The State of the Patriots: October 4th, 2014

I’m stating the obvious here when I say that it has been a frustrating start to the 2014 NFL season for New England Patriots fans. Throughout that time frame, I have had countless debates, conversations, and occasional verbal eruptions with friends regarding my viewpoint on what’s going on with this team. Along the way, I’ve run into the “sunshine.com” people (thanks to Felger and Mazz for that title) that can just not be critical about this team. They believe in just blindly trusting Bill Belichick based on the body of work, and therefore leaving us fans with the inability to critique or criticize any move or decision that is made. On the flip side, I’ve run into the “doomsday” bunch that are saying Brady is a shell of himself, Josh McDaniels should be fired, and Bill Belichick may have lost it and the franchise may want to consider moving on. I find myself stuck in the middle of these two extremes, and reaching a boiling point of frustration from dealing with the aforementioned people. Therefore, after a long hiatus, I have returned to ntcf.wordpress.com to express MY opinion on the current state of the New England Patriots.

Because this post will encompass the past 4 weeks, I’m going to limit my opinion sharing to a select few topics. If I touched on everything, we’d be here for a week. In no particular order:

TOM BRADY
Do I believe that Tom Brady’s skill set has diminished? Yes. Do I think that the team can’t rely on Brady to cover up for mistakes or a lack of talent like in pervious years? Yes. Do I still want Tom Brady as my quarterback? Without a shadow of a doubt. I still think that Tom Brady is a top 5 quarterback in the NFL. Is he playing like it currently? No not at all. But there are so many variables that play a role in Tom Brady’s performance. It’s impossible to judge how much Brady has declined based on several factors, including poor offensive line play, decreased talent at wide receiver, a still recovering Rob Gronkowski, and a very inconsistent run game. All of those factors lead to my original point, Tom Brady’s skill set has diminished slightly. In years past, the Patriots have had poor talent at wideout, and yet Brady would move the ball down the field effortlessly. Additionally, Brady is locking in on recievers more than I can ever remember. Is that a lack of talent? Maybe a lack of trust? Only Brady knows that, but it’s certainly an issue. In previous seasons, there have been issues along the offensive line, and yet Tom Brady would deliver quick passes that were on point and not allow the defense to get to him. However, I personally can not remember a season where the offensive line was in disarray and the receiving corps was not on the same page as Brady both at the same time. I believe that is the reason Tom Brady and the Patriots offense is struggling mightily to start the season.

OFFENSIVE LINE
Has the Logan Mankins trade affected the offensive line play so far this season? In my opinion, yes. If you gave me the option to do the trade all over again, would I? Absolutely not. I’m sorry, I just don’t understand the trade. I’m sure that Mankins’ play has declined, and I commented on it to some friends last season. But come on, I would take Mankins over Jordan Devey 10 times out of 10. I just don’t understand why you deal away arguably your best offensive lineman 2 weeks before the start of the season when you have a 37 year old immobile quarterback and when there doesn’t seem to be an in house replacement ready to go. However, that does not excuse Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, and the remainder of the lineman for their shit play this season. Last week I read an article by Pro Football Focus that ranked every single offensive lineman that played at least 1 snap this season. Solder ranked 65 out of 69 left tackles. Vollmer was 63 out of 69. Come on! That’s pathetic. Nate Solder is a 6’8” marshmallow. Vollmer looks very rigid and is an injury waiting to happen. The only lineman I like on the Patriots right now is Bryan Stork. The dude has a mean streak about him. That is what this team is missing. In Kansas City on Monday night, the offensive line played their best game thus far (that isn’t saying much). Stork looks like he may be the answer at center, and Fleming played a decent right guard. Now, Fleming has been ruled out of the game Sunday against Cincy. Maybe the Pats will give Devey another look! Looks like Brady will be in “duck and cover” mode again Sunday night.

