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.”

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What to Look For…

Monday’s matchup between the 9-2 New England Patriots and the 9-2 New York Jets may be the most anticipated and hyped regular season game in quite some time.  Both teams are considered to be among the elite AFC teams, as well as the top teams in the entire NFL.  Both have Super Bowl aspirations, but know that winning a division title is a big step in that direction.  Much has been made of the contrast in coaching styles between Bill Belichick, the comments out of New York about the Patriots, and even comparisons between Michelle Ryan and Gisele Bundchen.  But, when it Monday night finally rolls around, here is what to look for…

-In the first matchup between the Patriots and Jets all the way back in week 2, there were two things that stuck out to me that were essential parts of a New York victory.  LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene combined to rush for 128 yards and Dustin Keller racked up seven receptions for 115 yards and one touchdown.  The Jets formula is pretty simple, pound the ball until the defense can’t take it anymore, and then use the play action pass to seal the deal.  Although the Jets run game has slowed down a bit as of late, they are still a run first team, and that is scary to think about when they have weapons like Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller in the passing game.  New England is 18th in the NFL, allowing just over 110 yards per game on the ground.  Since the Jets game, the Patriots are allowing an average 110 yards per game on the ground, and since their bye week they are allowing 110 yards per game on the ground.  So, the Patriots defense has consistently shown that they will let up yards on the ground…or have they?  Over New England’s last 3 games, they have let up over 100 yards once (129 in a Detroit blowout), and held Indy and Pittsburgh both under 76 yards rushing.  In their matchup against Minnesota and Adrian Peterson, the Pats allowed a total of 125 rushing yards, 33 of which came on one Tavaris Jackson scramble.  They allowed less than 100 yards against both Baltimore and Miami, two teams that rely on the run game to produce.  What to look for: How the Patriots defense works to contain the Jets run game, and limit the effectiveness of Dustin Keller.

-The New York Jets possess the third best run defense in the entire NFL, allowing just over 86 yards per contest.  Seeing those stats, one may be inclined to think that the Pats will abandon the run all together and rely heavily on Tom Brady’s effectiveness, but history tells us otherwise.  The Pats have had the luxury of playing against six teams that are in the top ten in the NFL in terms of rushing yards per game against (NYJ, PIT, MIN, SD, BAL, MIA).  Against those six teams, the Pats are averaging a respectable 96 yards per game on the ground.  I am not calling for 35 carries and 150 yards out of the Pats rushing attack (although it would be nice), but at least being productive on the ground will force the Jets to consider the run up front, opening up some more throwing lanes for Brady.  What to look for: How effectively the Patriots run game is/ is used against one of the league’s best run defenses.

-There are two huge differences that I see in this game compared to their week 2 matchup, Santonio Holmes and Danny Woodhead.  Holmes has been the Jets’ most effective receiver since coming off of his suspension after the Jets’ fourth game.  Holmes has put up over 100 yards in two out of his last four games, and has found the end zone four times in his last three contests, not to mention the late-game heroics that he has pulled over the last couple of weeks.  Danny Woodhead has proven to be one of the Patriots most dangerous offensive weapons since joining the team right before the week 2 loss to the Jets.  He has filled in for Kevin Faulk seamlessly, and in my opinion, has even been a more dynamic player than Faulk.  Both players will have an impact on Monday night’s contest, and the amount that each impacts the game may very well be a key determinant in the outcome.  What to look for: What impact Danny Woodhead and Santonio Holmes have on the game.

