Well, that’s another one for the books. Another frustrating loss by an increasingly frustrating 2009 New England Patriots team. Another loss where the number of questions surrounding the team far outnumber any answers we may be getting. Why can’t we get pressure on opposing quarterbakcs? Why are we struggling so much in the second half? And most importantly, what is wrong with this team?
The problems offensively start at quarterback. Yes, Tom Brady is having a strong season, statistically. He just went over 30,000 yards career. But it just seems like his drive isn’t there. He just seems to be going through the motions on offense. Now, the Patriots have always been known as a team bereft of emotion. Starting with their head coach, they have always been a team (at least since 2003) that handles its business methodically and mechanically. Little is left to chance, little is done from a scramble. Plays are scripted, selected, and then run. And for a number of years, it worked pretty well. Now it’s not working. The fire seams to have gone out of this Patriots offense, and it starts with Brady. I feel like he’s been given more than enough time to find his form again, and the problems he has now are mental more than anything else. With the game on the line, he just can’t seem to connect with other players and find them for big plays.
All of this is compounded by several other problems on offense. The offensive line is not doing as good a job as it could be of protecting Tom Brady. Today, he took a number of big hits which, no matter who you are, take their toll on a person’s mind and body. And everyone knows the pass is coming, so the pressure is more consistently there than it was in seasons where we had a more believable running game. Laurence Maroney is improving, there’s no denying that. He is getting better at moving the ball upfield and not just sprinting for the sidelines and trying to turn the corner. But no one believes that Maroney is a big threat to break off a serious run, so they’re not intimidated by the threat of a run from him. Our other backs, Morris and Faulk, are more of the same: power runners good for short pick-ups and not much else. Without a serious run game, the New England offense just looks one-dimensional, and that never works against a pro team, no matter how good or bad the team might be.
Defensively, I think I’ve covered the problems I can see. The one positive is their ability to shut down opposing running games, which they did once again today in Miami. But that’s it. Their pass rush is a shell of its former self. They just cannot get pressure on opposing quarterbacks with any consistency. And when you pass rush but get nothing out of it, all you do is open up lots of space underneath to allow wide receivers and tight ends to move into. That’s exactly what happened today, Chad Henne recognized it, and picked the Patriots defense apart. The secondary is mediocre, the cornerbacks only average. So if you allow a quarterback time, he will chew you up with short-yardage gains.
New England had a chance to take a big lead in the race for the division, but instead they allowed Miami and New York right back into the mix. Their next game is at Carolina, another average team. If New England cannot handle its business against mediocre opponents such as Miami or Carolina, they will have no chance against better teams come the playoffs. That is, assuming they even make it (which I still think they will).