The Patriots total lack of execution and effort in their 1st round loss to the Ravens left me stunned and angry, so much so that I haven’t been able to bring myself to comment until now. Every time I’d start to put down my thoughts I’d feel my blood pressure, and my acid reflux, start to rise. Yes, it’s the typical reaction of a dyed in the wool homer, but I can’t help myself, I am, and I'm proud of it.
I was happy to see the Ravens go down in flames last week, but seeing the Jets advance to the AFC Championship round just made matters worse. The Jets are where they are in part because Indy laid down in their last match up, so I guess its fitting that they’re coming back to haunt them, but more importantly, The Jets aren’t what you would call a “top tier team”, and look where they are. In this age of parity, any team can get hot at the end of the season and have a legitimate shot at going to the big game. You don’t have to be one of the top tier teams; you just have to get into the playoffs, and then want it more than your opponents. Of course, you also have to execute, but I think the two go hand in hand. Teams that want it, usually bring it, and the Pats did neither this year.
So, what went so wrong this season? First and foremost, the 2009 Patriots weren’t a team; they were a collection of unmotivated underachievers. There are some great players on this team, but they just never seemed to all be on the same page at the same time. Each week we saw a different segment of the team step up, or not, and it made for a very uneven and disappointing season.
How do they fix things? From the top down. Bill needs to find both an offensive and a defensive coordinator that he trusts. I think a good deal of the confusion on the field this year stemmed from Bill being unhappy with the play calling on both sides of the ball, and countermanding their instructions at the last minute. It showed in the inappropriate time outs and delay of game penalties, and the exasperated looks on the players faces. I don’t think that Bill is losing it, as some have said; I think he’s just trying to do too much. Football is a business, and as is the case with any business, a lack of consensus and strong, inspirational leadership from management sends mixed messages to the employees, and usually leads to chaos on the shop floor.
On defense, Pees leaving, or being asked to, is a good start. On the other side of the ball, there actually hasn’t been an offensive coordinator since Josh McDaniels left. Bill O’Brien, whose official title is quarterbacks coach, has been filling the roll, and in my humble opinion, not doing a very good job of it. The offense has become so predictable that teams have been able to shut it down easily. Sometimes I’d swear the opposing defense not only knew the play, but the snap count as well. The Pats have to find strong replacements for these positions, and they have to do it soon. They’ve already missed, or passed on, the two best candidates available, Weis and Crennel.
Once they're done fixing the coaching staff, they need to get down to the business of fixing the team. They need a decent pass rush, and for that they need some quality off season additions to the roster. I think the secondary would look a lot better if the opposing QB’s didn’t have all day in the pocket. They also need to lock in Wilfork, and they need to make better use of their existing talent. Position shifts, better schemes, and above all, fostering some on field leadership, ‘cause there didn’t appear to be anybody stepping up into the role this year.
On the offensive side, they need to provide better protection for Brady. Depth at the lineman position is a must. I liked the look of the line when Light and Vollmer were at left and right tackle; it actually allowed the nearly invisible tight ends to participate in the passing game to some degree, but they may not always be available, as was the case this past season, and to deal with that you need depth.
I’m not totally convinced that they need any more receivers, unless of course Welker doesn’t come back. They just need some better effort, and they need to stop bunching the routes. If most of your receivers are in the same quadrant of the field, so are most of the DB’s. Either some of them are running the wrong routes, or it’s a prime example of the aforementioned crappy game planning.
On the better effort front, I’m certain that Randy was hurting more than he or the team let on this season. And speaking of hurting, did you see Brady’s index finger on his throwing hand? It was black and swollen. If that was me, I’d be on the sidelines with a clipboard, chewing aspirins by the handful, not standing in the pocket and hurling balls while being bull rushed. Factor in the ferocious body shots he took all season and the rumor of broken ribs, and it’s no wonder his performance trailed off as the clock wound down.
They also need to bring in a young running back. It doesn’t have to be a first rounder, just someone with speed, power and potential. Taylor and Morris are good, but the wear and tear of the game is starting to show. Maroney is up and down. Is he a bust? I don’t think so. I think he’s not being coached or utilized correctly. I see him as more of a third down back ala Kevin Faulk, who, by the way, was one of the few guys you could count on this season. I just don’t know how much more punishment he can take.
Wow, I could go on like this for hours, there’s just soooo much that needs to be done. The good thing is, these aren’t the Patriots of old. As long as the Kraft’s are in the owner’s box, you know we’re going to see investment in the team, and Belichick, Brady and company still have a lot of gas in the tank. I have high hopes for the future.
In the here and now, I’ll settle for the Jets getting smoked by the Colts today, and then Indy going down to the Saints in a Super Bowl XLIV shootout. Seeing Sexy Rexy go home crying, followed by repeated close-ups of the Peyton Face, would be priceless.
Hey, you gotta have dreams…