-What might turn out to be the biggest battle in this game is if Darrelle Revis gets shifted inside across from slot wide receiver Wes Welker.  Welker’s played has improved as of late.  After getting off to a great start at the beginning of the season (26 receptions, 217 yards, 3 touchdowns) through the first four games, his played faded after the departure of Randy Moss.  Since the Pittsburgh game, Welker has seemingly regained his old form and has been the best receiving threat on the field for the Pats over the last three games (21 catches, 237 yards, 3 touchdowns).  We all know the legend of Darrelle Revis.  Just 11 games into his fourth year in the NFL, Revis is considered by many to be the greatest corner to ever play the game.  No wide receiver has ever caught a pass with Revis covering him.  Randy Moss will not make the Hall of Fame because he faced off against Revis seven times…Alright ESPN, we get it.  The guy is a good cornerback.  I’m not arguing those facts.  He is a top three corner in the NFL, and has to be in the argument for number one.  Is he unbeatable?  No.  Will Darrelle Revis have a harder time covering Wes Welker than Randy Moss?  If both are healthy, yes.  Welker is shifty and tough to jam.  He doesn’t run deep routes and loves making quick cuts.  Revis excels at jamming receivers and then running with them down the field.  What to look for: If Welker and Revis are matched up against each other, how each performs out of their element.

-THIS WEEK’S PREDICTION: Patriots 20 – Jets 10

Position Rankings (OTA Edition): Corner Backs

In my opinion corner back is one of the toughest positions to play in the NFL.  Most positions you can be aggressive and at the snap get right after the ball.  When you’re out there on an island you have to sit back and use your instincts to diagnose routes and react off of a number of factors.  Film study is crucial to get a read on what your weekend foe will be doing.  When a receiver runs an out does he cut it at 6 or 7 yards?  How well can he get off of a jam?  Can he out jump you?  There are a ton of keys that a defensive back has to look for and when he makes up his mind he had better be right, or he could be on the wrong end of a highlight reel.  Let’s not forget he could be subject to a pulling guard or tackle on a screen play with no help. 

It’s a bit of bang or bust when it comes to corners, and for this reason you see teams address the position all over the draft board and in free agency.  There are so many different schemes and zones that you may see a player succeed in one defense and fail miserably in another.  Think of covering a guy who runs a sub 4.4 that is 6′- something who can jump through the ceiling… sounds like dating a girl with 13 brothers and a minister for a father.  It is not a fun position unless you are playing against Jamarcus Russell every week (shout out to the Purple Drank), seeing as he will eat and drank’ his way out of the NFL it doesn’t look good. The AFC East as you should all know by now has the best corner and arguably the best football player in the league, yeah I said it.  The season that Darrelle Revis had last season against the players he faced is almost as impressive as Tom Brady’s bludgeoning of the NFL in 2007.  I digress with the rankings…

1) New York Jets- When you have someone like Revis on one side of the field it wouldn’t matter who was alongside for the Jets to achieve the top ranking here.  However, when you add someone with the pure athleticism of Antonio Cromartie, you cause fits for offenses and coordinators across the league.  I will throw some numbers at you in case you have forgotten what Darrelle Revis did last year; here is what the best receivers in the world did against him: 

Andre Johnson- 4 catches 35 yards 0 TD

Randy Moss (2 games)- 9 catches 58 yards 1 TD

Marques Colston- 2 catches 33 yards 0 TD

Steve Smith ( the real one) -1 catch 5 yards  0 TD ( Revis picked off two passes headed Smith’s way and returned one for a 67 yd TD.

Rhoddy White -4 catches 33 yards 0 TD

Reggie Wayne (shouldn’t count but it supports my point) -3 catches 33 yards 0 TD

Chad Johnson (I don’t call him a Spanish numeral)- NOTHING!!! In fact, the Bengals only threw for 31 yards the whole game!!

So in 8 games the best recievers in the world averaged about 3 catches and 25 yards a game!!!  Revis is one of the few players that will be worth the contract they sign, no matter how much it is.  There is also some solid depth at this position for the Jets.  Dwight Lowery has played starters minutes at that position and has been productive.  Then when you think they are set at the position, they draft Kyle Wilson, arguably ( and in my opinion) the best corner in the draft at the 29th overall spot.  These four players make up the best corner back unit in the league!

