Mistackles, Mistiming Made It A Game
Pats are 2-0 in AFC East
Outside of a couple freak plays and some timing and route issues, the New England Patriots dominated the New York Jets on Sunday, building a 24-0 lead and holding on for a 24-17 win.
Far from a perfect game, there are many reasons to be both optimistic and concerned.
Let's start with the concern.
There seems to be a league-wide epidemic (discussed this morning on Dennis and Callahan on WEEI, which I will address in another post) of players who seem to prefer making "highlight-reel hits" instead of wrap-up tackles. Personally, I couldn't care less that the hack defenders on the other 31 teams, but I don't like seeing the "Homeland Defense" participating.
Case in point, Chad Scott's headhunter-style hit (emphasize "hit," not "tackle") of New York's Jerricho Cotchery, which turned a 25-yard gain into a 71-yard touchdown, also blemishing the shutout, cutting the then 24-point lead to 17.
That single example is symptomatic of the bigger, glaring problem that most of the Patriots secondary seems unable to tackle. And now I'm going to do something I don't think I have done ever in this forum: I am going to blame the coaches. If the players aren't tackling in the game, they probably aren't tackling in practice. And if they're not tackling in practice and not tackling in the game, then the coaches aren't making the necessary impression in practice.
Now, that said, I'd bet there's a film session today in which one or more of the coaches is pointing out this very concept. We'll find out Sunday.
Next problem: While I've been downplaying the significance of the holdout and subsequent loss of Deion Branch for the last 6 weeks, it's obvious that the passing offense is radically out of sync. The offensive line is doing a great job, as are the running backs and tight ends, as is, for that matter, Tom Brady. But only Troy Brown is a veteran of the receiving corps, while only Reche Caldwell played in the preseason, Chad Jackson at least was on the team during the preseason, Jackson and Doug Gabriel saw their first live action Sunday, and Jonathan Smith has yet to make an appearance.
That's a recipe for short-term chaos.
It was brutally obvious Sunday that most of the receivers don't know the plays and ran poor or simply wrong routes, and that the timing between Brady and those receivers is way, way off. I know New England wanted Smith in uniform and someone had to go, but I question the wisdom of releasing the only other receiver with whom Brady had some kind of report during the preseason.
I've heard a couple inane rumbling about "Branch would have made that catch" in relation to Jackson's second-quarter drop in the end zone. Two things about that: First, this was Jackson's first-ever pro game, and that after missing the entire preseason and first regular season game; and, second, he caught the touchdown pass on the same drive four plays later. I swear, we have castoff Red Sox fans hanging around just looking for insignificant minutiae to whine about.
Back to the coaches.
I have to blame Belichick and the coaching staff for a lot of the second-half problems, too. With time running down in the third quarter and the Jets scoring their first points, I don't understand why the Patriots weren't grinding it out on the ground, burning time of the clock and wearing down the defense. I don't understand the low-percentage, deep pass attempts when you know the passing game isn't rock solid. It looked to me like Eric Mangini made the only halftime adjustments.
OK, I can accept the justification that you're going for the knockout, but I didn't think the situation called for it, and playing smashmouth and controlling field position seemed to me a better option. To that point, the Patriots had the upper hand, if they weren't completely dominating, in time of possession.
A final problem is that the Patriots seem to play to the level of their competition. Despite some limited deficiencies in personnel and execution, neither of these first two games should have been cakewalks. Hard to believe that it's by Belichick design, but it has been an issue for several years with few exceptions.
That in mind, competitive games from the Bills and Jets, especially being division opponents and often more competitive than the average mediocre team, are no real cause for concern, much less panic.
Now the good news: This is all fixable.
Branch is ancient history. We don't have to worry about him for at least a few years, barring New England and Seattle meeting in the Super Bowl, so can we just forget about him now? This receiving corps is going to be just fine without his overrated presence and his new bloated contract. Anyone who would prefer Branch's twiggy 5-foot-9, 195-pound frame over Jackson's 6-1, 215 stature needs their head examined. (And, FYI, Gabriel is 6-2, 215.)
The passing game will get better -- significantly better -- as the season progresses. It will take time for the newer receivers to learn the plays, learn the routes, learn how the coaches want them run, and for the receivers and Brady to acclimate to each other and get their timing down. Brady's frustration has been obvious the last two weeks, but he knows as well as anyone that the situation is temporary, and he'll do whatever he deems necessary to make it work.
Tackling, to me, is a greater concern, but certainly rectifiable. The coaches, I'm sure, are aware of the situation; and I'll bet the players, by now, are too. They'll work on it; they'll fix it. Simple as that. (Well, except for the blood and sweat.)
Belichick is certainly smart enough to realize his own mistakes. It's what he does. Bear in mind that the mistakes in this game were not Herman Edwards blow-the-game kinds of mistakes. But, in 20-20 hindsight, they were fairly obvious and easily mendable.
It's the playing to the level of the competition that may remain a source of consternation. That's completely up to the players. And while they some times seem to let up, they also know when to bear down. It would be nice to see them finish off a few blowouts; or, in the case of Buffalo, not have to play catch-up after digging themselves a hole. It would most certainly make for less painful film day and ensuing practices.
Next up is Denver (1-1), who lost 18-10 to St. Louis in Week 1, before edging the Trent Green-less Kansas City Chiefs, 9-6, in OT on Sunday. I caution you to not underestimate the Broncos. Just because they haven't played well the first couple weeks doesn't mean they can't put it together quick.
Keep in mind also that while the game is at home, Brady has struggled in the past against Denver. He's 0-1 at home (2001, his first 4-interception game) and 1-3 in Denver, including last year's playoff loss.
The game is scheduled for Sunday Night Football, NBC at 8:15 p.m. I'll have a full preview at the end of the week.
The Patriots Week 2 24-17 win over the Jets earns them ...
This poll is closed
.. an A+! Fireman Ed got sent packing!
... an A. But what did you expect against the Jets?
... a B. A win's a win. Still a few things to work on.
... a C. Not good, not bad. I'm getting a little worried.
... a D. Pretty poor. Things aren't looking good.
... an F. When does hockey start?