Pats Posits: Big picture problems

It’s going to be a rough week Patriots fans. Everyone will have their theory about what the root of the Pats problems are. 

Tom Brady doesn’t have enough weapons. There’s no deep threat. Belichick the GM isn’t helping Belichick the coach. They shouldn’t have traded Logan Mankins. The play calling. You’ve heard them all by now and it didn’t take a blow out to make any of them definitively true.

On defense it was pretty simple, they weren’t ready to play. They were out-coached. Blown tackles started them off on the wrong foot, over compensating with over-aggressiveness just made it worse, and things snowballed from there.

Offensively the protection was a bit better but the blocking still looks messy and out-of-sync. The running game is all but ignored. And in a recurring theme, teams are just stacking the line of scrimmage because they don’t think the Pats offense can beat them beyond seven yards. 

Thus the box is stacked for the running game, and any receiver who catches a short pass is immediately killed if he doesn’t get immediately to the ground.

The defense still has potential. They were way to sloppy last night and that is a concern — not that they don’t have the talent, but it seems almost as if they think they don’t have to earn it every game. Once they start playing like they have to earn it every down, they’ll be pretty good. There’s too much talent for them to be as bad as they were last night.

Offensively, the concerns are real and have been for a while. It’s as if they just can’t get our of their own way to get this offense to where it needs to be. Everything seems overthought on offense. They can’t put two good plays together at this point.

The hard part is that after a quarter of the season you should know to an extent what you have and I can’t say for sure what the Patriots have on either side of the ball. 

I tend to think the defense can and will be okay, but I have real concerns about the offense that run deep and have for a while now. Pointing out individual players seems like a waste because everyone is at fault.

My only prescription? Find the best OL combo and stick with it. Establish a level of trust from Brady because he doesn’t have that now. Lean on the running game more. Get Dobson in there and do whatever they can to pull some coverage away from the line of scrimmage.

Ignore the noise this week. There’s plenty to be excited about this weekend with an undefeated team coming to town on national TV. Things look bad right now, but one thing I’ve learned is to never count the Patriots out until their season is over.

The season isn’t even close to over.

New England Patriots Gameplan: Week 4 at Kansas City Chiefs

The Patriots conclude the first quarter of their season on Monday Night Football against the Chiefs in Arrowhead, in what should be a good test for a Patriots team that seems to be going in two different directions on either side of the ball.

Last season the Chiefs were one of the teams that scared me. Their controlled short passing game is just the kind that has given the Patriots defense fits in recent years, but the Pats defense is starting to look reborn after a strong start against three admittedly less-than-formidable offenses.

Offensively the talk all week has been focused on the offensive line, leading many to wonder if there will be some changes upfront for the Pats. Once New England gets their blocking solidified, we should expect to see a much-improved squad. But there’s no guarantee that the blocking is easily fixed, they’ll have to prove it on the field and all eyes will be on them in the hostile environment known as Arrowhead.

Offensive Strategy

The one constant through the first three games on offense has been Julian Edelman and he should once again be the go-to target to keep the chains moving. With star Chiefs safety Eric Berry nursing a high ankle sprain, the Pats should be tempted to attack the deep part of the field, something they’ve been less-than-effective with early in the season.

Their best deep threat Aaron Dobson was back on the bench last week after seeing his first action in Week 2. If ever there was a time to push the Dobson deep plan, this could be the week.

But the bigger question is whether or not Tom Brady will have the time. Even the most perfect gameplans are easily destroyed when the pass rush gets to Tom Brady and the Chiefs have two of the best edge rushers in the game in Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. They will test Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder, the Patriots bookend tackles. Solder especially had one of the worst outings of his career against the Raiders and he will need to bounce back in a big way or Brady could be on his ass a lot.

Dontari Poe is a big space-eating defensive tackle who should test the Patriots interior line as well, whoever they roll out there.

Defensive Strategy

With Sealver Siliga unlikely to play, Vince Wilfork and the edges of the defense will have their work cut out for them. Electric running back Jamaal Charles is expected to play, while fellow Chiefs running back Kniles Davis brings a physical element. 

