December 07, 2009
These Patriots Truths Are No Longer Self Evident
BY: Kevin Rousseau
You know it's not a good sign when you read a Monday morning Ron Borges column and you agree with virtually everything that he writes.
So, just where to start on the Patriots pre-Christmas meltdown buffet. Maybe I'll pick up a lack of a pass rush, garnish it with head-scratching coaching strategy and mix in some inconsistent quarterback play. If I still had some room on my plate, I would scoff some lack of offensive play calling rhythm to go down with some lack of killer instinct.
The lack of a half-decent pass rush on opposing quarterbacks is the catalyst for most of the problems on defense. When Tully Banta-Cain is easily the team's best pass rusher, you know things are not going well. Sure, revisionist historians will suggest that the Richard Seymour trade at the beginning of the season was the death knell for any semblance of a pass rush. He certainly would have helped but to trade a year of his service for a first-round pick is a trade worth making every time, provided the Patriots can draft well moving forward.
As Borges points out, over the last five years we were so busy watching the team win that we conveniently looked over the fact that Patriots drafts have been mediocre at best. For every Brandon Merriweather, there have been the Kareem Browns, Oscar Luas and Clint Oldenburgs of the world. A year earlier in 2006, the draft netted Laurence Maroney and Stephen Gostkowski along with the immortal Chad Jackson, Garret Mills, and pot-selling Willie Andrews. Had enough yet? P.K. Sam and Dexter Reid anyone. I'll stop but you get the point. Sure, drafting is an inexact science and a 50% hit rate is wonderful but no one can look at their draft history of the last five years and say it's been above average.
As followers of the team, the big problem we have as this quirky, ill-defined 2009 team stumbles into the fourth turn is that we know the team's recent history much better than Gary Guyton, Jonathan Wilhite and Adalius Thomas. We fairly or unfairly expect them to play exactly like Tedy Bruschi, Asante Samuel and Mike Vrabel just because they wear the same uniform, play the same position and are coached by the same guy.
And that brings us to Mr. Belichick. If any truths have been self-evident over the past eight years it's that the team always, always, always makes the better halftime adjustments and can be counted to make a play or two at the end on either side of the ball to win the game. I got a poster for a $1 the other day from the team's pro shop commemorating the 21-game winning streak from 2003-2004. What is remarkable to rediscover while looking at it is how many of these games were close victories of the 14-9 or the 27-24 version. While it is unfair to compare many of the good young players on defense to these players from the recent past, it is maddening for the rest of us to have to sit through the bend-and-break antics of the defense.
As for this business of going for fourth down at an alarming level, going for it on 4th-and-inches inside the Miami 10 late in the second quarter was just too risky for the reward to be gained. After all, that is what going for it on fourth down is all about. Risk versus reward. Often times it makes sense like when you are in the No Man's Land of the opponent's 38-yard line. But trying to go for the knockout punch before halftime instead of going into the break at 17-7 was inexcusable given the fragile confidence of the team. The subsequent 14-10 score at halftime swung the momentum clearly in favor of Miami as the third quarter began. I'm not a fourth down sissy by any means but this is getting out of hand. By going for it on fourth down in such critical situations, the risk of failure to a team with a fragile psyche is just not worth the hope of reward especially with such a lack of offensive play calling rhythm.
And while we are in the business of assigning fair pieces of the blame pie, the defense cannot be held liable for the sins of its offensive colleagues. Perhaps most perplexing is the trend of a running game that is going well in the first half being thrown out the window in the second half of the last few games. I have nothing scientific to pin this on but it is as if when things get a little tight, the playcalling gets less creative and more predictable.
And just when did game crushing red zone interceptions, burning of time outs and zero confidence in final drives start showing up on the Christmas Patriots buffet?
The cold reality of what is happening to this team has hit us hard. Sean Payton told his Saints team before their MNF whopping of the Patriots that "these are not the same guys who did all of that stuff." I know Payton is right but accepting the reality of his assessment is no less easier.
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