Is It Time to Reevaluate This Team?
This one had nothing to do with practice or lack thereof. This was an old-fashioned butt-whoopin’; a curb-stomping beat-down that this team hasn’t suffered since 2000. And now the team has lost three in a row for the first time since 2002. And a look at the schedule shows things aren’t getting any easier this week when they travel to 5-2 division leader Buffalo, who despite being beat up physically, must smell blood in the water. And they should. This team appears lost, with no identity and no answers.
The Patriots offense right now is a long-lost reminder of that 1970 Boston Patriots team that was the worst offensive team I ever watched. The offense gained 241 yards total, and a lot of it was in garbage time. The team didn’t convert a third down until after the two-minute warning as the game was winding down. The Niners owned a nearly 17-minute time-of-possession advantage.
We knew that the 49ers were a bad matchup for the Patriots defense. The Pats are smaller and don’t possess the size and physicality to match up with that San Francisco running game. While there were concerns to begin with, the actual execution was something else, which we’ll get to below.
So, here are our grades this week for the Patriots-49ers game. We thought the team had performed badly last week and much of it had to do with a lack of practice. This week, the team hit rock bottom… and continued to dig.
Cam Newton is trending and in a very bad way. He’s getting worse every week and our worst fears from June are beginning to come true. When he was signed, we were concerned that the Patriots offense (the one they’ve run seemingly forever) wasn’t a fit for Newton and his skill set. Our notes from June are here:
If he’s close, even remotely, to the player he was before, he has the ability to move in and out of the pocket and make plays with his feet. Something that Tom Brady couldn’t do, however, the Erhardt-Perkins system that Brady excelled in, isn’t exactly a fit for Newton, so if they are serious (and we’ll get to that shortly) about giving the reins of the offense to Newton, then they’re going to have to make some changes to the offense and mix in some of the Run-Pass-Option (RPO) system.
In the Patriots system everything is based on timing, quickness (of the receivers getting open and the QB getting rid of the ball). We saw Brady take a three-step drop and get rid of the ball in two seconds, on-time and accurately. His biggest asset was the ability to pre-snap read the defense and recognize what was coming and deliver the ball.
Newton is struggling right now with bad decisions, inaccuracy, and his increasingly bad penchant for staring down receivers. But his struggles are also affecting his confidence and ability to make quick decisions with the ball. He is increasingly seeming hesitant to pull the trigger. A closer look at some of the plays on the All-22 tape of the game on Sunday shows it isn’t all on the receivers.
And before our forum is blown up with screaming for “more weapons” no one is arguing that the Patriots are in desperate need of better playmakers at both WR and TE. But in the way the system is designed to work, there are plays there if the QB gets the ball out on time and accurately. And neither of those are getting done. Newton was 9-15 for 98 yards and 3 picks for a QB rating of 39.7. Jarrett Stidham was 6-10 for 64 yards with one pick for an even lower QB rating of 39.2. That simply isn’t going to win any games.
The tape has too many examples of players being open but Newton either not anticipating it or holding the ball too long and staring them down until the coverage converges. The interception of Newton by Warner on a throw to Jakobi Meyers is a glaring example of that.
His waiting too long got Harry injured. He was wide open at the stem of his break. Newton waited until he was all the way across the field between two defenders, one of who blasted him in the face.
How bad are things between Newton and his wide receivers? He has one TD and eight (8) INTs when targeting wide receivers. That’s Joe Kapp 1970-ish bad.
The Patriots running backs were victims of the scoreboard on Sunday. Because of how far they were down, so early, they had to get away from the running game. I like the compete level and toughness of Damien Harris who had 10 carries for 58 yards, albeit about half of which came at garbage time. He also had a catch for 12 yards.
Rex Burkhead had three carries for 12 yards and three catches for 35 more. James White had no carries and just a single catch for three yards in the passing game. Jakob Johnson had one catch for one yard.
This was another stinkeroo for the WR corps. Jakobi Meyers came in for an injured N’Keal Harry in the first half, after Harry took a wicked helmet shot to the jaw. Meyers caught four passes for 60 yards, the only wide receiver with more than one.
Damiere Byrd had one catch for 16 yards, Julian Edelman was shut out until the final two minutes and had one catch for 13 yards. Harry had one for six. No one is arguing this group is stellar or even good, they lack anyone who can stretch the field, vertically or horizontally but they aren’t as bad as they’re showing.
While Julian Edelman is far from 100 percent physically, there are plays that if delivered on time (dare we say from Brady), that he’d be more productive.
