Monday, October 13, 2008

Patriots 10, Chargers 30 (10/12/2008)

Which term do you guys prefer: Jekyll-and-Hyde team; Elevator team (i.e. up-and-down); Trick-or-treat team (almost Halloween, after all); Windows team (works fine one week, crashes the next); or Heart-attack team? Well, whatever you call them, it's clear that you never know what you're going to get from the 2008 New England Patriots. Last week they won in every phase of the game and beat San Fran 30-21; this week San Diego won in every phase of the game and thrashed the Patriots 30-10. The loss leaves them one game behind the idle Bills and tied for second with the hated Jets. And with nemesis Denver coming to town next week, they might be .500 before they get better.

When you're part of the NFL pack instead of a leading light there isn't much difference between winning and losing. Last night's game was a perfect example. Halfway through the second quarter, the Pats settled for a field goal after a long pass to Randy Moss went incomplete. If the referees had called the obvious holding penalty on that play, they might have scored a touchdown instead and only been down 10-7. And on their first drive of the second half, the Patriots had a first and goal at the Chargers one yard-line, and poor play calling and execution left them with no points at all. Couple a score there with a touchdown instead of a field goal earlier, and it could have been 17-14. But instead the Chargers drove the length of the field and made it a 24-3 rout. Two plays sequences that could have changed the outcome of a game that was a laugher by the end -- both plays the Patriots would have made in the past.

And I don't mean to say the Patriots got robbed by the officials or were a play or two away from actually winning. The Chargers game plan, play calling, and execution of offense, defense, and special teams was far superior to the Patriots. The Patriots defense pretty much stopped the run, only to be beaten repeatedly for long passes. The Patriots offense was always in second- and third-and-long situations, and even their special teams were markedly outplayed by San Diego.

So who played well? Alright, alright... who didn't stink up the joint? Wes Welker, Kevin Faulk, Sammie Morris on offense. Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork on defense. Ellis Hobbs on special teams.

Who played just dreadfully? Randy Moss, Nick Kazcur, Dan Koppen on offense. Richard Seymour, Rodney Harrison, Ellis Hobbs, James Sanders, Deltha O'Neal, Terrence Wheatley, Adalius Thomas on defense. No one on special teams.

What does that leave? 30 other players who were mediocre or not-truly-awful. And that won't get it done against any decent team in the league. With the talent the Patriots have, they might be able to just show up to get a winagainst the Rams, Seattle, and Oakland. But that leaves eight other games where the outcome will be in serious doubt and you just won't know how the Patriots are likely to do until it all gets started.

I haven't seen that kind of Patriots uncertainty since the fall of 2001, when Brady first started. But if Matt Cassel expects to get close to Brady's performance that year, he needs to do three things:

First, he needs to keep his eyes down the field when he scrambles. He's leaving too many plays on the field (he missed Wes Welker for about 15 yards when he scrambled for 3 yards in the third quarter). Second, he must be more accurate with long throws. Teams will be stacking up against the run and short throws, and with Randy Moss, those long passes will be there, so he has to hit them. And third, he needs to start calling audibles to get the Patriots out of bad plays. Too often I've seen teams put eight or nine men at the line to stop the run and the Patriots run right into it. If the coaches are telling him not to audible, it's time to take off the training wheels and see what he can do. In fact, he seemed to do better in the no-huddle, so it might be time to open the game with that.

As for the rest of the team; they got out-hustled, out-hit, out-coached, out-schemed, and out-played by San Diego. The good news is that it's only one game. The bad news is that the schedule is full of teams that are at least as good as the Chargers (Denver, Indy, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, etc.). So if the Patriots don't get more consistent effort and don't improve their preparation, it will soon be time to start talking about next year's draft.

So where does that leave us? One game behind in the division with historical nemesis Denver a week from tonight. The Patriots are 15-24 all time against the Broncos, so don't expect much help from them. Luckily, I won't be there to witness the likely carnage; but over the past few years, this up-coming tilt with Denver is exactly the kind of game they have won -- the game where no one (even me) gave them much of a chance.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: I don't want to think about the Patriots any more, but here's an odd statistic about the New York Giants. They are leading the league in time of possession (34:15 per game), but they have the second-FEWEST total plays from scrimmage (262). Go ahead, I dare you to explain *that* one.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Man, it sucks to be mediocre again."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 3-2!


  1. So not being a diehard football fan, I have to ask a question. It seems that starting late last year, definitely into the Superbowl and continuing this year: the Pats O-line does not provide adaquate coverage to our QBs, or do they? One of the few memories I haven't repressed from the last Superbowl was that Brady was constantly getting hammered. This season's injury was caused by a lineman getting into the backfield, getting knocked down and getting back up to then hit Brady's knee at a bad angle. Also it seems like Cassel is constantly scrambling immediately upon receiving the snap. So am I not understanding part of this or is our O-line imitating my favorite cheese? Swiss with big holes in it?


  2. Late last season, the only games where I thought there was a lot of pressure on Brady were the AFC Championship game and the Super Bowl. Other than that, I thought they played well when Brady needed protection. And in the Super Bowl, I thought the play-calling was the real culprit.

    They called almost no max protection, screen passes, or draw plays to slow down the Giants pass rush, and they kept trying to throw the ball deep against a defense specifically design to stop that. Short passes were the order of that day, and they just didn't throw them often enough.

    As for the O-line now, they aren't playing great, but Chargers game aside, I don't think they suck. Brady was injured on a poor block by Sammie Morris (not a breakdown by the O-line), and Matt Cassel takes longer to make decisions, which leads to pressure.

    I never bought the idea that the Patriots O-line was one of the top 5 in the league, they're more like in the top 12. They don't have the size or physicality to line up and run the ball down your throat, and they usually need help from a tight end or running back to protect the QB. They're clearly in the top half of the NFL; just not as great as many pundits thought they were.

    Over the years, there's been a lot of change on the O-line, and it might be starting to show. But give Cassel time to grow into the position and see how they do when he makes quicker decisions.

    BTW, I think the best way to open up the offense is to go with the no-huddle spread formation. Worked well against the Chargers when they started using it in the second half -- they just missed too many opportunities and the defense played poorly, too.

    Thanks for checking in, MP.

    - Scott