NEPD Staff Writer: Doug Kyed
There was some discussion on Twitter today about who was to blame for this loss: offense, defense, special teams, coaching, etc. This wasn’t your typical full team loss, but it was on the whole team.
For the first three quarters, the defense was outstanding and for the last quarter the offense came up when it mattered most. This game seemed to come down to specific plays more than any other New England loss this season.
Therefore, for my keys to this week’s defeat, I’ll be getting pretty specific on some of them. This game really seemed to come down to a few key plays:
SERGIO BROWN’S PASS INTERFERENCE
So how did the Patriots get to the point of Sergio Brown being in on the most important defensive drive of the season? It’s pretty simple really, Josh Barrett re-aggravated his hamstring injury and Patrick Chung got hurt earlier in the drive.
It’s really tough to get mad about injuries, but Brown is a player that Bill Belichick seemingly trusted to be a starter earlier in the season. Now the Patriots can’t even trust him not to commit costly penalties late in games.
If you remember back to the first frustrating Patriots loss of the season, Brown did the same thing in the end zone against the Bills. The crazy thing is, it was almost the exact same play. Brown seemingly lost sight of the ball, wasn’t actively pursuing it and bumped into David Nelson/Victor Cruz.
They were both pretty questionable calls, but as a defender, you have to be ultra careful when covering in the end zone.
Once again though, injuries happen and the team has to be better prepared for players to be coming in during key situations.
TRACY WHITE’S COVERAGE ON JAKE BALLARD
Here’s another very specific play that was obviously a game changer. Brandon Spikes left with a leg injury earlier in the second half, which thrust Gary Guyton into the middle linebacker spot. Guyton actually made some decent plays (I think he’s far better in the MLB role than he is in the WLB role, Pro Football Focus gave him only his second positive grade of the season), especially on 2nd down stopping Brandon Jacobs at the line. Unfortunately Guyton also got hurt on that play.
That thrust Tracy White into the game on 3rd down. The special teamer bit on the Giants play action fake and didn’t get back to cover Ballard on time.
Once again, I sound like a broken record, but it’s really, really tough to get mad about injuries. They happen, and obviously a special teamer like White won’t have the same experience to not bite so hard on play action when there was really no motivation for the Giants to run in that situation.
Would Jeff Tarpinian have done a better job? Could the Patriots have slid over Rob Ninkovich into coverage? Could the Patriots have played another defensive back rather than White? Who knows. Fact is that play lost the game for the Patriots.
If you want to take a positive from the game, the core defense played great on Sunday. It was the team’s fourth safety and fourth middle linebacker that let up the worst plays of the game.
TOM BRADY’S POOR PLAY
To be fair Brady, unlike the Pats defense came through when it mattered. Brady did throw two very costly interceptions and lost a fumble to the Giants. A lot of that can be blamed on the offensive line, but Brady’s is still forcing throws and seems to be a bit off in his accuracy.
Hopefully we can blame this on the offensive line, an injury or mistrust in his receivers and not that we’re seeing the beginning of Brady’s regression. Brady looked as good as he ever has against the Chargers and Dolphins, but we’re also learning now that those teams aren’t nearly as good as we thought they were coming into the season.
OFFENSIVE LINE PLAY
Between costly penalties, mis-snaps, poor protection and poor push at the line, this was a pretty atrocious game for a good Patriots offensive line. Ryan Wendell came in for Dan Connolly after a bad snap, and while he looked pretty quick at center, it was pretty obvious he wasn’t as good as Connolly. I actually couldn’t believe Connolly was benched for a bad snap. According to Pro Football Focus, Connolly let up one QB hit and 2 pressures. He was the lowest graded Patriot against the Giants.
Logan Mankins is too good a player to be committing so many penalties. He also had a pretty bad game from a pass protection stand-point (one sack, one pressure). Matt Light fared a little better in pass protection, but couldn’t get much going rushing off the left end.