The Chiefs like to hit the edges of the defense hard, so there will be pressure on Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower to keep containment. 

The Pats run defense has been much better since the travesty that was Week 1 against the Dolphins, but this should be their toughest test since then. Joe Vellano held up far better against double teams vs. the Raiders than Chris Jones did, so Vellano could start next to Wilfork.

Donnie Avery and Dwayne Bowe should provide a good test for the Patriots pass defense but tight end Travis Kelce might be the most dangerous of them all. Patrick Chung has been effective in coverage thus far against tight ends and seems like the favorite to draw coverage on Kelce. If he’s ineffective, Jamie Collins could be called to action.

Five Points of Emphasis

1. Block! - If you’ve read just about any intelligent analysis about the Patriots this week, you know that the offensive line is their biggest team issue right now. What’s frustrating is that the guys who have done it in the past - especially Solder and Vollmer - are not doing it now. They need to be the leaders. Regardless of what kind of personnel changes are made, the offensive line must communicate better and simply play at a higher level —  a level they are capable of. They have a great opportunity to right the ship in a tough place to play. That can make a statement.

2. Bombs Away - The Patriots have needed a vertical element to their passing game for going on five seasons. There’s no question the offense is built around Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski and they will move the ball with those two as the primary receivers. But for the offense to truly hit the next level, they need attack the perimeter of the defense. The chance is there this week, but only if the offensive line gives Brady the time to get off accurate throws. It’s all connected, but a couple shots down the field is just what this team needs.

3. First Down Execution - Part of the problems this year have been slow starts especially at the start of the game and the start of the second half. The play calling was over-thought and put the Patriots in yardage holes early. They need to start better in every sense of the word. On first down and early in each half, they need to set themselves up for success later in the game and on the set of downs.

4. Physicality on Defense - The Dolphins often overwhelmed the Chiefs in Week 3 with pure physicality and the Patriots have the personnel to do the same. Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones have had superb starts to their third seasons in the NFL and they’ll have to show that to a national audience on Monday night. The defense has shown that they are not the same old Patriots defense we became accustomed to from 2010-2013, and they must continue to build on the success that they have had against a legitimate NFL offense and probably the best quarterback they’ve seen yet this season.

5. Win: As always, what matters most is getting the win. We’re closing out the first quarter of the season, so the time for experimentation and wondering what the Patriots are good and bad at is coming to a close. This game will tell us a lot about the kind of team the 2014 Pats are, especially after a week where a win felt more like a loss. The entire NFL world will be watching to see if there really are any cracks in the Patriots empire. A convincing win on the road in Kansas City would answer that with a resounding “No”.

Patriots vs. Raiders All 22 Thoughts: Offense Edition

And now I jump into the All 22 review of the offense, something I’ve been putting off all day. Let’s see if it’s as ugly as I remember…

 Still bugs me that the offense would go shotgun on snap one. The Raiders run defense stunk. Running on the first play of the game is almost expected. How about some play action? At least I like the attempt to get LaFell going right off the bat.

Just a gross first possession and that’s disconcerting because they literally had all week to plan it.

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Patriots vs. Raiders All 22 Thoughts: Defense Edition

Tuesday afternoon means All 22 review! You really haven’t watched the game until you’ve seen the whole field. I continue to be amazed by the thing I missed and what I pick up watching it. Here comes this weeks defense edition:

Dropping Easley out of rush and into coverage. Reward for his interception?

Seems like they’re getting a little more comfortable using Chung in Cover 2. Smart, can’t be in Cover 1 every time he’s on the field.

Really hope Siliga isn’t out for long, he and Wilfork are a tough combination inside to move. It’s really what makes the Pats run defense go. There’s been plenty of 34/43 talk as there is every year, but the overriding early down philosophy is have two space eaters inside with five athletic players around them who can make plays. 

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Three GIFs That Defined Patriots win over Raiders

It was (looking like) the best of times and the worst of times after the Patriots squeaker win over the Raiders last Sunday.

