November 11, 2012
Victory Over Bills Mask Chronic Problems For Patriots
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- One might have to wonder if Bill Belichick is deluded into thinking that his schemes are paramount and they work no matter who you throw out there.
Belichick deserves his place in the pantheon of greatest defensive minds in the history of the NFL. His record speaks for itself. He is the only person with a defensive game plan which is in the Hall of Fame. He has been a student of the game literally all his life thanks to his close relationship with his dad Steve. Nobody on the planet in any profession will outwork him. He is a bona fide New England treasure, and only Red Auerbach has perhaps better head coaching pedigree than him, if that even be the case.
End of platitudes.
At some point, you need talent. In the movie Angels in the Outfield, Danny Glover, in his role as manager George Knox, has a conversation with his owner and says, to paraphrase, "This team's biggest issue is talent. There isn't any!" The smartest coach in the world cannot see his plans and visions carried out if he doesn't have the players on the field who can physically execute them. Schema is important, but knowing what to do and actually being able to do it are two different things.
The Patriots were able to walk off the Gillette Stadium field on Sunday with a 37-31 win over the Buffalo Bills, advancing their record to 6-3 and solidifying their lead in the AFC East. Most all the players will publicly emphasize the win and the division lead. But it would be nice to be a fly on the wall and perhaps get Tom Brady's opinion on his team's defense and see his anger and frustration when it doesn't match up with his Hall of Fame skills and his offense's high level of output. His postgame press conference was short, sweet and basically curt, and nobody can blame him for his obvious distaste for sharing his postgame thoughts. His smile was basically gritting his teeth, and you could see his neck hair standing up on end.
Being the competitor Brady is, seeing all the passing yards the secondary gives up, and seeing very little of a pass rush, given Brady's illustrious career and where he has been in his career, Brady could be forgiven if he acted like you just opened a pressure cooker or an overheated car radiator. Most players of his pedigree should be fuming at a defense which is the dipolar opposite of the great offense the Patriots still possess.
By all rights, the Bills should have won this game. And that almost happened, if not for a terrible pass in the closing seconds by Ryan Fitzpatrick which hit Devin McCourty right between the 3 and the 2 in the end zone. Otherwise, the numbers portray a brilliant offensive effort by the Bills, an equally lousy defensive effort for the Patriots, and a game the Bills wound up losing because they are still the Bills, and in part because of some questionable officials' calls which went against Buffalo.
The Patriots cannot play defense, period. Anyone blaming Matt Patricia is wrong. Belichick the general manager has to draft a lockdown secondary. And that's only the starting point.
If Patricia or Belichick have any things they could do schematically, they might try and find a way to get Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Dont'a Hightower or maybe even Vince Wilfork unlocked in the pass rush. A better pass rush would greatly help the secondary. Jones by himself is a nice get, but not enough. It seems that teams are no longer surprised with the prized Patriot rookie, and he has not had the stellar games he had in August or September.
But the secondary is just plain bad. The Patriots play soft zone because no one can cover one on one, and they are still terrible. Their "remedy" is a suspended player, and Aqib Talib will finally see action next week against the Colts. Even if Talib is somewhat resembling Ty Law, that's only half the field. You have safeties who are at times awful at cover two, bad communication skills, and even with Sterling Moore mercifully released, guys like Alfonzo Dennard aren't any better.
Fitzpatrick finished with a passer rating slightly higher than Brady despite one interception (the final play of the game for the Bills). The former Harvard quarterback went 27 for 40 passing for 337 yards and two touchdowns. Five different Buffalo receivers had at least four catches. His passer rating was 99.7. Meaning no disrespect, there is no way that Fitzpatrick should have these kind of numbers against the Patriots on the road. At times Fitzpatrick completed passes that looked like he wasn't even breaking a sweat.
Sometimes the Patriots get gorged by the Bills' running game, and sometimes they do stop the rushers. On Sunday, Fred Jackson averaged five yards per carry, while C.J. Spillers averaged 7.8 yards per carry. This was just one of those days where the Bills' offensive line was able to manufacture running lanes, but on some of the runs the Bills were getting to the outside with little to no containment there.
The Bills lost mainly because they are worse at defense than the Patriots are, and they were bludgeoned with way too many penalties. They were flagged 14 times for 148 yards. The first quarter set the tone for the whole game for the Bills; on the first drive of the game the Bills had third and one at their own 40, but were flagged on the next three plays and would up with third and 21 at their own 20, right where their drive began. The Bills would get three more penalties in the first quarter, but one of them was a pass interference call against George Wilson in the end zone while defending Rob Gronkowski, despite the pass being basically uncatchable.
37 points by the Patriots should have put this game into the Patriots' back pocket. Brady threw two touchdown passes and Danny Woodhead had the first multiple-touchdown game of his career. Stephen Gostkowski had three field goals and no misses. Other than some drops by Wes Welker and Gronkowski, the offense did its part. It is still a Rolls-Royce, whereas the defense is a Nash Rambler.
The offense is good enough to take the Patriots back to the NFL mountaintop. But Belichick needs to bring in more defensive players who can actually play. Talib is the beginning of that if he doesn't turn out to be the next Albert Haynesworth.
Otherwise, Brady will probably have press conferences that begin with two or three expletives before anything of consequence is discussed. The way things are going, it will be more than just two or three colorful words.
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