Sebastian Vollmer looks slow since coming back from his back injury. Nate Solder might be this team’s best offensive tackle and he’s been limited to only playing as a 3rd TE/OT.
After the Patriots signed Brian Waters, I heard a lot of chatter from Chiefs fans about how bad he was last year. I haven’t found a single complaint to make about him this year. He’s been great and makes Vollmer look better than he’s actually been at times. Waters allowed one sack on Sunday.
WIDE RECEIVER PLAY
Sticking with the offense, I think it’s time to put some blame on the WRs not named Welker (who was fantastic again). Deion Branch can seemingly only get open when the Patriots are in the hurry up and every throw to Chad Ochocinco seems like some kind of sick joke.
I understand that Brady knows Branch like no other WR he’s ever played with, but this isn’t the same WR we drafted in 2002. The Patriots only ran four snaps out of the no huddle in this game and surprise, surprise, it was the best drive of the day for New England. I have doubts that Branch still has the kind of speed and athleticism to get separation even in single coverage against decent cornerbacks. If Taylor Price is ever going to play meaningful snaps, I think it should come at the expense of Branch and Ochocinco.
Onto Ocho… I feel like no one wants this guy to succeed more than me right now. I like Chad, he seems like a good guy (despite the fact that he called me an idiot on Twitter once). Every throw to Ocho seems like some kind of joke though. I can only imagine the guffaws Jets, Steelers, Ravens, Bills, etc. fans are having every time the ball is thrown his way.
We’ve never seen a player be so far off the same page as Brady during Tom’s 11 years starting in the NFL (even Galloway). Ocho doesn’t even appear to be in the same book. Not even the same genre as Brady. Brady’s in the history section and Ocho is on the other side of Barnes & Noble in the children’s section, maybe the gossip magazines.
Regardless of my negativity, I have faith in Ocho. I don’t think he’s the same player he was three years ago, but he should be an effective tool in this offense.
I’ve said it before, but he doesn’t appear confident in the least. Ty Law said today that the team should let Ocho open his mouth and start being himself again. I agree with the thought, but I don’t know what Ocho could say at this point to get his confidence back. At one point in the game, you could tell that Chad thought he had been interfered with, but he kind of half way through up his arms. How could he fully protest though with the season he’s having?
I don’t know how to fix this, but it’s like the chicken & the egg, Chad needs to get his confidence back to start playing well, but he can’t play well until he gets his confidence back.
GOSTKOWSKI’S MISSED FIELD GOAL
It happened early in the game, so you wouldn’t think it would affect the end of the 4th quarter like it did, but it did. This is to say the game would have still gone exactly the same, which is impossible to say, but still; if the Patriots had been trailing by one rather than four during that last drive, the urgency for a touchdown wouldn’t have been there and the Patriots could have taken their time more to just be able to get the field goal for the win.
That option wasn’t there, so the Patriots couldn’t exactly take the full three minutes on the clock knowing they needed a touchdown to win. Sure, there are other facets of the Patriots game to blame, but that missed chip shot still loomed at the end.
-Mark Anderson played a great game, generating one QB hit and two pressures in 19 snaps.
-Andre Carter continues to be dominant with five pressures and three QB hits.
-Rob Ninkovich generated three pressures.
-Patrick Chung (two targets, one reception, 14 yards. and Devin McCourty (four targets, two receptions, 37 yards) did a nice job in coverage.
-Kyle Arrington was targeted eleven times but only allowed four receptions for 53 yards and one touchdown. His great play on the interception in the endzone and his costly pass interference call cancel each other out. The TD he allowed on the same drive probably pushes his overall game into an average or below average day. Still, allowing only four receptions on eleven targets makes me believe he might be the most improved Patriots player in 2011.
-All of the Patriots linebackers other than Tracy White had positive coverage ratings on Pro Football Focus. (even Mark Anderson! What can’t he do!)