By: Steve Balestrieri
While the “Twitterverse” in New England lines up at the Tobin Bridge to throw themselves off the Patriots bandwagon for 2012, there are plenty of questions to be answered, and the most talked about issue is the very real problem is the secondary.
The secondary especially the safeties are a real issue and we’ll get to that shortly.But the reason why the Patriots dropped a 24-23 game to the Seahawks on Sunday, can be summed up as 1 for 6. That’s what the Patriots were in the red-zone in Seattle, very un-Patriot like numbers for the offense.
Poor play calling, some bad decisions by Tom Brady and a bizarre intentional grounding call mixed in with very good red-zone defense by Seattle all contributed to the Patriots mis-firing on offense.
Bad Coaching, Poor Clock Management- All game long, Tom Brady picked Seattle’s defense apart, he stepped up in the pocket and found the open man to consistently move the chains. But why then did they struggle in the red-zone? Predictive play calling had a lot to do with it. Give Pete Carroll his kudos here. The Seahawks did their homework, they know what the Patriots do in certain situations and they played their defense accordingly.
Twice on third and one, deep in the red-zone the Patriots threw the same slant in the middle of the field. It was a case of Josh McDaniels outsmarting himself. On the last one, Seattle’s defense was getting gassed, two opportunities to run the ball to get 1 yard and put them away with a fresh set of downs. A touchdown there seals it, instead they were stopped and the Seahawks were rejuvenated.
McDaniels calls a great game until crunch time, then he seems to want to nibble, rather than take a shot down the field, (we saw plenty of that going the other way). Against Baltimore, it cost them, it nearly cost them last week, and it surely cost them on Sunday.
Seattle was sitting on those short passes at the end and it had little chance of being completed. Brady made some bad plays, especially on the first interception on a poorly thrown ball. At the end of the half with two timeouts in their pocket, Brady and the offense let precious seconds tick off the clock before calling timeout, which should have been done immediately. That falls not only on Brady’s shoulders but those of McDaniels and Bill Belichick as well. That’s the Andy Reid school of clock management there, and it is not a good thing.
The intentional grounding penalty was a wild one in itself, as that is never called. We’ve all seen QBs throw the ball 5 and 6 rows deep into the stands and never get called. It looked like Brady was expecting Branch to go to the back of the endzone and Branch cut it off at the goal line. Nevertheless, if they hadn’t wasted so many seconds earlier, that play was moot. Very, very poor clock management on the part of the coaches and Brady cost them at a minimum 3 points that should have won them the game.
Where are the safeties and why can’t they cover anyone? That seems to be the $64 question on Monday. I haven’t looked back at the game again yet, but a recurring theme has been for the past couple of years, has been that the Patriots have been getting very poor play from their safeties. They are late arriving on support over the top (if at all), take poor angles and very weak in coverage. All of those things were much in evidence on Sunday. The Seahawks said as much after the game, stating the Patriots were giving up big plays on defense and their game plan was to take advantage of it.
Pat Chung has been really struggling though he is far from alone in the secondary. Having come out of college highly regarded, he showed all the signs of being an impact player especially in 2010 and the beginning of 2011 until he was injured.
Chung was playing a mostly in-the-box SS and provided strong run support and consistently made big plays. A frequent comment heard now is that the Patriots don’t play a SS/FS role, that they switch the two back and forth. Perhaps it’s high time that changes.
With all the confusion that seems to reign in the Patriots secondary, it all comes back to coaching and it starts with Bill Belichick. He and Matt Patricia have put in place a defensive philosophy that isn’t working. Either that or safeties coach Brian Flores or cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer aren’t getting their point across. Because highly regarded players seem to regress rather than progress the longer they play in New England.
The question should be is how to fix it the problem? Simplifying things would go a long way to removing all the confusion in the backfield. Instead of playing with each safety having a piece of the pie, go back to what worked. Let Pat Chung be that in-the-box SS. With Steve Gregory back, I really think things will be solidified in the back end. That’s not to point the finger at Tavon Wilson at all. He’s a rookie and rookies are going to make mistakes, the key is to learn from them, move on and not make the same ones twice. He’ll eventually be the guy that takes over in the back field but has been pretty solid thus far.
Kyle Arrington has been getting torched regularly, and his replacement with Alfonzo Dennard right now has to be seen as a positive right now. But with Dennard, comes another rookie in the mix, with Wilson and Hightower makes the defense very young and suspect right now.
It’s not an unfixable problem, but it is a serious one with the team now mired among the also-rans at 3-3. I still think this team will win the division and it isn’t important record wise as long as the issues are resolved in January. Remember a 9-7 team beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl because they peaked after Thanksgiving.