November 29, 2005
Grogan's Grade: Week 11
BY: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
R.R. Marshall:Steve, going into this week we expected a very emotional effort from the Patriots due to the passing of Bill Belichick’s father. Instead the final score read 26-16, and in reality this loss to the Kansas City Chiefs wasn’t even that close. What happened?
Steve Grogan: The Patriots were really flat to start this game and I’m not sure why. You don’t want to believe it was because the head coach wasn’t around all week, but after watching that performance you can’t help but wonder. They got off to a horrible start on offense in the first half and the defense played just as badly as they have the past several weeks. This was yet another case where they came out and played so poorly in the first half that they had just too far to come back, so I guess you can’t use the absence of Belichick as an excuse. They made a little bit of a comeback in the second half, but Kansas City played like they wanted it more than the Patriots did in this game and it really showed.
RRM: Tom Brady threw four interceptions which only compounded the Patriots’ problems in this game. I guess that had to be the straw (or four straws!) that broke their backs in this game?
SG: If you just look at the stats what jumps out at you is the fact that the Patriots had the ball 9 minutes less than the Chiefs, but the total number of plays run and net yardage per play were about the same for both teams. You’re right, the four picks were really the difference in the game and when you lose the battle of the turnovers, particularly on the road, you aren’t going to win that often. The Patriots got away with it in both Pittsburgh and Atlanta but their offense was a lot healthier then and that is no longer the case.
Right now the Patriots have little to no chance of winning if Tom Brady is not on top of his game. We are so used to seeing him play perfect football that when he has a game like other quarterbacks have from time to time it’s such a rarity that it just shocks us. But you look at who he is playing with on that offense right now, wide receivers like Tim Dwight and Andre Davis who are castoffs from other teams. The two players in the backfield consist of one guy who was third on the depth chart at the start of the season and the other came in from off the street a couple of weeks back. You also have three members of your starting offensive line out, and it really makes things tough on you as a quarterback to get much done when you don’t have the talent out there to work with.
RRM: Many of Brady’s throws were uncharacteristically high in this game. Do you have any inkling as to why that was the case?
SG: Brady took a big hit in the first quarter and sometimes that can mess up your mechanics. On several of those throws he was trying to thread the ball in with a defender underneath and another over the top, and when you see a guy underneath your receiver you have a tendency to throw it long and Kansas City had a player stationed back deep to pick off the long one. The Chiefs were also blitzing quite a bit in the first half and that forced some of those high throws he was making. They had a defensive end (Jared Allen) who was coming in pretty hard on the left side against the Patriots’ rookie left tackle Nick Kaczur and putting some pressure on Brady. Brady has been getting pounded around pretty good this year, and it will be amazing to me if he survives the season.
RRM: As a quarterback can you adjust in midgame if many of your throws are sailing high, or is it like a baseball pitcher who suddenly loses his command of the strike zone?
SG: There are just some games when the ball sails on you. Instead of a baseball player let’s use the example of a golfer. There can be days when you starting swinging and everything starts going to the right, and no matter what corrections you try to make the ball keeps going to the right. The fortunate thing is you don’t see that happen to Tom Brady very often. We’ve all gotten so used to him being perfect that when he does things that other quarterbacks do we all start wondering what’s happened to him? All this game proved is that he’s human.
RRM: The media kept badgering Brady in the postgame press conference about why his throws were high, and all he basically said was the throws were high because the throws were high. Does that make any sense?
SG: It does to a quarterback [laughs]! This is just purely speculation on my part but I think Brady is starting to feel like he has got to make plays or the offense isn’t going to move, so he is starting to throw the ball into places that he normally wouldn’t throw it. Some of those throws that he tried to make against the Chiefs you have to be perfect throwing that ball, and normally he wouldn’t take a chance on that kind of throw. He’d probably dump it off, settle for a five-yard pick up, punt the ball away, and let his defense get the ball back for him. I think he feels like he can’t do that right now. Instead he feels like he has to make that big play that is going to get them in the game, and that’s been the cause of many of his problems.
RRM: It appeared the Patriots’ defense stiffened a bit in the second half and looked a lot better in shutting the Chiefs down. Did they make some adjustments to their defense?
SG: Actually I think the Chiefs got very conservative nursing that big lead. They blitzed a lot in the first half and they were getting in Brady’s face quite often. They stopped blitzing in the second half and on offense they also got conservative and tried to run the football. Whenever a team gets up like that and gets conservative that’s usually when the game starts turning around for the opponent, and that’s kind of what happened.
RRM: Everyone held out hope that with the return of both Tedy Bruschi and Richard Seymour the Patriots’ defense would start to play better. Should we be worried since there has been no indication that will happen anytime soon?
