By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The New England Patriots stunk out loud when they took the field Sunday in Nashville. You’ve likely heard that news by now.
You’re just as likely to have some growing worries about the team’s struggles as a road team this season, particularly Tom Brady’s offense. With a 2-3 record, and five really uninspiring performances in road games this season, there is some genuine concern growing about what might happen to the Patriots if they have to hit the road in January for a playoff game.
And with the Patriots having lost three games to the Jaguars, Lions, and Titans — three teams with a combined record of 11-16 — there is some growing worry that the Patriots’ issues on the road are incurable, and that a dud like Sunday’s will be how this season ultimately comes to an end.
That may end up being true. Nobody’s Nostradmus here.
But here’s something that should probably get stated loudly in this moment: Of the Patriots’ five underwhelming performances on the road, four of them have come against top-six defenses.
Here’s the top six ranking in defense, as determined by yards allowed per game:
1. Buffalo: 302.2
2. Baltimore: 305.0
3. Jacksonville: 319.1
4. Chicago: 319.6
5. Minnesota: 322.2
6. Tennessee: 328.6
19. Detroit: 362.1
Clearly, Detroit is the outlier. But those other four teams roll out some heavy duty defenses.
The Patriots did manage to put up more yards than the average team against Chicago and Buffalo, but fell short in the other three. (Worth noting: Rob Gronkowski didn’t play against Chicago and Tennessee.)
It’s not that that is good news, per se. But given that only Chicago and maybe Tennessee will make it to the postseason out of that group, it’s an issue the Patriots may be able to avoid going forward.
And for what it’s worth, the Patriots have beaten Houston and Green Bay, two teams with top-10 defenses. Minnesota (No. 6), Pittsburgh (No. 8), and another game against Buffalo remain on New England’s schedule.
Of course, it would be ideal from a Patriots perspective for the team to handle such challenges with aplomb. But life isn’t ideal, and the Patriots at the very least know they need to be much better across the board the next time they find themselves facing a top-10 defense.
The fact that the Patriots have the 10th-best offense in the NFL becomes a bit more impressive when it’s revealed that they’ve faced a bottom-10 defense just three times this year. Tom Brady and Co. capitalized in those games, putting 38 points and 449 yards on the Dolphins, 38 points and 438 yards on the Colts, and putting 43 points and a whopping 500 yards on the Chiefs.
They’ve faced three bad defenses, and they’ve torn them all up. With their next two road games taking place at the Jets (No. 18) and Dolphins (No. 26), it feels safe to assume that the Brady-led offense will look a bit more potent in those games.
If they don’t? Well, then that’s a problem worth exploring. For now, the story should read that the Patriots’ offense has had tremendous trouble with some of the NFL’s best defenses when on the road. The Patriots will want to work on that, but there’s also not a team in the league that can really boast about not having that same problem.