The tight end situation was changed as rookie Devin Asiasi was a healthy scratch and fellow rookie Dalton Keane got the nod. He actually played more snaps than Ryan Izzo and (gasp!) was targeted…once in the passing game. And caught it for 8 yards. As our friends from the U.K. would say, “Well stone the crows!”
Ryan Izzo was also targeted once and also had a catch for 8 yards…that’s it for tight end production. Two targets, two catches, sixteen yards. Izzo’s blocking, (his strong suit) wasn’t so strong on Sunday.
The offensive line was not as bad as one would imagine given the score. The pass blocking was not bad, the sack on Newton was more to do with him not being aware enough to get rid of the ball. Stidham was tripped by Andrews pulling out from the center.
But once again the line was playing musical chairs due to injuries. Once Joe Thuney left, that forced right tackle Michael Onwenu, who was already replacing Jermaine Eluemunor to left guard. The team brought in Justin Herron off the bench to play right tackle… until he too got hurt. This forced Onwenu back to right tackle and Hjalte Froholdt to come off the bench to play left guard. You get the idea. It was another freakin’ mess. Except they played okay. Not great, but good enough.
The run blocking wasn’t great but okay. The offensive struggles had nothing (zero) to do with the play of the offensive line.
The defensive line struggles we alluded to above was as much to do with personnel as much as execution. The 49ers running game is a bad, bad, bad matchup for the way the Patriots defense is set up. Fans all over Twitter wanted to know “what happened to that defense that played so well against Kansas City?” That’s easy. The Patriots defense is designed to stop the Chiefs. This small undersized unit is not designed to stop the 49ers running game…Did we say it was a bad matchup?
The 49ers offensive line owned the day and they pushed the Patriots defenders backward most of the day with ease, like they were on roller skates. Jeff Wilson and JaMycal Hasty (two relatively unknowns) ran through the Patriots with ease, each averaging over 6 yards per carry.
But tackling issues abounded, watching Garoppolo scramble through a tackle on the first drive for a first down was a harbinger of bad things to come.
The Patriots linebackers had one of the worst days in recent memory. We stressed in our keys that the defense had to set the edge and force things back inside. Instead, the normally very solid John Simon, Shalique Calhoun, and Tawshawn Bower were either late or getting washed up by the Niners blockers. The defense was gashed badly on the edge and when they overplayed it, the Niners used Deebo Samuel or Brandon Aiyuk and gashed them even more.
Having Chase Winovich playing on 13 snaps speaks to his struggles the past few weeks. He’s taken a step back in setting the edge, playing too upright. He second-guessed himself on one play in the flat and was stuck in no-man’s land as Aiyuk rumbled for 23 yards. Then his stupid and unnecessary penalty on Garappolo earned him an ass-chewing from Belichick.
The Patriots secondary had a day nearly as bad as the linebackers. Devin McCourty had an interception that was more on Garoppolo than a great play…it was poorly thrown. J.C. Jackson also had a pick at the end of the half on a desperation heave. But the tackling and communication in the back end was the worst they’ve had all year.
And the 49ers WRs owned the backs in the running game, blocking them easily downfield. While most of Garoppolo’s passes early were at or even behind the line of scrimmage, he pushed the ball down the field more often later in the game. The secondary made no plays to stem the tide.
What’s worse is when the linebackers proved not athletic enough to set the edge (and Baltimore is on the horizon), the coaches were forced to move Jonathan Jones and Adrian Phillips up to try. They were swept aside like kites in a gale.
Nick Folk hit a pair of field goals (40,41) with no misses, Justin Bethel blocked an extra point try. Jake Bailey was his normal excellent self and pinned the Niners back inside the 20 twice, although their offense made it seem moot. Gunner Olszewski had a mixed day running back six kickoffs for a 25.8-yard average, but his fumble hurt, even though the Patriots recovered.
The Patriots coaching staff has never gotten this kind of grade here but unlike last week where they had no practice time, there was plenty this time around. And they looked just as unprepared to face a team that was decimated by injury. In comparison, the Niners were sharp, focused, and executed perfectly.
It is time for Josh McDaniels to either revamp the offense and do away with the remains of the Perkins-Erhardt system to better fit Newton’s skill set because this system does not. Either that or they need to make a change and just go with Stidham the remainder of the season. Belichick has already said they’re sticking with Newton, so something has to give.
Belichick isn’t immune to criticism. He knows better than anyone how the Niners offense works and how to stop it. His protege, Brian Flores did it with lesser personnel a few weeks ago. And while the execution was puky bad, that is on coaching as well.
We’re on to Buffalo…and it is either show up or blow-up time. Time’s up, they’re up against it now. Sunday is win or go home.
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