New England Patriots on Paper: Crisis of Confidence


If New England Patriots’ Coach Bill Belichick wants to keep his defensive rookies humble, perhaps he shouldn’t let them play against the Arizona Cardinals this Sunday.

Always one to keep his players on an even keel, Belichick was asked earlier this week if there was any reason he might need to remind his rookies who performed well last Sunday that they’ve only played one game…a slight pause ensued…Mother of God, here it comes….


“Are you kidding me?” he growled, almost playfully.  Then a hint of a smile, and did we see a wink?

It was as if the reporter and Belichick had made some sort of deal, where the columnist would toss up questions like throwing meat to a shark.  The ensuing feeding frenzy seemed scripted:

“I don’t think any rookie has all the answers after one game. I don’t think any experienced coach has the answers after one game either. I mean, it’s one game. Everybody needs to be coached, everybody needs to improve, there are a lot of things that everybody needs to do better, and I would put the rookies at the absolute top of that list.”

Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower and Tavon Wilson, rookies all, had spectacular debuts against the Tennessee Titans last Sunday, impacting the game like we haven’t seen since -well – forever.  They were part of a suddenly young and physical defense that dismantled a proud Titan’s running game, had two sacks, caused 2 turnovers and stomped starting QB Jake Locker like a grape.

If the Patriots’ defense did that against a halfway decent Titans’ offensive line, with Pro Bowl Running Back Chris Johnson averaging 1 foot per carry, just imagine what they’re going to do against a pathetic Arizona Cardinals’ offensive line, unreliable quarterbacks and suspect running backs…

Whoever the Cardinals’ starting Quaterback is going to be is going to be running for his life, and neither John Skelton nor Kevin Kolb are built to perform well under this kind of pressure.  When the rush is on, Kolb tends to focus on where the rush is coming from rather than concentrate on his progression, while Skelton apparently doesn’t know what a progession is, and tends to throw off his back foot when the rush comes near…

…and the Patriots’ pass rush expects to be near the Quarterback often.  Very close, like a pig pile.  If you think Jake Locker took a beating, wait until you see what happens to either Kolb or Skelton behind what is arguably the worst offensive line in the league.

And therein lies the problem for Belichick.  Assuming that the team has watched film on the Cardnials as part of their preparation for Sunday’s home opener at Gillette Stadium, the players have to be licking their chops – the snap count being like a bell in some sort of Pavlovian-style football experiment – and it is Belichick’s job to keep his young defenders grounded.

How does he do that?  Simply, he just brings up the name Larry Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald will “go down as one of the all-time greats, and might end up being the best one ever.” Belichick said earlier this week to which Fitzgerald replied , “That’s what he said? It’s an honor that he even knows my name to be honest with you.”

An honor that he knows your name?

Gamesmanship aside, Fitzgerald knows that Belichick is busy in his lab, designing some evil formation to contain the perennial All Pro, and Belichick knows that Fitzgerald presents perhaps the most difficult reciever on his schedule to game plan for.  Fitzgerald is one of those rare athletes to whom you can throw to even when he’s tightly double-teamed. He levitates fearlessly and frequently wins positioning battles no matter how many defenders are assigned to him.  He catches anything within his reach and is equally dangerous after the catch.

And on Wednesday he gave an indication of what the Patriots must do to contain him on Sunday.

“Playing against the Patriots defense there’s not much space to make any catches. I have to find space in that zone, space in that man,” he said. “Coach [Matt] Patricia does a terrific job of changing things up and disguising his coverages and I have to worry about that first and foremost just being able to get in space and be able to get my hands on the ball before I can make any plays.”

Fitzgerald knows that the way to stop him is to make sure the ball doesn’t reach him in the first place – which is up to Belichick’s prize rookie Chandler Jones and the Patriots’ pass rush to get in the face of whoever is throwing the football, to make them uncomfortable, to cause turnovers, to not let the ball get to Fitzgerald.

Larry Fitzgerald is not the only player that the Cardinals can go to on offense, but he is the only one that can burn a defense consistently.  Aside from the abysmal line and inconsistent Quarterback play, there is a running game headlined by a fragile Beanie Wells, two Tight Ends that are one dimensional and a collection of recievers that make more mental errors than catches.

Of course, there are two sides of the ball, and Arizona’s defense is the primary reason why the Cardinals have won 8 of their last 10 games going back to last season – but that is for us to ponder on another evening.  At this moment, we’re trying to figure out how the Cardinals quarterbacks survive this game…

If New England’s defense plays against the Cardinals the way they did against the Titans, Belichick may have a serious crisis of confidence to solve: How to keep the beastly Street Thug Defense grounded and humbled headed into their week 3 showdown at Baltimore against the hated Ravens.