Monday, October 3, 2005

Patriots 17, Chargers 41 (10/2/2005)

Let me be the first to report that the Patriots finally, *finally* took my advice and got the pesky penalty situation under control. After weeks with 7, 12, and 10 penalties, the Pats worked hard and committed only 4 penalties this week against the Chargers. 4 penalties!! That's a six fewer than they'd been averaging for the season, and I'd call that progress. Well, I'd call it progress if they hadn't gotten spanked by San Diego, 41-17, in the worst drubbing they've ever suffered at Gillette Stadium and their worst loss since 31-0 on opening day 2003.

Yesterday reminded me of the old days, the 1-15 days, the days when I'd trek out to the stadium and scream like a maniac, trying to exhort the defense, and all I'd get for my trouble was... well, a sore throat. The longer the game went on, the easier everything got for the Chargers, scoring on five straight possessions at one point, and the tougher everything got for the Pats. And the up-coming schedule is getting tougher, too. Two more road games before they get a bye week to lick their wounds and start the home-heavy part of the season (6 of their last 10 games will be at home).

For the offense, it was a tale of two halves. They were effective and efficient in the first half and downright pathetic in the second. In the first half, if not for a missed field goal, they would have scored on four of five possessions, they had no turnovers, zero penalties, and had a nice run/pass balance. But their opening second half drive was killed with a Corey Dillon 7-yard loss and a Ben Watson penalty. Two plays later they were punting the ball. And it didn't get better, with drives of 3, 5, 1, and 4 plays that all gave the ball right back to San Diego. And the Chargers took advantage, with long drives that gave them a 20:45 to 9:15 time of possession advantage for the half.

The O-line allowed a lot of pressure (though only one sack) and didn't open up many holes for the running game. Tom Brady was a bit off, but I can't remember too many bad decisions, and it's tough to throw when you're constantly getting hit. Honestly, aside from the line I didn't think the offense executed that poorly overall, so I suppose a lot of the blame should go to the non-existent offensive coordinator. So far this year, the Patriots opening drives have been fine, but they aren't adjusting as well as they have in the past. And they haven't used Corey Dillon or their tight ends nearly as much as they should. I think they should consider changing things up in the offensive coaching staff because they don't have the same edge they did in past seasons. Maybe just name someone interim offensive coordinator so everyone knows who is in charge. By the way, if you need more evidence of their poor adjustments, consider that their one (that's right one) third-down conversion in the second half was a pass by backup QB Matt Cassel.

The defense was obviously spent midway through the third quarter, and they had the offense to blame for some of that. But they didn't tackle well enough to get themselves off the field, and they have produced only three turnovers in four games (by comparison, they forced nine turnovers in the first four games of 2004). The secondary was in disarray yesterday, with Duane Starks, Chad Scott, and the usually steady Eugene Wilson making critical errors. Wilson was called for pass interference, but if he'd turned around he would have had an interception instead. Starks and Scott made one very good play and about five bad ones between them. They need Tyrone Poole to start playing or Randall Gay to return from injury; and they need them fast. And they might want to move Wilson back to Strong Safety, especially next week against another talented tight end. Starks or Scott are probably fine nickel or dime backs, but not ready for prime time, so getting starters healthy will be the best medicine for them.

As for the linebackers, only Willie McGinest (a monster early, invisible late) and Mike Vrabel had decent days. And even though Monte Beisel and Chad Brown didn't sign on to replace Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson, someone needs to tell them they have the starting job and need to make some plays. I think each had one decent play and spent the rest of the afternoon plugging the wrong hole, over-pursuing the play, and sucking wind like the rest of the defense. The vaunted defensive line wilted in the early-October sun, victims of their own inability to pressure the quarterback or slow the running game. Vince Wilfork spent most of the day pancaked by the Chargers center, and a cutback runner like LaDainian Tomlinson will always find holes in an over-pursuing defense. The Patriots rotated their D-line to keep them as fresh as possible, but to no avail. Richard Seymour and Jarvis Green were wasted by the end of the day.

Special teams had a mixed day, with the missed field goal but some outstanding kickoff coverage and some nice punting. Nothing special; no penalties of note; just sort of there.

So where does this leave us? Miami had a bye week, so they fall into first place by default (2-1 versus the Patriots 2-2). The rest of the division is just awful (as predicted), and the Pats will still likely outrun the competition for the division crown this year. But for the moment, they are in danger of finishing the first six weeks under .500. They're about to face the #1 and #3 rushing offenses in the NFL (Atlanta and Denver), so this might be a good time to switch to the 4-3 until they find a way to stop the run consistently. I think they'll take Atlanta, because they're one-dimensional (all run, no pass), and I'll let you know what I really think of the Broncos in next week's update.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "The Patriots are lucky to be 2-2. They're last in the NFL in rushing offense, last in the AFC in scoring defense, and 14th in the AFC in giveaway/takeaway ratio. They played like crap against Oakland and could easily have lost to Pittsburgh."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 2-2!

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