2) Miami Dolphins- Call me biased if you want but this young tandem in Vontae Davis and Sean Smith reminds me of the Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison dominance of the late 90’s.  Both players are entering their second year in the league and received on the job training last season playing in every single game their rookie year.  Vontae Davis is an extremely physical player, at 5’11 Davis can jump with the best of them ( ask Randy Moss who Davis jumped over for an interception at New England this season) and is a very strong tackler at the edge.  Sean Smith is a converted wide receiver and stands 6’3″ tall! This gives him a great advantage in jump ball situations and when he improves his tackling he will be a complete corner in this league.  Then you have the veteran in Will Allen.  Allen’s season was cut short last year due to an ACL tear.  Before the injury Allen was having his best season yet.  He needs to get used to playing the Nickel position because the two sophomores will play ahead of him.  Adding depth to the defensive backfield is Jason Allen.  A former first round pick out of Tennessee, Allen has been a disappointment given his draft position.  He was shuffled back and forth from safety to corner with the different coaching staffs he experienced, and he has settled into a solid Nickel and Dime package defensive back that is also a special teams standout.  Rounding off this group is rookie Nolan Carroll out of Maryland.  I throw his name into the mix here because I value high character guys and Carroll has a great pedigree.  If it weren’t for a broken ankle in his senior season he would’ve been drafted much higher than the fourth round and the Dolphins feel like they got a steal with him.  I see Carroll competing and possibly winning the 4th slot in the middle of this season. 

3) Buffalo Bills- The Buffalo Bills edge out New England because they have a good blend of experience and youth at this position.  They also have a very physical group of corners, it seems to be a theme with the franchise.  Reggie Corner and Drayton Florence finished 4th and 5th in tackles on the team.  Both players like to stick their nose into plays and be physical.  They are almost the same in that they can tackle but have hands like feet and they will let a few interceptions slip through their hands.  Terrence McGee is a pesky defender who is an absolute ball hawk.  In seven seasons he has 17 interceptions and 83 deflections.  McGee is an undersized corner who will lose a jump ball and in phone booth situations with larger receivers.  Leodis McKelvin is going into his third season and is coming off of a broken leg that ended is 2009 campaign.  McKelvin is most notably remembered for fumbling a kick off return that set the tone for an awful season for his Bills.  However McKelvin is considered a play-making corner that has excellent ball skills and when it is in his hands has the potential to take it to the house every time.  Expect McKelvin to work slowly back into the starting role and knock out one of the veterans in front of him.  Ashton Youbooty is the fifth corner on the squad that will see the field in limited action.  .

4) New England Patriots- I can hear Pats fans getting their pitchforks ready and sounding the homer alarms.  The bottom line with this ranking is that there is too much flux at this position and not enough talent.  Another contributing factor to this ranking is the lack of pass rush forcing them to cover longer, which will hurt them. Leigh Bodden is a very solid corner and this ranking does not reflect him as much as it does the supporting cast.  Bodden is a very instinctual corner who, if I were an English teacher, I would give him a B+.  The problem is he isn’t getting younger and his supporting cast maybe needs to be a bit older.  Darius Butler, a very young player is maybe a year away and Jonathon Wilhite is way too inconsistent to be called anything more than serviceable.  Wilhite allows receivers’ get too much separation when running down the field and he lacks the size and speed to dictate a route.  Butler will no doubt start this season and should begin his ascension to being a productive starter.  I think he has the potential to be a solid corner in this league I just don’t know when it will be.  He is very athletic and can jump through the roof.  His development will be critical to this group’s success this season.  Devin McCourty was the very unpopular first round pick from the Patriots in this years draft.  He will compete for the Nickel position and may blossom into a starter, you never know at this position.  Terrence Wheatley was a 2nd round draft choice in 2008 and he could work his way into the 4th cornerback slot.  He suffered a broken wrist last season against Indy and will figure in at the bottom of this rotation.  The biggest difference with this team as it always is, is the coaching.  Bill Belichick has won super bowls with what has seemed like a lack luster defensive backfield and his scheme has proven time after time that it can be effective.  Maybe the youth at this position will get a chance to play together for a long period of time and gel to crate a solid unit.  Maybe they draft another 7  with their plethora of picks next year.  No one knows what the hoodie is thinking.