NEPD Staff Writer Doug Kyed takes a look at what led the Patriots to a defeat in Buffalo this Sunday.
1. QUARTERBACK PLAY
Much was made after the Bill Belichick: A Football Life documentary about one quote, the part where Belichick said that if Randy Moss and Wes Welker were shut down, the offense shut down. Didn’t you kind of get that feeling again yesterday?
Without Aaron Hernandez, Brady was forcing passes to Julian Edelman and Danny Woodhead. He seemed to have less confidence in his receivers. On Brady’s four interceptions, I’d say that two were his fault: the deep pass to Rob Gronkowski and the ball that Marcel Dareus defended.
What really killed the Patriots on Brady’s interceptions was that two came on the first play of drives. Brady’s interceptions early in the third and fourth quarters eliminated any possibility that the Patriots could run the ball and kill the clock. Right after Brady was picked off by Drayton Florence for the touchdown, I wrote in my notes, “bail out Brady.” Sure, it’s not a familiar job for the Patriots to do. Brady is usually perfect, but yesterday he wasn’t. The play immediately after I wrote that in my notes? The Ochocinco drop. Ocho wasn’t able to bail out Brady and neither was the New England defense.
Overall, this is nothing to panic about. Hernandez will be back, the no huddle will be back (only 13 plays were run no huddle for New England this week, down from 16 last week and 28 in week 1) and hopefully our defense can improve without so many key injuries. Brady will dominate once again.
I touched on Hernandez briefly in no. 1, but it’s easy to see how much the Patriots missed their two TE set. Hernandez brings so many different looks to the offense that teams can never be comfortable with how they’re lined up and Brady can take advantage of any mismatches with players like Hernandez, Gronkowski and Woodhead. The simplest way to put it is two TEs like Gronk are better than one.
As far as the injuries in our secondary, they were a killer as well. Chung is a great last line of defense for New England. He’s by far the best tackler in the secondary and he’s the only safety that seems to know how to square up and tackle a running back. Against Miami, you often saw him cheat up at safety, so on running plays, he was getting Bush 5 yards down the field rather than 10. Without him, Fred Jackson was able to run wild for 160 total yards.
Ras-I Dowling probably would have been covering Donald Jones, who went off for 101 yards off 5 receptions. A lot has been made that the Patriots should be going back to a zone defense. I don’t think that’s necessary if Dowling is on the field. Dowling gives the Pats three corners that teams should not be able to key in on.
Frankly, I doubt that the Patriots would have generated much of a pass rush regardless, but Haynesworth, Pryor and Wright certainly could have helped get to Fitzpatrick.
The Patriots basically had to activate Mallett and Vereen due to all the injuries, though it’s pretty clear neither were going to be used in this game. That’s how depleted we are early in the season.
3. LACK OF A PASS RUSH
When the Patriots signed Shaun Ellis, I was expecting to see him in alignments with three down linemen as an end and possibly as a 4-3 DT. I never anticipated seeing Ellis playing as a 4-3 7 technique DE. Ellis lacks the speed and athleticism to get around the corner at this point in his career and it’s shown so far. I think it’s time to see more Jermaine Cunningham and more Mark Anderson. Last season, the Pats got a spark in their pass rush after they signed Eric Moore from the UFL. Moore is still available and it might be time to take another look at him. Like I said earlier, getting Haynesworth and Wright back will help, but at some point we’re going to have to rush more than four. I’d love to see some of the looks we saw in preseason with Mayo rushing up the middle.
I got hopeful early in the fourth quarter after the Patriots pinned Buffalo inside their own 10 yard line. The Patriots pass rush came and disrupted Fitzpatrick into a three and out. The same thing happened on the Bills first play of their next drive, but Kyle Love got called for roughing the passer. The referee said Love went high on Fitzpatrick, which I did not see. There were many costly penalties on the Patriots, but that was a game changer.
4. COSTLY PENALTIES
I just touched on Love’s penalty, but that wasn’t the only mistake made by either the Patriots or the refs. A third quarter hold by Logan Mankins lead to a punt by the Patriots and the fourth quarter pass interference by Sergio Brown on the Josh Barrett interception was huge. I’ve only seen the replay a couple times, but the Fox announcers looked like they were right in saying that David Nelson came back to force the pass interference call by grasping Brown. Brown should be smarter than that and turn back to the ball to realize how poor of a pass Fitzpatrick had thrown.
The last penalty that cost the Patriots some time was Wilfork’s unsportsmanlike conduct on Fitzpatrick at the end of the game. The Patriots should have had time at the end of the game, but that penalty gave the Bills the first down (instead of 3rd down) and the game. You can blame Brown and Love’s penalties on inexperience, but Mankins and Wilfork have to be held accountable as veteran players. They should not be making those errors in key situations as the team is falling apart around them.
5. PATRIOTS SECONDARY
After watching Brown and Barrett play three games for the Patriots now, I truly believe it was a mistake to release both James Sanders and Brandon Meriweather. I can understand cutting one of them, but both? After Chung, the Patriots are incredibly thin at safety and if Chung is out, that’s very clear. Obviously I’m playing Monday morning GM here, but Brandon McGowan is still available and I think he could be better than what we have. Barrett and Brown have had trouble tackling, they have trouble in coverage, they really look lost out there.
Obviously the Chung and Dowling injuries hurt the Patriots, but even the remaining players have been having trouble. I expected the defense to improve drastically from last year with the addition of a healthy Leigh Bodden, I’m not sure anyone expected the regression we’ve seen from McCourty. Three weeks in a row now he’s had to go up against a stud WR, but as an upcoming CB, he shouldn’t be allowing the plays he is. If he’s going to be a press corner, he needs to be much more physical at the line of scrimmage.
At their current pace, the Patriots will let up the most yards in NFL history this season. I do not expect that to happen obviously, but it’s a scary stat. I have confidence in McCourty, Bodden, Dowling and Chung and I think that Arrington is a quality backup (though he tends to get very lucky with his big plays). If Josh Barrett and Sergio Brown are playing entire games though, the Patriots will not have a good defense. Unfortunately, we’re going to need to count on at least one of them for the rest of the season.
6. FAILURE TO ESTABLISH A RUNNING GAME
When the Patriots drafted two running backs in the first three rounds of the NFL draft, I think we expected to see a lot more of them, even early in the season. Stevan Ridley has looked very impressive so far running the ball and he even had a nice blitz pickup in the second half. It’s been a surprise that we haven’t seen Vereen at all.
It almost feels like the Patriots aren’t using all of their weapons to their greatest potential. We have so many RBs and such great run blockers, if Brady doesn’t seem to have it on a given day, we should be pounding the ball. Green-Ellis wasn’t effective early in the game, as Kyle Williams had a great day for Buffalo, but at that point it’s time to turn to Woodhead and Ridley.
Obviously this article leans negative since it’s the 6 keys to defeat, but I really don’t think one loss is reason to panic. Hernandez, Chung and Dowling will be back. Hopefully all of our new defenders will “get it” and our defense will begin to mesh. I’m not surprised that we’re not getting a pass rush with so many new defensive linemen, but they looked much better in preseason. It’s likely we won’t see Tom Brady have a game like this for the rest of the season, and if he was even a little bit better, we would have won this game.
The Patriots offensive line looked good again and we know how many weapons Brady has, the offense is clearly not a problem. On defense there’s cause for concern, but they will get better. The Patriots have a ton of talented players and at some point, they’re going to mesh together better.
Tags: Game Recap