Monday, September 21, 2009

Patriots 9, Jets 16 (9/20/2009)

If you read this blog then you were in the know about this one. The Patriots dropped what appeared to be a winnable game, losing 16-9 to the Jets in New York. The loss set them into a way tie for second place (though at the moment they hold the tie-breaker over Buffalo), trailing the Jets and a half-game ahead of Miami -- who play Indy tonight.

Truth is the Patriots offense came out flat on offense and that cost them the game. How out of sync where they? Three trips to the red zone, three field goals no touchdowns. Their first scoring "drive" featured two penalties and two incomplete passes and covered -10 yards. They had four delay of game penalties, including two on back-to-back plays -- which I've *never* seen before in an NFL game.

Brady misfired on some throws and had his worst statistical performance since his last loss -- in December of 2006. With Wes Welker out, rookie Julian Edelman took on the role of slot receiver. And though he led the team with eight catches, seven other throws in his direction went incomplete, so he and Brady weren't quite in sync. The Jets double-teamed Moss into irrelevance (4 catches for 24 yards), and with Welker out, Ben Watson didn't pick up any of the slack (3-23). Brady is obviously working off the rust, and should be better in a few weeks; here's hoping they don't go 0-3 while that happens.

(Two notes about new players. First, speaking of not being in sync, Joey Galloway should spend more time in the film room and studying the playbook. Half the time he looks like he's running whatever route he wants, and another quarter of the time he turns the wrong way and misses complete-able passes. And he threw in a illegal formation penalty this week -- sheesh! Second, new tight end Chris Baker was supposed to push Ben Watson and take on some of Wes Welker's over the middle route running burden, but so far Baker has been invisible. Unless you count his holding penalty that made the first field goal 10 yards longer. Snap out of it, man!)

Part of the reason for the poor passing day was pressure from the Jets. But I don't want to completely blame the Patriots O-line (which did a better job than they did against the Bills). Most of the heavy pressure came when the Jets rushed six men and the Pats had only five blockers. I thought they should have adjusted the scheme to keep one more man in. However, if the Pats insist on going empty backfield with free releases for the tight ends, then teams can cover five-on-five and rush six, giving them a free blitzer whenever they like. In the past, Brady would have burned them, but until he's back to form, I think they should use the tight ends to chip pass rushers and keep a back in for blitz protection.

And speaking of backs, the running game had decent stats, but is still incapable of just lining up and power running for a yard or two. Fred Taylor (8 rushes for 46 yards) looks to be working his way into the offense, and I think by the end of the year he and Kevin Faulk could be the featured backs in a 100% shotgun/spread offense. But until then, maybe they should bring in Sammy Morris or BenJarvus Green-Ellis for short yardage. Because Laurence Maroney and Fred Taylor got shut down in that scenario the past two weeks.

I hear a lot of whining about the Pats defense, but I thought they were pretty good. Some of the choice first half stats: Jets had -2 yards passing, 20 total offensive plays (to the Patriots 40), and were 0-4 on third down conversions. The Pats also forced two fumbles and held them to just four first downs. That performance should have been good enough for a 17-3 lead at the half -- but the offense was out of sync, with misdirected passes, lots of holding penalties, and just a 9-3 lead.

The six-point deficit allowed the Jets to keep rookie QB Mark Sanchez under wraps until they made their halftime adjustments, and even after the half they kept tight control of what they had him do. And it worked, with a quick touchdown drive right out of the gate and two sustained drives for field goals that gave us our final score. To beat a young QB you have to force him to try things he isn't comfortable with. The Patriots did not open up enough of a lead to force the Jets to take risks, so they stuck with their running game and safe passes, and it was enough to win.

The only real star on defense was Vince Wilfork, who was his usual disruptive self, despite being double-teamed often. Ty Warren played okay, but too many of his six tackles game down the field. Mike Wright forced a fumble on the Jets first series, and got decent pressure during the game, and my rookie favorite, Mike Brace, got on the field for a few plays. But overall the D-line needs to work better as a unit and might lack the talent to absorb the loss of Richard Seymour. Not that I thought Seymour was at his best the past few years; but his absence allows teams to double Vince and send running plays away from Ty Warren toward Jarvis Green and Tully Banta-Cain (both of whom are better against the pass).

Speaking of Banta-Cain, it was a little scary when yesterday's announcer said, "With Seymour gone, Banta-Cain is the Patriots best pass rusher." I don't agree (Adalius Thomas is better), but it's just frightening to believe that statement is somewhat true. And speaking of linebackers, with Jerod Mayo out Gary Guyton led the team with ten tackles. Not much else to say; Thomas missed an interception that would have completely changed the game, and well... the rest of the linebackers didn't make enough plays to make mention of them.

Same with the secondary. A good but not great performance, with no missed INTs that I saw, no big hits like we saw against Buffalo, some plays with tight coverage and knocked down passes, usually followed up with an easy completion for a first down. Last year the Pats got killed on third-and-five or longer, and at the moment it looks like more of the same this year. Here's hoping that the young players can find some of that upside I've been touting, and that they find it in time for the Falcons game this Sunday -- because Atlanta has some weapons on offense.

Special teams were a wash. They had some nice returns and gave up some nice returns. Gostkowski was 3-3 on field goals but the special teams units had four penalties. They sort of mirrored the overall team -- not a great day, not a terrible day, just happened to be playing a fired-up team that performed well.

And finally, a word about the coaching. They put in a few innovations for this game. On defense they had safety Brandon McGowan "spying" Leon Washington about half the time (i.e. he shadowed Washington wherever he went). And that might have slowed Leon down, at least on offense.

The other thing they did was on offense. Apparently they wanted to run the no-huddle all game, but thought Brady might not be able to get the calls to all the receivers. So they gave every receiver and running back the same "wristband" that Brady has, with lists of plays that are numbered and coded. Then, they used sideline signals to indicate which play was called, so the backs and receivers would know without getting the word from Brady. Even though the offense didn't do that well, I wouldn't discount the possibility of them doing this again in loud stadiums. It could work -- just need Wes Welker and Tom Brady back to full health :)

All that aside, the coaches did not make great adjustments during the game. The Jets first drive after the half was 3 plays, 56 yards, and a touchdown. The Patriots first drive of the second half was 3 plays, zero yards, and a punt. That my friends, is being out-schemed and out-coached in the locker room at the half. Nothing to be ashamed of; but it happens more and more frequently these days than it used to. I still think Belichick hires too many clones of himself for his staff, and needs offensive and defensive coordinators he can trust. But hey, he's got the Super Bowl rings and all I have is this little blog. So we'll see how it goes.

So where does that leave us? As reported before, in second place with a difficult game at home this week. I expect I'll get my rah-rah voicemail from Bill Belichick sometime around Wednesday (LOL)... but I won't need it. I'll be loud and proud at the stadium six days from now. Atlanta is better than I thought, but I'll stick with the prediction of a win. After all, it's no fun to go to a game when you've admitted you think they'll lose :)

Statistical Oddity of the Week: All three Patriots field goals came either one or two plays after incomplete passes to Julian Edelman. "Welker! Get back in there!!"

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "You aren't going to win many games when you score 9 points."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 1-1!

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