Are the Patriots a sneakily terrible team with no direction that will be lucky to win 4 games?
Nah, they just sucked offensively on Sunday. Defensively, they were actually pretty good. 10 of Arizona’s points were due to a bad Brady interception on the Pats’ first drive and a blocked punt, after which the Cardinals took over on the Pats’ 2-yard line. The defense isn’t at fault there. In fact, the defense had only one real lapse, when Kevin Kolb somehow engineered a big, long fourth quarter drive that ended with him sneaking it in for a touchdown. Other than that one drive, though, it was the second consecutive solid effort from the defense.
The offense’s problems were four-fold (is that a word?) in my eyes.
1. They were unprepared for the Hernandez injury.
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As crazy as that sounds for a Bill Belichick-coached team, I don’t really how see how anyone could dispute that. As soon as Hernandez went out, the offense looked like it was stuck in quicksand. I’m sure Belichick himself had considered the possibility of the team playing without a star player – guys get hurt all the time – but it looked like the players themselves were a little shell-shocked. It was almost as if they didn’t believe they could move the ball without one of their weapons.
Now, with a week of preparation sans Hernandez and Belichick treating them like dog you-know-what in practice, that shouldn’t be a problem this week. Unpreparedness would figure to be the last thing that plague Brady and co. going forward. Plus, they added Kellen Winslow to take Hernandez’s spot while Hernandez is hurt, which should allow the team to be comfortable in the sets it wants to run.
The Patriots like playing two tight ends, two wide receivers and one running back. When Hernandez got hurt, they couldn’t do it. With Winslow on the team, they can again. So yes, it was amateurish that the team looked so wide-eyed because of the injury to one player. But a sign of things to come? I doubt it.
2. They were focused on reps in the running game
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The Patriots are aware, now, after two Super Bowl losses and a regular inability to come through with big-time offensive production in big playoff games over a five-year stretch, that they have to be able to run the ball on some level. They can pass all the want, and that’s great, but there are times when teams are good enough to take away the passing. You need to be able to do the other thing.
Arizona wasn’t one of those teams that is good enough to take away the passing, in my opinion, but the Patriots put a premium on getting themselves prepared for the future rather than going out there and putting up 35 on the Cardinals and sauntering away with a victory. They wanted to win – don’t get me wrong – but they thought they could win while also working on the things they need to get better at as the season progresses. It’s one thing to win the game, but it’s almost for naught if you win and there’s no actual improvement. Going through the motions doesn’t do the team any good, except in the standings. If they figure they’ll be there at the end, which I’m sure they do, they figure they can afford to go off the most lucrative points-scoring path for a game as a way to solidify their offense down the line.
Steven Ridley has 39 carries through two games, and that’s a lot for a Patriots running back. It’s not just because he’s good that they’re running him so often.
3. The offensive line is very much a work in progress
Tom Brady looked like he was scared for much of the game, and I would have been too – there were 300-pound monsters bearing down on him the entire game. For years, the Patriots have been able to patch together an offensive line and make it one of the best in the business, in part because of Dante Scarnecchia’s coaching, in part because of Brady’s ability to read defenses, in part because of the quick-strike direction of the offense and in part because of luck.
Right now, there’s no luck. Donald Thomas was horrible and should turn in his pads, Ryan Wendell could barely hold Thomas’s jock, Marcus Cannon hasn’t proven a thing yet, and even guys like Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer have struggled. Meanwhile, Logan Mankins is coming off a torn ACL, Dan Connelly didn’t play and Brian Waters decided that his family was more important than football (the nerve…) and didn’t show up in camp. So it’s not good.
Until that gets fixed, there is going to be some issues with the passing game (obviously). Some of it is on Brady, who didn’t play very well. More of it is on the guys protecting him.
4. The Pats just suck once and a while
Every so often, the Patriots just aren’t that good in a game they should then. They’ve been unbelievable for a decade at beating opponents who they should beat, but sometimes they just fall flat. Two years ago, they got steamrolled by Cleveland and Peyton Hillis, and last year they got complacent with a 21-point lead against Buffalo and lost.
It happens to everybody else. Once in a while, it happens to the Patriots, too. They win so much that it’s almost incomprehensible when they lose a game at home as a 14-point favorite to the Cardinals. But they’re human, and they usually bounce back.
