FOXBOROUGH – Perhaps it’s time to reduce expectations for the 2014 Patriots.
Sure, they’re 2-1 after Sunday’s 16-9 win over the Raiders. And the defense looks pretty good — although it didn’t register a sack and created its first turnover in the final minute of the game, it kept the Raiders out of the end zone.
The Patriots’ offense, though, is a mess. And it might not get much better.
Other than Julian Edelman, no one on the offense is operating at a high level. Tom Brady is skittish in the pocket and locks onto Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. Gronk looks very timid as he works back from his knee injury. Stevan Ridley has nowhere to run, and the receivers not named Edelman and Gronk have trouble getting open.
But the real issues start with the offensive line. The unit got pushed around again on Sunday by the Raiders’ front seven, and once again the running game couldn’t get going, and Brady had little-to-no time in the pocket. Left tackle Nate Solder had a rough time with rookie Khalil Mack all game — Mack had an easy sack and seven tackles — and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer had trouble with Justin Tuck. The Patriots had to go up-tempo just to try to catch the Raiders off guard. This is an offense that needs trickery and deception to move the football.
Things got so bad that coach Bill Belichick had to bench right guard Jordan Devey in the fourth quarter, putting rookie Bryan Stork in at center and moving Dan Connolly to guard.
Eventually, the Patriots wore down the Raiders’ defense in the fourth quarter. But if you’re waiting for the Patriots’ offense to have this explosive, break-out performance, you probably shouldn’t hold your breath.
Some other observations from Sunday’s win:
■ The deep red zone offense has to be a major concern. Stephen Gostkowski should never have field goals of 20 and 21 yards. First and goal from the 2, the Patriots must convert that into a touchdown.
■ Brady did a better job of trying to get Brandon LaFell involved, targeting him seven times for three catches. But 18 of his 35 attempts still went to Edelman and Gronk, while tight end Tim Wright and receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Danny Amendola only had one official target each. For Amendola, who had zero catches, Sunday’s game was the third in a row that he’s had a catch wiped out by LaFell on an illegal pick. Either fix the blocking or ditch the play.
■ Darrelle Revis wasn’t terrible, but certainly didn’t have his best game. Derek Carr targeted him seven times, completing five passes for 63 yards and drawing a pass interference. Revis lined up all over the field in the first half, covering several receivers, but shadowed James Jones in the second half.
■ Speaking of Carr, his numbers didn’t look great, but I thought he showed really nice poise and great accuracy for a rookie quarterback playing with half a deck of cards. He went right at Revis all day, and had the Raiders in position to tie the game at the end before a fluky interception. Most impressive was his ability to throw accurately on the run. The Raiders need to get him some better receivers.
■ Chandler Jones didn’t have any sacks, but he was still very disruptive, swatting down two passes at the line of scrimmage.
■ Love that jet sweep to Edelman. It worked well once again, picking up 5 yards on third and 2. It’s nearly impossible to defend.
■ Donta Hightower is really coming into his own in his third season. He was great again as a pass rusher, has improved a lot in coverage, and had seven tackles Sunday.