Still Good But No Longer Elite
posted at 12/1/2009 8:00 AM EST
We're not Detroit. We're not Oakland. We're not Saint Louis. We still have a pretty good--even above average--football team here in New England, but let's face it: we're no longer an elite team. There are too many holes in both our offense and defense right now. And--just possibly--maybe our skills in coaching and selecting talent are starting to wane. Here's what I see:
Offensive line. I've never liked the way we ignore the tackle position. Vollmer looks like a great find, but the rest of the tackles just aren't up to par. The guards and center are okay, but without good tackles we have trouble blocking good pass rushers and trouble opening holes in the running game. Remember we lost a super bowl in large part because our line couldn't handle the Giants' pass rush. The problem is still unfixed.
Third wide out. We can't reliably win with only two wide receivers. It's easy to double Moss (who's not as dominant as he once was--he's getting older, after all). And while Welker is hard to cover in the underneath zones, he (and Faulk) are becoming our only options. A one-dimensional offense isn't going to be successful.
Offensive play calling. We need to run more and not give up on it so quickly. We have only two decent wide receivers and poor pass protection. Once we become one-dimensional, with Brady chucking passes to Moss, Welker, and Faulk from the shotgun (and occasionally handing the ball to Faulk for a draw play), teams can ignore the rest of the offense. And we are getting almost no production from our tight ends.
Pass rush. We have no pass rush whatsoever. Quarterbacks have hours back there to pick their receivers. Is it talent or scheme? We never blitz, it seems. But our four-man rush is anemic. Should we try to blitz a bit more just to keep teams on their toes? But that gets us to the other big issue on defense--our secondary. It's bad enough with seven or eight in coverage. Do you want to blitz and leave only six in coverage?
Secondary. Wow, they are bad. Wilhite stays with his man relatively well, but he's never in position to make a play. Both the Colts and Saints ate him up. Yet he was continually left man-on-man against top receivers. The talent isn't there, but I also wonder about the schemes. I know you can't double everyone, but why is Wilhite so often left alone with a top receiver?
Coaching. We just don't seem very creative. Maybe it's the talent, but don't we seem to do the same thing every week? Is Belichick trying to do too much himself? We may need some new blood at the offensive and defensive coordinator positions. The team was best when we had Crennel and Weis working with Belichick. Do we need to get coordinators of that stripe again?
Player personnel. Mike McKenzie looked better than most of our DBs and the Saints picked him up off the street last week. Ty Warren and Jarvis Green don't look nearly as good without Seymour. Without getting lucky with Vollmer, we'd be awful at offensive tackle). We have no third receiver (there must have been someone better than Aiken and Stanback--Gaffney, if no one else!). Daniel Graham would be better at TE than anyone we have now. Asante Samuel had his flaws at CB, but he at least made some big plays. We've had a lot of decent draft picks. Why is the talent declining so much?
Patriots football is still good--and still exciting to watch (I"m keeping my season tickets)--but there are disturbing signs that we're headed not to the bottom of the pack but to the middle. How does it get turned around? Better coaching? Better talent? Or better of both?