SG: It would be very difficult for them unless those players in the Patriots’ secondary find a way to get twice as good as they are right now, and that’s virtually impossible. The New England front seven is playing decent, not great, football although they gave up a lot of rushing yards to a good running back in Larry Johnson and a good Kansas City offensive line. But they aren’t getting much pressure on the quarterback which allows the opposing quarterback to just stand back and pick out his targets against this secondary.
Considering what the Patriots have back there right now it’s really going to be hard to win in the playoffs. Even if Rodney Harrison were to miraculously comeback tomorrow he would be able to help some by directing people around back there, but they are making so many mistakes right now that they are afraid to make mistakes and that is causing them to make even more mistakes. There just isn’t a lot of quality talent in the secondary right now and that’s why this team has allowed five consecutive 300-yard passing games.
RRM: You talk about the secondary afraid to make a mistake, and Michael Stone made a big one allowing Dante Hall to run right past him for the 52-yard bomb that iced the game for the Chiefs. Didn’t it look like Hall and Trent Green were playing pitch and catch on that one?
SG: Playing deep safety is a lot like the centerfielder in baseball. Coming in is a lot easier than going back, so your first step shouldn’t be forward in most cases because you don’t want anything going over you head. The rule they drum into you as the deep safety is don’t get beat deep! But when a team has been pounding it on you and a back like the Chief’s Larry Johnson has been breaking through on a consistent basis you don’t want to make a tackle 10 yards downfield because he might juke you or run over you, and then he’s off to the endzone. Consequently you may bite a little more than you should and the play action just ends up killing you, just like what happened to Stone in this case.
RRM: Kansas City has the reputation of being one of the loudest places to play for a visiting team. What stadiums did you find the loudest during your career?
SG: Seattle in the Kingdome was pretty darn loud. Miami’s Orange Bowl in the closed end was very loud. The old Mile High Stadium in Denver could be pretty noisy. Everything was made out of metal and they’d start stomping their feet and it would just reverberate in your ears; it was really terrible.
RRM: With their two-game winning streak now snapped and being forced to endure yet another bad beating from a playoff bound team, do you have any feeling on where the confidence level of this Patriots’ team is right now?
SG: I think there has to be some doubts in their minds right now. They probably won’t admit it, but every time they’ve played a playoff caliber football team lately they are getting beaten pretty convincingly and that puts doubts in your mind. Don’t kid yourself; these guys watch the news, they read the papers, they know that people are saying that they can’t beat a good football team. They have five games left, and I think that they need to win four of those five going into the playoffs to get their confidence back. If they could win them handily that would really help.
RRM: It would appear the Patriots have a made-to-order opponent this week in the New York Jets, a club that is dead last in the NFL with a paltry 140 points scored this season. Is this the game where the Patriots start to turn things around?
SG: You’ll probably see Jets quarterback Brooks Bollinger throw for 300 yards to keep the streak going, but as long as they shut Curtis Martin down they’ll be fine [laughs]! Seriously, you can sit back as a fan and think this is exactly the kind of team we should be playing right now, but if the Patriots’ players start thinking that way then they’ve got problems. I don’t care who you are playing on Sunday afternoon, in the NFL if you are not ready physically and mentally the other team has a chance to beat you. Nothing is going to be easy from here on out, and since the Jets are a division rival who always plays well against them I don’t expect this game to be a walkover by any means. The Patriots have to start to develop some consistency on offense, and it would be nice if we could see that happen against the Jets this Sunday.
RRM: What are Grogan’s Grades for the 26-16 loss to the Chiefs in Week #11?
SG: I think a D+ is a fair grade for this effort. The only reason I’m giving them the plus is because of the caliber of the opponent they were facing coupled with the fact that they are playing with a lot of patchwork talent. There really wasn’t much to take out of this game as a positive sign. The redzone pass defense improved tremendously, but the rest was pretty ugly. If the defense hadn’t played as well as they did in the redzone it could have easily been 50-16. I really think it is imperative that the Patriots get off to a good start in the game against the Jets. They can’t continually be playing from behind all the time because that takes a toll on you both mentally and physically.
They also need to start controlling the football more than they have been. When your defense is struggling and you are playing a good pass rushing team like Kansas City you have to be able to run the football so you can control the clock and keep their offense off the field. I thought they abandoned the running game too quickly in this game. The Chiefs were blitzing a lot in the first half, probably a lot more than the Patriots expected, and the blitzes were not only effective forcing Brady to hurry some throws but the Patriots’ backs seemed to run right into the blitzes every time they called a run. I don’t know exactly when you start questioning the play calling but when you get off to such a slow start or see the kind of game Brady played where he wasn’t missing wide open guys many times that can be traced back to your game plan. In that respect I think there’s some work for the coaching staff to do this week as well.
R.R. Marshall’s Q & A columns on the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, and Boston College Eagles appear year round in both the electronic and print media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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