Patriots Stink in Miami

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).

Celtics Tame Bobcats

The Boston Celtics and Charlotte Bobcats met up Tuesday night. Both teams were riding four-game win streaks, and both teams had formidable stats backing them up. The Celtics came into the game boasting the best road record in the NBA, whereas the Bobcats were holding opposing teams to the fewest points in the NBA (the Celtics were third on that list). Earlier in the season, the Celtics had blown out the Bobcats, 92-59. Tonight was another blowout, as the Celtics decimated the Bobcats, 108-90.

Celtics on Offense

What we’re beginning to see is that the Celtics are at their strongest when they’re moving the ball around the court. Extra passes, lots of assists, and good movement into and out of the paint are what enable this offense to succeed. Tonight was definitely a night where the passing game was on. The Celtics racked up 24 assists to the Bobcats’ mere 13. The leader in this category was Rajon Rondo, who had nine. There were numerous instances of fantastic passing, but one in particular stood out. In the fourth quarter, with the Celtics up by double digits and the game well in hand, the C’s ran the ball up to the Charlotte perimeter. They then passed the ball along the perimeter several times, each player passing on a decent shot, to finally get the ball to Eddie House. He drained a deep two, then came back with a three-pointer on the next possession. This was unselfish play designed to help a struggling player find his shot, and it worked beautifully.

The overall stars of the day were Ray Allen and Kendrick Perkins. Both players scored over 20 points (27 for Allen, 21 for Perkins). Ray Allen had five rebounds, five assists, a block and a steal. Kendrick Perkins picked up a nifty double-double by adding 12 rebounds and blocking 3 shots. The starters made up for what was a not particularly strong day for the Boston bench, though they were able to eat up lots of clock time and allow the starters to rest early and often.

Celtics on Defense

The Celtics continued to play the kind of stifling defense that they did against Miami and Toronto. Every drive to the lane was contested, leading to misses (40.5% shooting), blocked shots (9), and turnovers (11). The Bobcats were forced to go their perimeter, where they are not known for their shooting and it showed. The only knock against the defense was that it slowed up in the second half, just doing enough to hold their lead without really pushing the issue. But then, can one blame them with the huge lead they had? The second half was all about resting the starters for as long as possible, so the bench just needed to be competent in order to successfully do their jobs.

The Game in Review

This was as dominating a victory by the Celtics as we’ve seen all season, even if the score was slightly closer in the end than it should’ve been. The C’s led for nearly the entire game (Charlotte held a brief two point lead at the start of the first quarter), and they played with intensity, rhythm, and poise. They constantly frustrated the Bobcats with their seamless offense and crushing defense, leading to several technical fouls being issued against Charlotte (more than Boston, for once). The Celtics have gone 2-0 on their road trip so far and will go to San Antonio Thursday boasting a five game win streak and a heck of a lot of momentum.

Saints Light Up Patriots Defense

Monday night’s game between the New Orleans Saints and the New England Patriots was dubbed a “championship game” by the media. Both teams had something to prove coming in. The Patriots wanted to prove they are still in the upper echelon of teams in the NFL and were legitimate contenders for the Super Bowl. The Saints wanted to prove they were the best team in the NFC and were ALSO legitimate contenders for the Super Bowl. One team succeeded in their goals, and unfortunately it was not the New England Patriots.

The Pats started the game well. Although they gave up a deep pass from Drew Brees to open up the game, they held the Saints to just a field goal. It would turn out to be one of their few successful defensive outings of the day. Tom Brady followed up the drive with a scoring drive of his own, which culminated in a Laurence Maroney rushing score. Maroney was by far the offensive star for the Patriots, little as that meant. If there was a weakness in the Saints defense, it was definitely their inability to stop the run. Maroney put up both of the New England touchdowns and was definitely responsible for keeping key drives going and eating up clock time. Unfortunately, you can’t rush all the time, and when the Patriots passed they looked terrible.

The Saints secondary proved how competent it was today. Nobody backed down in the face of New England’s strong wide receivers. If anything, it seemed to motivate them. Every pass was either blocked by a corner or tackled for a short gain by a safety. Everything was thrown underneath, making it difficult to gain yardage quickly. And the Saints D did a good job not giving Tom Brady enough time to find his deep receivers, who were never open anyway. Brady’s pick permanently shifted the momentum New Orleans’ way.

As for the Patriots defense, there was little good that could be said. They stopped the run well, I guess, but it seemed like every time the Saints ran it they were able to pick up four or five yards, as opposed to the Patriots one or two. This meant the Saints were always in second-and-short situations, which meant Drew Brees was free to push his offense. And push he did. Every weakness I’ve mentioned in previous blogs about the Patriots defense- no pass rush, mediocre cornerbacks, no big playmaykers- was exposed during Monday Night’s game. The secondary looked slow and confused. Whatever offensive formation Brees ran, he ran it perfectly. The defense just could not step up and stop them. It led to 5 touchdown passes against them, and some of those were ugly passes too (not by Brees, just in how badly they were defended). The Pats couldn’t cover in man, they couldn’t cover in zone, they just couldn’t cover, period.

The Patriots defense must improve in leaps and bounds if they want to be a factor come play-off time. Right now, both sides of the field are playing without rhythm or passion, and you need at least one of those to win a football game. The Patriots offense looks boring, and the defense looks anemic. This is nowhere near the Tom Brady teams of old. We gave him a grace period to recover from knee surgery and return to form, but that period has ended. He must either rally his team or this team will be one-and-done come playoff time.