you put him in a good situation, then you just have to execute the play and it will be alright. I mean, I think we need to do a better job, they need to do a better job. I mean, we’ve got to block better, we’ve got to run better, we’ve got to coach better. I don’t think it’s just one thing. We all need to improve on it. It’s a key situation.”
The Patriots still have plenty of time to figure out their short-yardage game. But it’s likely that the improvement will need to come from within, because there’s little chance Belichick acquires a new running back or offensive lineman that would be any better than the players he already has.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.