Taking a quick look at the first two weeks, here’s my progress report on what we’ve seen so far. Obviously it’s far too early to jump to any real conclusions, and I believe we’ll see an improvement in the coming weeks – especially as the defense begins to get more comfortable:
The Law Firm has lead the way rushing so far for New England. (FILE:Icon/SMI)
Quarterback – Brady played another MVP like performance yesterday in Foxboro. The reigning offensive player of the year hit multiple receivers, running a variety of routes all over the field. Quick decision making was a big part of Brady’s game at times, as the San Diego pass rush got to him early in the contest. A collective sigh of relief was given after a low hit by a San Diego defensive lineman. Brady’s lone big mistakes were overthrowing Deion Branch in the end zone, and under throwing the pass during the controversial fourth down play.
Running Backs – Danny Woodhead and The Law Firm shared carries during this affair with both backs proving their worth to this team. Woodhead played the role once again of a four down back who can step up in the run, pass, or pass blocking game. However by Woodhead throwing his body at lineman like a little gnat, it could end up costing Brady some pretty big hits down the line. In pass blocking situations, a larger back may be a solution such as a Sammy Morris or even little Gronkowski as well. The Law Firm showed some great technique running between the tackles, bouncing it outside, running people over, and carrying tacklers for extra yardage. His run on 3rd and short with three minutes to go sealed the game.
Wide Receivers – Deion Branch’s game yesterday reminded me of his Super Bowl MVP performance in 2004. His yards after the catch, his awareness on the football field, and superb route running were all outstanding during yesterday’s contest. Wes Welker added 7 catches, though did look lost on a few plays during the no-huddle. I am not sure if it was because of how loud it was, but he had his hands up in confusion multiple times during the game. Chad Ochocino had a few grabs of his own, as he slowly gets accustomed to the Patriots offense.
Tight Ends – What else is there to be said about these two guys that hasn’t been said already? Gronkowski and Hernandez were both massive parts of this offense and passing game. It is amazing how difficult it was for the San Diego defensive backs to match up with these guys, especially in the red zone. Hernandez impresses me just as much with his shiftiness after the catch, than what he does before and during. Gronkowski did have one holding call that could have been avoided, as the only sour spot to these guys performance yesterday.
Offensive Line – Matt Light’s block which sprung The Law Firm for the game sealing touchdown was text book. He did a great job blocking a guy who usually gives him fits. Logan Mankins continues to dazzle and become a force in the middle of that line, and Brian Waters could be the unsung hero of this group stepping in after only a few weeks on this team. It shows his football smarts and work ethic to pick up this offense that quickly. Sea Bass was beat a few times, and the bonus holding call on Light turned out to be some drive killers.
Defensive Line – Outside of Vince Wilfork’s nimble interception and lengthy return, the line was a non factor. There was zero pressure on Rivers outside of that one ball he lofted into Sergio Brown’s hands. The pocket didn’t collapse at all. They didn’t cave the middle in to set off the edge rushers. Albert Haynesworth and Shaun Ellis weren’t uttered once, except when Albert was hurt for a few plays. Andre Carter made a clean hit, in my opinion, on Rivers which ended up extending a drive for the Chargers.
The Patriots will not beat the elite teams without a pass rush. Show me what you showed against your preseason opponents blitzing guys from everywhere.
Linebackers: After blowing a wide open tackle by the end zone in the first quarter, Jerod Mayo redeemed himself with a huge tackle on Mike Tolbert on fourth down. He also had a massive forced fumble late in the game as well. Brandon Spikes was blown off the ball multiple times as Ryan Matthews and Tolbert both ran for huge chunks of yardage. Dane Fletcher had an average day with four tackles. The long and short of it is, these guys have to get to the quarterback to give the DB’s a better shot at making plays.
Defensive Backs: Devin McCourty is being given a pass by some of the media outlets after the first two weeks. My opinion is, he doesn’t deserve it. McCourty is going to be asked to match up with the number one receiver on each team they play. He has regressed over the first two weeks since late in
the season last year. Him laughing and smiling after getting beat for a touchdown late in the game that pulled San Diego within one score is unacceptable. McCourty did make some big plays, but getting torched for 170 and 150 in the last two weeks respectively isn’t going to cut it. The whole secondary just looks confused and in disarray.
I went back and watched some of the big plays made in the first and second quarter against the Patriots and seeing how out of position the safeties and defensive backs were was astonishing. However, the fact Rivers had all day to throw made this a lot easier for the wide receivers. Patrick Chung played a great game playing the spy on Antonio Gates limiting him to zero productivity. This unit HAS to get better over the next few weeks.
Coaching: Bill had a great game plan on the offensive side of the ball, passing at will against a Chargers pass defense that typically gives Brady and New England problems. The fourth and four play call was questionable, and I was actually thinking Brady would punt it, much like Cassell did in Buffalo in 2008. The defensive schemes need to improve and they need to start getting after the quarterback. Teams who are disciplined will beat this team down the line.
Overall: The team is 2-0, and at the end of the day all that matters is the ‘W’ column. The lack of pass rush and suspect secondary are things that hopefully can fix themselves as the season goes on. These were the same issues we had all of last season. Perhaps the lack of OTA’s and a shortened training camp are also results of poor execution in those areas. The offense is clicking on all cylinders, which is always a good thing. If you can’t put points on the board, you can’t win, end of story. Let’s look for an improvement on the defensive side of the ball and continued success moving the ball up and down the field over the next few weeks. Progression, not regression, is the key going forward. – Grade: B+