On defense there were quite a few different options of plays that defined the game, though one choice was infinitely obvious. Defensively I continue to think things are really coming together and again, defense wins championships. If nothing else I’m ready for a Patriots team that is better on the defensive side of the ball. I mean it’s been a decade since the last time that was true.

Offensively, the Pats can’t get much going and look like the same unit that lacked the necessary dynamics to truly take them to the next level. Things still look just a step off up and down the offense, but given the level of compete on this team, I expect we’ll see them take positive strides forward this coming week.

Here are the three plays that defined the game:

 photo gronktd_zps256aba7a.gif

A Gronk TD. Why not? It was just about the only really positive play we saw from the offense, not to mention it saw Gronk beat a double team. That’s a positive sign and as Gronk slowly eases into more and more snaps he should become even more of a factor. Three healthy games down, 16 to go!

 photo radiersstop_zps35bbcb56.gif

Possibly my favorite play of the game comes on this 3rd-and-1 in the fourth quarter with the Pats clinging to a four-point lead. I love the number o f hard hits that keep the Raiders from picking up the first down. That kind of swarming defense is just what we need.

 photo wilforkint_zps9043f8b9.gif

Finally, and most obviously, comes Vince Wilfork’s interception. I can’t say it enough — it’s just unreal how Wilfork has come off such a major injury and looks just as good as he was before it. If anything it appears the year off did the rest of Wilfork’s body some good. Let’s just hope they can keep him this way for the rest of the season.

Personnel

Offense

3 WR/1 TE/1 RB — 32 of 73 
2 WR/2 TE/1 RB — 30 of 73 
2 WR/1 TE/1 FB/1 RB — 6 of 73 
2 WR/1 TE/2 RB — 2 of 73 
3 WR/1 FB/1 RB — 1 of 73 
3 WR/2 RB — 1 of 73 
3 TE/1 FB/1 RB — 1 of 73 

Defense

Base: 30 of 60 

Sub: 30 of 60 (20 in nickel/10 in dime) 

2 WR/1 TE/1 FB/ 1 RB — base 4-3 
2 WR/2 TE/1 RB — base 4-3 
3 WR/1 TE/1 RB — nickel — Arrington (short yardage); dime (longer yardage) 
1 WR/2 TE/1 FB/1 RB — base 5-2 
3 WR/1 FB/1 RB — base 4-3 and big nickel

Previous Three GIFs:

@ Minnesota Vikings

@ Miami Dolphins

Pats Posits: Offense’s start is carbon copy of 2013

I was about to write some snap reactions last night, but maybe because I was sick or maybe because I just didn’t feel like writing about such an annoying game, I put it off until this morning.

So now everyone has an opinion and a lot of them are valid, while some are not - looking at you ‘the 3-4 doesn’t work’ guy. I really try to reserve judgement until after the first quarter of the season, so while we’re certainly close to that, I don’t want to be a chicken little just yet.

Let’s start with the positive - the defense. Was it perfect yesterday? Nope. Did Revis look like a guy we should back up the money truck for this offseason? Nope. Was there enough pass rush? Not even close. But is this still the most promising defense since the mid-2000s? Absolutely.

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New England Patriots Gameplan: Week 3 vs. Oakland Raiders

The Patriots finally have their home opener Sunday against the 0-2 Raiders! While on paper this might look to be a Pats’ blowout, we’ve seen far too many ugly early-season losses to write in a “W” just yet. Let’s remember this is a Patriots team that lost to the Cardinals at home in 2012. The Cardinals wouldn’t win another road game all year. Figure that one out.

The Pats have been saying all the right things this week — what a legend Charles Woodson is, how good Oakland’s pass defense is, that Derek Carr can make every throw. You know the drill.

But who the opponent is doesn’t really matter, it’s all about focusing on the Patriots and improving. The team has shown glimpses on both sides of the ball, but the consistency has been lacking especially on offense. 

Here’s my strategy and points of emphasis that will hopefully get the Pats to 2-1.

