With only three receptions for 16 yards this season, Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola has been almost invisible. (USA TODAY Images)
In 2001 the New England Patriots suffered a 20-point loss to the Miami Dolphins, dropping them to a 1-3 record. Head coach Bill Belichick decided the following day to bury the football, in an attempt to motivate the team moving forward. Of course, we know how the rest of that season played out — the team hoisting their first Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.
Perhaps Belichick should employ the same tactics this week, after a crushing 41-14 defeat on Monday Night Football against the Kansas City Chiefs.
There’s no magic fix, though. Plain and simple, a lot of changes need to occur if this team wants to have success this season. After reviewing the game, here are some leftover takeaways from Monday night’s performance. —
Pats Must Settle on Starting Five: The offensive line has been an issue for the first quarter of the season. We’ve seen pressure from all angles, with the Patriots consistently rotating lineman up front. This isn’t high school football, it’s not going to work in the NFL. Continuity is important and it is imperative New England settles on a starting unit.
While there weren’t a lot of bright spots Monday, rookie center Bryan Stork stepped in and did a solid job. The team has praised his communication and he looks comfortable with the starting role. Cameron Fleming, the rookie lineman who started at right guard on Monday, struggled a bit in his first game at right guard. That being said, the team was trying him at a new position and it will be curious to see if he gets another shot in week five.
Left tackle Nate Solder has seemingly regressed and it’s hurting the team in a big way. Protecting Tom Brady’s blindside is priority one and without that protection the offense is doomed to fail. In the third quarter, Chiefs edge rusher, Tamba Hali, shot off the line, slapped Solder’s hands down and stripped Brady, causing a turnover. Hali versus Solder was my “matchup to watch” going into the game and Kansas City had success.
If the line can get to a more consistent level, it will alleviate a lot of other issues on this team. That, however, is easier said than done.
Ridley, Not Vereen, Needs to Get Bulk of Carries: Stevan Ridley has been in the Belichick doghouse before, but not sure why he hasn’t been featured more this season. With the offense looking to find a rhythm and identity, you would think New England would want to run the ball. For the second week in a row, though, they opened their first series with three straight passes, resulting in a three-and-out.
Ridley only had five carries Monday night, gaining 28 yards on the ground. While Vereen has shown to make some plays in the passing game, he’s been running too tentative and not exploding through running lanes. On several occasions in week four, Vereen was caught running side-to-side and not up the field. Time to make a change and feed Ridley. If they don’t trust him to secure the football, he shouldn’t be on the team.
Where is Wright?: When the Patriots traded Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins, they acquired second-year tight end Tim Wright. While he had 54 catches as a rookie, he’s only been targeted five times, hauling in four receptions in four games. New England had only three true receivers active Monday — Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell — so the opportunity was there. Yet, he wasn’t involved throughout the contest.
Add this to the list of head-scratching moves by the coaching staff. It appears a two tight end formation, featuring Rob Gronkowski and Wright, would be beneficial.
McDaniels Deserves Criticism: The play calling has been frustrating throughout the season, but Monday’s offensive performance deserves serious questioning. The team sits receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, but then uses a spread offense against Kansas City. Why? As aforementioned, the team had three receivers — no, not including special team captain Matthew Slater — but to utilize the personnel this way is mind-boggling.
Third down has also been a huge problem. New England converted 2-of-9 Monday and are currently 27th in the NFL with a 36% success rate. It’s hard to score points and have success when the offense cannot sustain drives. Obviously, being more efficient on first and second down is key, but converting third downs was a big reason the team lost.
Run Defense Gashed: The Patriots has been relatively stout throughout the first three weeks, but were dominated Monday night. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich struggled to set the edge, with the front seven on defense consistently out of position, falling for the Chiefs’ misdirection plays.
Kansas City tailbacks Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis were eating up yards on every carry, getting up field for big gains all night.¬†The Chiefs racked up 207 yards on the ground, averaging 5.4 yards-per-carry. The defense had problems getting off blocks and bringing down the opposing ball carries at first contact.¬†
Tackling An Issue (Again): It’s always amazing to see pro football players struggle with tackling, something taught to¬†Pee Wee teams across the country. But it’s been a problem this year, especially in Arrowhead. Players were over-pursuing, slipping all over the field — something I thought the equipment managers would adjust at halftime; i.e longer spikes — but when first contact occurred, Chiefs players shook free for extra yards.
Nothing is more frustrating than seeing players in position to make a play, but coming up on the losing end time-and-time again. That was the case Monday, and if this defense is going to improve they need to focus on this fundamental immediately.
Revis Needs to Play Press: The Patriots aggressively pursued cornerback Darrelle Revis in the offseason, a move that many thought would transform the unit to one of the league’s best. But on Monday, we saw more of what we’ve seen far too often this year, Revis playing off coverage and not on the line of scrimmage,
Going back to my time at training camp, I praised Revis’ ability to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage, taking them out of the play with excellent hand technique. He’s not being used in the most effective way, which has made him look mediocre for back-to-back weeks.
Defense Can’t React, Must Attack:¬†Belichick has used his read-and-react, two-gap style of defense for the majority of his time as a head coach. While there are benefits to that scheme, it could be time for a change. As the defense is currently constructed, this personnel seems more built for an aggressive, gap-shooting defense. No more reacting, it’s time to be proactive.
Put the cornerbacks on the line to jam opposing receivers, bring some extra pressure with linebackers and force opposing teams to make quick decisions under pressure. If you get beat, you get beat. There’s no downside really, because right now they’re getting toasted anyways.
Slater’s Really, Really Good: Covering punts isn’t exactly the end-all-be-all, but Slater was exceptional again Monday night. In fact, he was one of the only Patriots players to have a strong game. He fires off the line, sprints down the sideline and tackles the return man before they can gain any positive yardage. He’s so fun to watch and an absolute weapon on special teams. He showed why he’s a Pro Bowl talent Monday.
Do¬†you have a Twitter account?¬†Be sure to follow me:¬†@PatriotsHaven!