Sunday’s dismal loss to the Titans highlighted one of the most glaring flaws with the 2018 Patriots: their struggle to perform on the road. The Patriots at home have been a completely different team than the Patriots away. With playoff seeding looming, this is not a pattern the team can sustain.
With a one or two game sample, this would just seem like a bump in the road (pun intended). However after ten games, five at home and five away, there is a pattern that indicates that there is some sort of issue with the team when they play in opposing stadiums.
At home this season, the Patriots offense has averaged 35 points and 442 yards per game. On the road, they have averaged just 20 points and 312 yards per game. Their defense has been just as polarized. In their five road games, they are giving up an average of 26 points and 413 yards per game (it’s even worse if you take out the Bills game – they would be giving up 31 points per game). Their home games only see them giving up 22 points and 350 yards per game.
On a general level, this is not exactly an odd phenomenon. It’s natural for teams to perform better at home than on the road. That’s why they call it home-field advantage. What is odd is seeing such a wide disparity between home and away performance with the New England Patriots. They have always been “better” at home, but that concept is due more to their absolutely ridiculous level of success in Gillette Stadium. They have been a brilliant team on the road as well under Bill Belichick. Just two years ago the team went 8-0 on the road en route to their fifth Super Bowl championship.
It’s unclear why exactly the Patriots have struggled so mightily on the road this season. It’s not like there is one single aspect of their game that is worse than the others on the road. The offense has been pitiful; they put up just ten points against the Lions and the Titans. The defense has been embarrassed in multiple games; the Jaguars, the Titans, and (to a lesser extent) the Bears have all blown the Patriots defense away despite being unable to do that against other teams. Even the Patriots special teams performance has been embarrassing. New England’s coverage unit had a particularly poor day against Tennessee and gave up what could have been a game-changing fumble in Chicago. It has been bad from top to bottom on the road.
Wherever the issues stem from, New England needs to come up with a solution if they want to finish the regular season, and the playoffs, on a positive note. The Patriots have three road games left this season. Coming out of the bye week they face the Jets in New York. The Patriots have no choice but to have a good performance against a putrid Jets team. However, they then need to play both the Dolphins and the Steelers on the road. Playing in Pittsburgh isn’t an unusually difficult task. The Patriots have won three out of the previous four matchups at Heinz field. However, the Steelers have found a rhythm as of late, and will not be an easy opponent to beat on the road. The Dolphins are a sneaky difficult matchup for New England. The Patriots have lost four of their last five games to the Dolphins in Miami. The Sunshine State has not been particularly kind to them.
If the Patriots continue to struggle on the road and lose these two games, they could drop to 11-5 on the year, potentially dropping them to the third seed in the AFC playoffs. This would then earn them up to two more road playoff games to make it back to the Super Bowl.
This is an issue that the Patriots need to figure out. Whether it’s game planning during the week, or a psychological hump that the team needs to get over, figuring out how to perform at a high level on the road is going to be crucial to the team’s success for the rest of 2018.