NEPD Staff Writer: Doug Kyed
Even the most optimistic Patriots fans out there have to notice the holes in this team at this point, right? I’m a pretty even keeled sports fan.
Through years of talking to sports fans (typically Boston sports fans), there’s nothing I hate more than the “sky is falling” sports fan who immediately wants to blow up the team, blow up the coaching staff, etc. etc. after a big loss.
That being said, this 2011 Patriots team has some major issues.
Since this post is a “Keys to Victory/Defeat” it will tend to run overly positive or negative depending on the outcome of the game. This post will clearly run toward the more negative side, so I figured before I start criticizing the team left and right, here are some things I thought the Patriots did well:
-Stopping the run. Sure, they still can’t tackle, but they do a great job of swarm tackling and other than two long runs (18 and 16 yards) the Pats did a great job of limiting Mendenhall & co.
-Taking the top off the field. To limit Mike Wallace to 10 yards/catch average is an accomplishment in its own right. Wallace didn’t continue his 40 yard catch streak and while it might have hindered my fantasy team, it was nice to see the Patriots secondary could do one thing well in this game. The Patriots only allowed two plays 20 yards or more.
-Getting to Big Ben. Now, some might look at the two sacks on Roethlisberger and think “those were garbage time sacks, they shouldn’t count as a positive.” I disagree, the Patriots needed to make stops there and it was huge to take the Steelers out of field goal range. The Pats are going to have to bite the bullet on run coverage and start playing Mark Anderson (one sack, one pressure, 23 snaps) more across from Andre Carter (two sacks). Kyle Love had another nice game for the Pats, recording three pressures and one sack. Albert Haynesworth quietly got some decent pressure on Roethlisberger as well with four pressures.
-The tight ends had nice games. Gronkowski finished with seven receptions, 94 yards and some nice blocking, Aaron Hernandez finished with two receptions for nine yards, a TD and a very nice block on a Rob Gronkowski catch on Ryan Mundy.
-They technically won the turnover battle. Brady essentially lost the fumble at the end of the game, but a. the Steelers didn’t recover, and b. the ball only went out of the end zone because Troy Polamalu punched the ball in an illegal play.
Without further ado, here’s the six keys to defeat:
Figured I’d start here. Do we miss Leigh Bodden yet? A lot of Patriots beat writers/bloggers/TV personalities, etc. have been saying that Bodden was playing poorly, he looked slow, he looked old, blah, blah blah… Where were those comments during the first six weeks of the season when the secondary was struggling? I heard a lot of criticism of the safeties, of McCourty, about missing Dowling, but nothing about Bodden playing poorly. It’s easy to look smart in retrospect. Bodden wasn’t playing to his 2009 level, but he was still getting the job done and he was still a lot better than Antwan Molden. It’s pretty clear that Leigh Bodden was cut not for performance, but for personality. I respect Belichick wanting to make this a team and to not have any Adalius Thomas type distractions, but you still need talent on the roster and Bodden was a talent.
According to Pro Football Focus, Kyle Arrington had the best day in pass coverage with six targets and three receptions for 23 yards. Devin McCourty played decently as well allowing 48 yards on six targets and five receptions. Gary Guyton was targeted a game high eight times for four recptions, 52 yards and one interception. Antwaun Molden played the worst, targeted five times for four receptions, 38 yards and two touchdowns. I’m hoping Phillip Adams gets the nod as the sub package DB next week. Molden played 42 snaps before getting benched for Adams (19 snaps).
PITT’S PRESS COVERAGE
The Patriots weren’t expecting it and they looked lost because of it. Welker couldn’t get open and Deion Branch never responds well to being jammed at the line. The only receiver left open was Rob Gronkowski, who had a nice game. It doesn’t help the passing game when your defense can’t get off the field either.
Ochocinco only got eleven snaps compared to Taylor Price’s six. They were each only targeted once for long pass plays, neither completed.
NO RUN GAME
I get that BenJarvus Green-Ellis is banged up and that Stevan Ridley is a rookie, and Danny Woodhead might still be ailing, but Kevin Faulk taking the majority of the RB snaps in his first game back? Yes, he’s our best pass blocker and yes, the Steelers have a strong pass rush, but Kevin Faulk lead the team in touches. What the heck? Green-Ellis works best when he can get 15-20 carries, so maybe he wasn’t an option if Faulk was going to get a heavy workload, but where was Stevan Ridley (0 snaps)?
The Patriots desperately needed to control the clock and they need that balanced offensive attack to be at full steam. Kevin Faulk is not going to get them there. I get that it was great to see Faulk back after a year out of football, but it also would have been great to see him get 10 snaps and three touches. The Patriots have far more dangerous running backs than Kevin Faulk to be throwing out against one of the best defenses in the league. New England used a second and third round pick this year so that they could start Kevin Faulk against one of the best opponents they’ll face in 2011?
Belichick got out coached. Maybe he has too much on his place as the GM, head coach and defensive coordinator, but there were opportunities to switch up his game plan and he didn’t. Belichick wasted a minute and a half off the clock by not challenging that Gronkowski TD. I know he said there were no replays in the booth and that it looked close on the field, but he had three time outs at the time. The Patriots needed to score and they needed to score quickly.
Where to start? The Steelers were only credited with three sacks and four QB hits, but Brady also had no time to throw all game. Sebastian Vollmer probably shouldn’t have been playing unless he had help from Nate Solder. Solder was playing like a rookie and Mankins’ penalties have got to stop. Vollmer looked very rusty while playing 38 snaps to Solder’s 24. Unless Vollmer can get back to 2010 form, I’d like to see more Solder this season.
This one had to kill Belichick the most. The Patriots kickoff coverage was lacking and Gostkowski missed an easy field goal and blew an onside kick. Another question is: where is Julian Edelman? With all the emphasis Belichick places on special teams, it sure would have been nice to have Edelman back returning kicks rather than Woodhead and punts rather than Welker. If Taylor Price and Chad Ochocinco both aren’t going to be used in the passing game, let Edelman play his special teams role.
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