THE DEFENSE
A buddy of mine last week told me that the Patriots had the best defense in the league. I questioned him, commenting on the second half of the Miami game and the lack of competition in Minnesota and Oakland. He gave me shit about not judging the team based on one bad half, blah, blah. Well, he’s not making such definitive statements after the Kansas City game. Much has been made of Darrelle Revis not looking like an absolute stud. I’ll admit, he hasn’t been amazing. However, I can’t say that I watched every game Revis played in New York. Maybe he coasts against sub par talent. I do think the Pats are trying out a variety of schemes on defense, and Revis isn’t allowed to lock down on a wideout for the whole game just yet. AJ Green coming to town is the ultimate test of how good Revis still is and how the Patriots will utilize his strengths.

Revis isn’t the big issue for this team. It’s the defensive line. Much has been made of Chandler Jones making a big leap to become on of the elite pass rushers heading into year 3. Well, I’m not on board. I’ve never been thrilled with Jones’ skill set. He’s big, but gets overpowered way too often. He’s fast, but doesn’t seem to have that quick twitch speed off of the line. When teams run to his side, he gets steam rolled. A vast majority of his sacks last season were coverage sacks (surprising, I know). As we move down the line, we see Vince, who’s still a serviceable defensive tackle, but certainly isn’t the same player that he was 3-4 years ago. We find the combination of Silva Salinga, Chris Jones, and Joe Vellano. I’d rather have Scott Patterson and Chris Veltri shedding blocks out there. And finally Nonkovich. I’m not a big Ninkovich guy. Never have been, probably never will be. He isn’t consistent enough of a player to be relied on to start. Don’t forget, Tommy Kelly was cut over what likely would amass to about 800k in salary. Great move guys!

THE RECEIVERS
Via ESPN Boston – “In my year and a half with Aaron Dobson, he has always been respectful to me and to the rest of the coaching staff. He has never once been argumentative or confrontational. The suggestion and reporting that his playing time was in any way the result of a ‘loud disagreement’ with a coach is completely false.”

That was Bill Belichick’s prepared statement that was released approximately 3 hours after refusing to answer questions regarding Aaron Dobson at his press conference today. Is it just me, or is this whole situation really, really weird? Your second year 2nd round wide receiver is inactive for 3 of the first 4 games, not because of health or he wouldn’t have played in one game, but allegedly because of mouthing off. Now, Belichick comes out, says Dobson is respectful and never had a disagreement with a coach. So now, he’s inactive because he sucks? What the hell is going on? The Patriots have NEVER been able to evaluate wide receiver talent well, and the more that this saga continues, the more concerned I am that Dobson isn’t going to pan out.

As for the rest of the bunch, Edelman is Brady’s crutch. If he goes down, kiss the season goodbye. Lafell looked better last week, but I get the sense that they were trying to force feed him the ball to either boost his morale or give the defense another look. Either way, I’m not sold. Danny Amendola can’t get open without them running a pick play for him. Kenbrell allegedly isn’t very good either because he’s been inactive this season as well.

What I believe is really plaguing this group is the lack of a deep threat. We originally thought Dobson would be that guy, but apparently not. Ed Reed made a comment on whatever show he is on that he wouldn’t be afraid of any wide receiver the Patriots have. What that means to me is that they safeties creep up closed to the line of scrimmage, cornerbacks are more likely to jump shorter routes, and linebackers have less responsibility in pass coverage and can therefore blitz more often. All of that adds up to some ineffective play a wide receiver.

THE GAMEPLANNING / COACHING / ROSTER DECISIONS
Zone coverage for Darrell Revis. Only 3 wide recievers are active against KC (5 running backs active), and yet we open the game in shotgun and don’t run the ball until late in the first quarter. Failure to stay committed to the run game (especially against porous run defenses like Oakland). Bringing back Patrick Chung to start at strong safety even though we let him go last time because he sucked. Putting Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins on the same side of the formation defensively, basically beginning teams to run in that direction, and get big yardage. We have to assume that things will get better, because Bill’s track record depicts that it should. However, many of these issues need to be addressed sooner rather than later, or I truly believe that the coaching staff will be in danger of losing this team.


I guess all it comes down to after that long ass rant is what Billy Boy said this past week, “We are on to Cincinnati.”