I’ve been told not to write angry, and the truth is, I’m already letting this loss go. How can I not? In the grand scheme of things, losing the AFC Championship is child’s play considering how the Patriots have lost the last two Super Bowls they played in, and to me, I would rather get bumped early than lose the Super Bowl. Some may say that is nuts, but the losses stick a lot longer than the wins, any coach will back me on that, and I have enough baggage from heartbreaking losses to last me ten lifetimes, so I’ll let this go. Now, before I go ahead and put this “successful” season in the books, I have some things to get off my chest. Remember, I was up front with everyone on being a fan of the Patriots, but I am also not afraid to call it how it is. Sensitive fans, you can click over to a puff piece saying the Patriots are great, etc…, because this isn’t that article. It’s time for some critical thinking.
Let’s just get this out of the way- I’m not putting the blame on Tom Brady. It is pretty obvious that there are three teams that aren’t afraid to face Brady, they simply have his number. The Giants, Ravens and Jets are really the only teams in the NFL that can beat the Patriots consistently. Baltimore does a great job of not giving away their coverage while getting a solid pass rush. The Giants front four cause issues for New England and make up for the linebacker deficiencies, and the Jets have the best secondary in the NFL. Brady has proven that these three teams are his nemesis, so why keep running into a wall if you know it won’t fall? That is essentially the Pats and their passing game come playoff time.
The Giants, Ravens and Jets know how to stop this offense, and this isn’t a onetime thing. Also, this isn’t on Brady, this is on the coaching staff. Going into the Super Bowl during the undefeated season of 2007, I was on my soapbox about running on the Giants defensive front. They gave the Patriots problems all through Week 17 and I knew the Patriots would have their hands full if they didn’t find balance. The Patriots, on the first series of that game, gave up on the run. According to Heath Evans (last year on Super Bowl row) the plan leading to that game was to, low and behold- run the ball. The problem is, they didn’t have the patience to stick with it, and now it is becoming their biggest problem.
I was excited when the Patriots brought back Josh McDaniels because I thought he could see this problem too. In 2012, the Patriots had a 1200 yard running back with 12 touchdowns; that was the step in the right direction I was looking for. Teams throw to score, but you have to be able to run to win. That will never change, regardless of what some “experts” may say. Here is how it works with football- when teams can run, they have a confident offensive line that knows they can grind out yards and wins and get things done the hard way, the quarterback gets more time to throw and the offense becomes multidimensional with play action, and the defense is able to get rested. Teams that are too pass heavy have nothing else to lean on, the defense ends up on the field too much, and that is the story of the 2007-2012 Patriots playoff runs. The frustrating thing about the Patriots is they have done it the right way in the past, but there is a mental block going on that has been an issue since losing to Indy in 2006/07.
The Patriots reaction to the defensive back rule changes, at first, looked like the only way to go. Light up the scoreboard and win Madden style. To be honest, I loved it, totally thought it would work and for awhile, it looked like it did. The problem is, once the wind starts blowing, it gets a little colder, and guys inevitably start to slow down from injuries, the passing game is not as effective. Indoor teams don’t see this until they are outside, but once December hits in New England, there are elements to deal with. The three teams that New England struggle with- Baltimore and the New York Giants/Jets play in the same weather, so they have no fear of playing the Patriots because they know that ultimately, they are more balanced than the Patriots.
Here is where the pink hats may want to look away: Wes Welker’ time as a Patriot is most likely over, and even though his HUGE drops didn’t help, it won’t be the reason they let him go. Welker did have a good regular season, and he has every year in New England. He has been a major cog in a great passing offense that has broken scoring records and won a ton of regular season games and he’ll probably be productive for another three seasons. The reason Welker will be gone is simple- it is a smart move for the team. The Patriots need to get back to basics, and with the two huge contracts they just gave their tight ends, it’s time to go more traditional on offense.
The Patriots have quickness, but in total, their receivers are SLOW. Going forward, they should be looking to add dynamic, big playmaking receivers on the outside, use Hernandez as the slot guy when running three wide, and run out of the I formation and singleback “Ace” sets, which is two tight ends, two wide receivers, and a single running back. Teams won’t be able to simply “take guys away” as easy as some do with Welker, specifically the three teams I mentioned before. I know people will totally disagree with me, but I don’t care. This team has not won using this style of offense and Welker is the key to it; the only way to fundamentally change it is to remove him from the equation. Tom Brady will be fine and the Patriots offense will be better in the long run. Brady has evolved throughout his career, so why not continue? John Elway was able to ride Terrell Davis’ coattails to back to back Super Bowls playing at the age Brady is right now. Why not give Brady that same type of weapon? It worked with Corey Dillon, it worked during the regular season with Ridley, and it will work next season if they commit. Let’s hope next year that the Patriots don’t forget to run in the third quarter if they are in a tight playoff game, because they forgot to yesterday.
Defense, don’t think that I forgot about you and you’re getting off easy, because that isn’t happening. As annoyed as I am with the lack of commitment to balance on offense (in the playoffs), I am just as annoyed with the lack of pass defense on this team, up front, in the middle, and in the back. It’s just a complete and utter crap show across the line, and this has to end. The pass rush isn’t consistent enough to make up for the deficiencies the linebackers have in coverage. The secondary also isn’t good enough to make up for any problems. When all three areas are weak on pass defense, something has to change. Yesterday, the defense was actually doing a good job, but when Aqib Talib went down, all hell broke loose. Kyle Arrington, I’m sorry, he just isn’t an every down player or even a nickel back. I know he is coached to play off, but the reason is because they are afraid he will get scorched.
Dennard is a keeper, and hopefully Talib re-signs, but other than those two, I have no faith in another cornerback on this roster. For that matter, Devin McCourty is the only other defensive back I would keep. Chung struggles in coverage, as does Gregory, and it kills them in huge moments. I like the linebacker core and I wouldn’t tinker with it. Take a note out of the Giants book and build up that defensive line, and then copy their roommates and fix that secondary, for real this time. I read that the Patriots have 15 million dollars in cap space in 2013, and with the high draft picks they have, there is no excuse anymore. The window isn’t going to stay open forever, Bill, please fix these fixable problems before it is too late. BTW- call me if you guys want someone to teach you how to manage a clock.
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