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Patriots Week 3 Kickoff: Oakland Raiders

Last meeting: In 2011, the Patriots gave up 504 yards of offense yet still won 31-19. Wes Welker had 9 catches for 158 yards as the Pats moved to 3-1, en route to a season that would see them lose to the Giants in the Super Bowl. This was prime territory for a pass defense that couldn’t stop a nose bleed. Put it this way — Sergio Brown was the 5th leading tackler on the day.

Early Outlook: The Raiders are 0-2 after losses to the Jets and Texans. It’s the Patriots home opener, and with the Pats offense on the verge of breaking out, the Raiders should have their hands full. It will be hard to not to be overconfident heading into this one.

Notes: Old friend Justin Tuck is back, not that he’s the same player he once was, but it will be interesting seeing how he does against our new-look interior OL.

LB Miles Burris is the lowest ranked defender on the Raiders by PFF, and Andy Benoit of MMQB called him a “liability”. Expect the Pats to attack the weak link.

On paper the Raiders have some big names like Tuck, Carlos Rogers, Antonio Smith and Lamarr Woodley but all are in the red for PFF’s ratings.

PFF has Derek Carr under pressure 33 of 78 dropbacks.

I’d bet BB will be content to rush four. Between Ninkovich, Hightower and Chandler, they should generate pressure. And seven in coverage will likely force Carr into a couple interceptions.

The whole Tony Sparano of it all is slightly concerning because you know, he dropped that whole Wildcat bomb on us in 2008, but really the defense is fine to handle that gimmick now.

Happy it’s the home opener because I think that will help the Pats not look past the Raiders. Every NFL team is dangerous if you don’t take them seriously. Remember losing to the Cardinals in 2012?

Pats are on national TV back-to-back after this one against two pretty good teams. They really need to get the penalties fixed and the offense on track in this one. 

If the Pats take more penalties than the Raiders in this one I will be concerned.

Patriots vs. Vikings All 22 Thoughts: Offense Edition

Not much doing on the first possession — a three and out. The commitment to establish the run is clear, but they didn’t have much success off the left side of the line on the first two runs.

As mentioned by Greg Bedard last night, on the first pass attempt of the second possession there was just Dobson running a route. Everyone else was blocking. Yes, they’re trying to establish some confidence but yikes.

Cleaner blocking in the run game on the second possession, with nice lead/edge blocks from Hooman and Develin on Ridley’s five yard run.

Edelman fly sweep! Teams are going to figure out how to defend this play pretty quick as almost every NFL team is running them this year it seems.

The WR slip screens haven’t been working well this year so far, and I’d include the RB screens as well. With the heavier and less experienced line this probably shouldn’t be a surprise. But they just can’t seem to get that one block that springs them for a big gain.

Still scratching my head how we’re in the second quarter and we’ve seen about as much Hooman and Develin as Dobson/Amendola/LaFell. For a team that lacked playmakers last year they’re still seemingly avoiding their playmakers.

Still, what a rocket on third-and-15 to Edelman to pick up a much-needed first down. This was one of my Three GIFs plays.

Brady stood in there tough and took the hit to deliver a perfect touchdown lob to Edelman. Great play that he clearly audibled into.

The Pats were stopped short on 3rd-and-1 in the second quarter. The hole was there for a second, but Connolly couldn’t quite make his reach block and that was enough to delay Ridley from squirting through. Harrison Smith also filled and tackled like a force of nature. He’s a good player.

And now it’s the Brady and Edelman show. I expected to see a little more balance this year on offense, that’s for sure. Most puzzling though is how little Vereen was involved in the game plan. He needs to get the ball in space more often.

Really solid run blocking on the last play of the third quarter where Vereen picked up 12 yards. Sustained blocks, good movement and vision from Vereen. More of that please.

Cannon got stunned by the initial punch by the DT and that’s how Brady was sacked in the fourth quarter. It did seem like there was time for him to unload it, but it appeared he was staring down Edelman who was bracketed. See below:

Lastly, All-22 is a much better way to get a good look at the offensive line and I really liked what I saw from Bryan Stork upon further review. Sustains his blocks, shows good strength. Would not be surprised if he starts to see more time.