The rest of the league…
- The Monday Night game was one of the most frustrating football games I’ve ever watched. It wasn’t just because of the replacement refs, who were terrible. It was because of Matt Ryan and Peyton Manning, who both undertook an extreme wait-and-see offense, which caused them to change the play on almost every single snap. That’s nowhere near an exaggeration. They would each come up to the line, look at the defense, then go and individually talk to every offensive player. Everyone would shift around, and then the play would be run – often unsuccessfully. Audibling and reading defenses is an enormous part of the game, and the handful of great quarterbacks in the league all do it effortlessly. But this was ridiculous. It made you want to tune it out. There’s got to be a better, more efficient way to change the play without moving 11 guys around each time you come to the line of scrimmage.
- On the flip side, Atlanta looks like one of the two best teams in the league, along with San Francisco. I know people want to put Houston into that category, and I can’t really blame them, but Matt Schaub is still not a top-tier guy in my eyes. That keeps them down. Matt Ryan, on the other hand, looked awesome on Monday. And Alex Smith isn’t top-tier either, but he’s been damn good, and the defense does the rest.
- More Atlanta: Falcons’ linebacker Sam Witherspoon kept making awesome plays against Denver on Monday, and then pretending he was feeding himself with a spoon while the crowd screamed, “SPOOOOOOOOOON.” Love all of that.
- Greg Schiano is a loser. He was a loser at Rutgers, and he’s a loser in Tampa Bay. And by “loser,” I mean someone who doesn’t get it. He might be a “leader of men,” but those men are now leaping at linemen’s knees on the final play of a game in which the quarterback is kneeling. I heard people say that maybe 1% of the time you’ll cause a fumble if you do that. No you won’t. You’ll never, ever cause a fumble like that. Ever. You’ll just be an asshole.
- Well, Romeo Crennel seemed like the right guy to hire for Kansas City after the way last year ended…now his team is getting tattooed by Buffalo…
- In Crennel’s defense, he was going up against C.J. Spiller, who I have decided is the greatest running back in the world. You don’t have to agree with me or even think I’m sane. I’m probably not. In fact, I’m completely biased. I went to Clemson during Spiller’s time as a Tiger, and I saw firsthand how unbelievable he was. He was the best college football I’ve ever seen, truly. Every time he touchd the ball it was like Pedro Martinez makng a start for the Red Sox. Everybody knew that he might do something otherwordly. And oftentimes, he did. Check him out against Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship game in 2009. He was like a semi-under the radar Reggie Bush. Now that he’s got the job in Buffalo, Fred Jackson might as well pack his bags. Jackson isn’t getting it back.
- I looooove watching the Eagles play. Not because it’s great football (they’ve turned the ball over 9 times), but because it’s just so entertaining. Everybody on the offense can make plays, and Vick makes sure the play lasts as long as it possibly can. I have no idea how they’re 2-0 with the way they’ve been taking care of the ball, but they are the most entertaining team in the NFL.
- Holy Christ those replacement refs are bad. They are just…screwing up everything. I really didn’t think it would be that big of a deal, but it is. Yet, it’s not going to get fixed any time soon and – like Steve Young said on Monday night – I’ll keep watching either way. It’s a real bad situation for everyone, but since we’re all addicted to the NFL like crack, it’s not going to change.
Scott Hanson should run for president
You can’t find me a person in America who watched the NFL Network’s Red Zone Channel and doesn’t like/love Scott Hanson. He’s the most likeable person on the planet. Not only does he narrate everyone’s favorite sport for like seven hours each Sunday (with no commercials), but he’s constantly upbeat to the point that it’s frightening. I’ve never even seen him discouraged.
A commercial tried to creep onto the telecast in the “quadbox” format, and Hanson quickly audibled out of the quadbox and told the world that “Someone tried to sneak a commercial up there. Obviously, we don’t do that here.”
Scott Hanson is the balls. He either drinks 12 cups of coffee a day or snorts an 8-ball of coke at 12:58 p.m., because he’s just on another level. You wouldn’t vote for this guy? Check out how he gives this guy an impromptu commercial at Eagles Training Camp:
My man-love for Hanson is so creepy that I should be locked up. Speaking of being creepy and in need of a straitjacket…
Jon Gruden’s Monday Night Hits
Gruden just makes things up on television. He says things that he comes up with on the spot, but then plays off like he’s been saying them for a long, long time. On Monday, he delivered once more:
-On Michael Turner
“I call this guy road rage, because he makes some of the most violent runs in football.”
No you don’t, Jon. You literally just made that up. Although, Turner did get arrested for a DUI after the game…
Want more Gruden? We’ve got you covered.