December 01, 2009
Defense Exposed For What They Really Are
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
NEW ORLEANS -- Anyone who still wants to criticize Bill Belichick for his fourth and two in Indianapolis two weeks ago is either ignorant, stupid or both.
The New Orleans Saints showed very clearly on Monday night why Belichick cannot trust his defense to make big plays. Matter of fact, the Patriot defense was involved in a lot of big plays, but it was in giving them up, not stopping them.
Belichick could be justified in making like Rick Pitino in explaining the 38-17 whipping laid on them by the undefeated Saints at the Superdome. Ty Law isn't walking through these doors. Asante Samuel is not walking through these doors. That would hold water except that Belichick literally showed both of these guys the door when it was decided that they were not worth the money they were asking. Both Law and Samuel are still active in the NFL, and while Law is way past his prime, the Patriots have still not replaced these guys, and it was the shutdown ability of these corners which was an overlooked key to the three Super Bowl wins by the Patriots this decade.
Drew Brees spent most of the game completing passes almost at will and making the young Patriot secondary look like a bunch of high school kids. The Saints are clearly the best team in the NFL right now, and they throttled the Patriots with relative ease. The Saint defense did their part with an incredibly physical effort, but basically the game hinged on the Patriot defense stopping Brees and the Saint offense, and they failed miserably.
Face it, the Patriot defense is not prime time, and they showed their stuff, or lack of it, in prime time on Monday Night Football.
You can praise Sean Payton and his Saint ball club all you want for a brilliant game plan, and how well Payton has had his team playing all season long. But the sad fact is that the Patriot secondary was looked off and pump faked to death all game long. You really have to think carefully about when was the last time you saw a Patriot defense so susceptible to all the fakes Brees laid on them. It is one thing to bite on play-action fakes to a running back, but Brees was killing the Patriots with look-offs and pump fakes, and one play in the second quarter seemed to encapsulate the entire evening for the Patriots.
With just over five minutes gone in the second quarter, the Saints took over at their own 25 following a Patriot punt. On first down, Brees took the snap and looked to his left. Brandon Meriweather was in cover two on the left side of the formation and immediately moved in towards the box, sensing a throw to the right side. Devery Henderson was lined up in the right slot, with Darius Butler outside covering Marques Colston. Henderson streaked downfield with no safety anywhere nearby. Brees pump-faked to make sure that Butler stayed on Colston, then lofted an easy toss to Henderson downfield for a 75-yard touchdown. Henderson was so wide open that Brees could have probably hit him throwing lefthanded.
The lookoff left caused Meriweather to vacate where he was supposed to be, and the pump fake caused Butler to stick with Colston. Had Butler been covering Henderson, Butler probably lets him go thinking he has safety help behind him. Whatever the case, Brees was able to get away with this all game long, and the Patriots were completely powerless to stop it.
This was only the biggest play of the game, in that it covered the most yards and gave the Saints a 17-7 lead. There were many other plays in the game which featured fakes galore which the Patriots could not lay off and never adjust to.
On the first offensive play of the night for the Saints, Brees took the snap, looked right and at the last minute lofted a 33-yard left sideline toss to Henderson, running right by Leigh Bodden in coverage. Early in the second quarter, Pierre Thomas, filling in for the injured Reggie Bush at running back, scored on an 18-yard pass in the right flat after a fake quick screen left. The Patriots helped out Thomas here by missing four tackles on his way to the end zone.
On their next possession after Henderson's long bomb, Brees bludgeoned the Patriots twice on consecutive plays at the two-minute warning. On second and nine at the New Orleans 36, Brees pump-faked left, pump-faked right, then hit former Patriot David Thomas over the middle for 25 yards. Then after the two-minute timeout, Brees faked a bootleg left and rolled out to his right. Robert Meacham ran a post pattern which Jonathan Willhite was unable to cover, and Meacham hauled in a 38-yard touchdown pass to make it 24-10 Saints.
There was more of the same in the second half. After the Patriots opened the third quarter with a terrific touchdown drive to cut it to 24-17, the Saints opened up the second half with a 68-yard pass to Colston. Brees pump-faked which threw Willhite off his tracks, and by the time Colston was to catch the ball, Willhite had fallen down. Two plays later it was 31-17 Saints. In the final quarter, Brees got his fifth touchdown pass of the evening by pump-faking right and hitting Colston for a 20-yard score to make it 38-17.
Brees' final numbers are astounding. He finished with a perfect passer rating of 158.3 on the strength of 18-of-23 passing for 371 yards, five touchdowns and none intercepted. Meachem caught six passes, Colston and Henderson five each. The latter two went over the 100-yard mark in receiving yards. The Saints as a team had 480 total yards for the game.
Meanwhile, Tom Brady, in his return to the site of his first Super Bowl win, looked harried most of the evening thanks to a hail of blitzes and super tight coverage. Two veteran cornerbacks, Mike McKenzie and Chris McAlister, played terrific in their first games as Saints, with McKenzie picking off Brady late in the first quarter which changed the momentum towards New Orleans for good. Brady had only a 55.0 passer rating with 21 of 36 passing for 237 yards and no touchdowns.
The Saints were able to quash the Patriot offense with a tight Tampa Two defense and some very hard hitting. Wes Welker was held to only 32 yards receiving on six catches. The leading Patriot receiver was Sam Aiken with seven catches for 90 yards. Laurence Maroney fumbled again but managed 64 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and ran hard most all game long.
This game exposed the Patriot defense once again as being soft and easy to throw on. It is a far cry from the shutdown defenses which won them three Super Bowls. The Patriots simply do not have the material right now to shut down the finer offenses in the NFL. This is why Belichick did what he did two weeks ago in Indianapolis, and no one should criticize him for not punting in that situation ever again.
The Patriots will still likely win the division and get some run in the playoffs. But when it comes time to put up or shut up, unfortunately someone out there will shut the Patriots up, and it will be because the defense won't be able to make the plays it will need to.
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