FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots are 0-2 for the first time since 2001.
Since 1990, 11 percent of NFL teams that started 0-2 have advanced to the postseason. The introduction of a 17th game slightly improves those odds, but the Patriots certainly have their work cut out to turn their season around.
With 15 games remaining, let’s explore some of the reasons the Patriots are where they are …
1. They are turning over the ball.
Coach Bill Belichick will be the first to point out the turnovers have been problematic.
The offense has committed four giveaways. Ezekiel Elliott and Demario Douglas have fumbled, and Mac Jones has thrown two interceptions, one on a high ball that bounced off the hands of Kendrick Bourne and another on a throw to DeVante Parker that exhibited poor decision-making from all involved.
Not only have the giveaways been costly — three resulted in touchdowns — they’ve been untimely. Three occurred in the first quarter, contributing to early deficits and forcing the offense to play from behind. Three also took place in the opponents’ territory, stunting an otherwise promising drive.
Taking care of the football is a top priority.
2. They are starting slowly.
The Patriots are one of six teams that have been held scoreless in the first quarter. They also rank 29th in time of possession in the first quarter, ahead of only Chicago, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh.
“It’s not how you want to play the game,” center David Andrews said. “It’s hard. Very hard.”
The Patriots are encouraged by their resiliency to bounce back, as they’ve had a chance to win or tie in the fourth quarter of both games. But they recognize that strategy is not sustainable. They cannot simply wait until their backs are against the wall.
The slow starts are particularly challenging to overcome because the Patriots lack explosive playmakers. They have only two pass plays of 20-plus yards — a catch-and-run by Rhamondre Stevenson for a gain of 32 and a catch along the sideline by Douglas for 23. Douglas’s reception is Jones’s lone completion on throws of more than 20 yards in the air. He is 0 of 9 otherwise.
The Patriots are averaging 4.5 yards per play, which ranks 28th. Their longest play from scrimmage against Miami was an 18-yard scramble by Jones. Not ideal.
Given their limitations, the Patriots need to demonstrate more urgency from the jump. They have the most control of the script at the beginning of the game.
“We spend a lot of time on how we want to open the game,” offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien said. “The start of the games, we’ve moved the ball and then something’s happened, whether it’s a pick-6 or a sack.
“I do think we have the right idea when it comes to opening these games, but we have to be able to string the plays along, so we can come down and get points.”
3. They are not playing complementary football.
The defense has forced a fumble and intercepted a pass, though the offense has not been able to capitalize. The forced fumble — recovered at Philadelphia’s 41-yard line in Week 1 — led to a turnover on downs, and the interception led to a three-and-out that finished with negative yardage.
“Our defense has continued to do a great job in the games,” Jones said. “We saw it firsthand in practice all offseason. So they’ve just got to keep doing their thing and we’ve got to figure it out on our side.”
The special teams unit, too, gave the Patriots favorable field position last Sunday, when Brenden Schooler blocked a 49-yard field goal attempt. But the offense could not finish the ensuing drive, with Jones throwing an interception.
Belichick has always preached the importance of complementary football. He almost always mentions its significance after a victory. The playmaking ability of one unit begins to lose value if the others cannot hold up their end of the bargain.
4. The line is not putting the offense in position to succeed.
The Patriots have started eight offensive linemen, with Andrews and right tackle Calvin Anderson the only two mainstays. With Trent Brown (concussion) returning to practice in a limited capacity Wednesday, the Patriots could have all of their starters available for Week 3.
The return of a healthy and competent line is crucial. Behind a makeshift group, the running game has struggled to establish consistency. The Patriots rank 27th in rushing yards per game (82.0) and 22nd in yards per attempt (3.5).
Their run-block win rate — the frequency with which offensive linemen win matchups — ranks 27th, according to ESPN analytics.
Although Stevenson is one of the team’s most dynamic players, the tandem of Stevenson and Elliott has yet to have a meaningful impact on the ground. A floundering run game only complicates matters for the passing attack, as run/pass options become more difficult to execute.
“For any run, you have to get used to who’s running it, who’s blocking, who they’re blocking, and things like that,” Stevenson said. “There’s a practice standpoint. You have to repeat it and get used to doing it.”
The same is true for pass protection. New England’s pass-block win rate — the frequency with which offensive linemen can hold blocks for 2.5 seconds or longer — ranks 31st. Jones has had just an average of 2.46 seconds to throw, and has been sacked six times.
Jones’s numbers under pressure have improved significantly compared with last season, but his numbers are obviously the best when he is kept clean.
“Some [linemen] have been out for a while or are just getting back in,” O’Brien said. “I think you’ll see improvement in run-blocking and pass-blocking.”
5. Their schedule has not been friendly.
The good news is that all the problems can be addressed. Will the team actually be able to do so? Time will tell.
The bad news is that the Patriots still have the hardest strength of schedule. Their first two opponents are arguably Super Bowl contenders. There are a few soft spots in the schedule, but their margin for error against most opponents will be slim.