Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Patriots 17, Saints 38 (11/30/2009)

They don't get the crap kicked out of 'em often, but it happened last night. The Saints shellacked the Patriots 38-17, dropping their record to 7-4, though that is still good enough for a two-game lead in the division. Pats played them pretty tough for about 20 minutes, and then the wheels fell off, with multiple defensive lapses and not enough offensive firepower to keep up.

I considered taking the week off, just like the Patriots secondary. After all, what is there to say about a 21-point loss to an obviously superior team. But rather than do that, I'll veer from my normal update and go over what went wrong when the Patriots were still in the game and how they can improve their second-half offense, which has been poor against good teams on the road.

(BTW, if you're looking for my normal type of update, here it is: Defense was awful except Tully Banta-Cain and Jerod Mayo -- some of the time. Offensively, the O-line did a decent job run blocking but not pass blocking, Brady was rattled and inconsistent, Kevin Faulk was good, and there was a surprise in the receiving corps -- guess who led the team in receptions and yards for the first time ever [answer below]. On special teams, Gostkowski was outkicked by the opposition for the first time this year. As for coaching... well, it isn't Charlie Weis they need back, it's Romeo Crennel. Now back to the actual update.)

They started the game strong, holding the Saints to a field goal and then driving down for a touchdown and a 7–3 lead. After stopping New Orleans on the next drive, Wes Welker returned a punt 41 yards to give the Pats great field position. But on the first play, Randy Moss turned his crossing pattern up the field and Brady threw where he should have been and the ball was intercepted. This mistake wasn't all on Moss. The O-line gave up quick pressure and Moss would have been covered if he continued the cross. But if he'd run the pattern the pass would probably have been incomplete instead of intercepted, and the Patriots could have continued the drive. Saints drove the ball down for a TD and it was 10-7.

With the game still close, on the next drive, Laurence Maroney went for 5 yards on first down. Then Sammy Morris dropped an easy three-yard pass, which put the Patriots in third-and-5 instead of third-and-2. And the next play was a 3-yard completion to Sam Aiken. So without Morris' drop (and in fairness, it was his first game action in a while), the Patriots keep the ball and are at midfield. But in reality, they punted it away and that lead to this...

On first down, the Patriots ran a corner blitz with Jonathan Wilhite. Saints QB Drew Brees faked an inside run and that brought up the linebacker on that side (Jerod Mayo) and the safety to that side (Brandon McGowan) covered a 15-yard pattern over the middle. That left Saints receiver Devery Henderson wide open -- and I mean *wide* open, more open than any NFL receiver I've seen in 15 years -- for a 75-yard quick strike touchdown.

So now a game that would likely have been tied (with decent play by the offense on the previous two possessions) is a 10-point Saints lead.

Fast-forward two drives and the Pats trailing 24-10 with 1:50 left in the half. The Patriots put together a nice drive, moving 48 yards in 48 seconds, setting up first-and-10 at the Saints 32. If they score a touchdown here, they get the ball first in the second half, at which point another touchdown ties the game. But the backjudge (the referee in the deep center of the defense) misses an obvious pass interference call when Saints defensive back Pierson Prioleau throws a hand into Benjamin Watson's face and pulls down his left arm. A penalty call would have been good for a first down at the Saints 3 yard line. But the bad non-call meant the Patriots settled for a 53-yard field goal attempt that went wide left.

And in the second half, they were extremely fortunate to recover the ball when Maroney fumbled and then forced the defender to fumble again. And they cashed that in, driving 81 yards on 8 plays. But the Saints' first play of the second half was a 68-yard catch and run that led to another New Orleans touchdown and another 2-touchdown lead. On the next Patriots possession, the last chance to stay in the game fell by the wayside when a fourth-down pass to Randy Moss was knocked away at the Saints 5 yard line.

After that it was a lot of running plays, one more New Orleans touchdown, one more Brady interception, and some playing time for Patriots rookie backup QB Brian Hoyer. Not much else to say. Saints were the hungrier, faster, and better prepared team on this day. Looks like the Patriots have some work to do.

As for what work they need, even though the defensive communication problems gave the Saints quick scores, the biggest problems in their four losses are on the offensive side of the ball. They aren't making good enough adjustments, and on the big stage they appear overwhelmed by the moment. So here are a few unsolicited suggestions to help in their remaining road games (they have three, unless they make the playoffs).

1. The offense has looked a lot better in the first half, so save maybe a quarter of your best plays for the beginning of the second half instead of the beginning of the game. If you score one touchdown fewer in the first half but two touchdowns more in the second, it will be worth it. And that would help your team build some confidence about playing in the second half.

2. Try more misdirection plays early in the second half. Home teams in big games come out of the locker room rested, refreshed, and flying all over the place, and are thus more prone to overpursue plays early in the third quarter. So give 'em a flea-flicker or a reverse in the first series, and when they overreact to the initial action you should get a decent play out of it. This will also keep the other team's defense off balance, which can't hurt.

3. Rotate in a new running back to start the second half. Fresh legs can be effective against a defense that has played a half already. And it will help keep your starting running back fresher, too.

4. Be patient. It wouldn't have helped last night, but in most cases it is better and safer to run the ball and throw it short early in the second half. Long pass plays take more time to develop and are more difficult to execute, so the chances of a sack or interception should be weighed carefully.

So where does that leave us? 7-4 and two games up in the AFC East is not a bad place to be. So far I was dead wrong about the Colts and Saints games -- here's hoping that continues next week, since I predicted a loss in Miami. I don't know what is going to happen (obviously), but take note that in the past six seasons, the Patriots have lost two games in a row only once.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: Drew Brees has had some great games, but yesterday's 158.3 QB rating (the highest you can get) and absolutely *sick* 16.1 yards per attempt were both career highs. For the sake of the rest of the league, here's hoping this oddity *stays* an oddity!

Statistical Oddity of the Week, Part II: Laurence Maroney, who had 1 fumble in his first 38 career games, had 1 fumble in each of the last 3 games.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Hey, even Bill Belichick is allowed a stinker once in a while."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 7-4!

PPS. Trivia answer: Sam Aiken had 7 catches for 90 yards.

No comments:

Post a Comment