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Something missing on D-line

Patriots defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth had zero impact plays in 22 snaps Sunday against the Chargers. Patriots defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth had zero impact plays in 22 snaps Sunday against the Chargers. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / September 21, 2011

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In the season-opening win against the Dolphins, the seeds for Albert Haynesworth’s impact on the Patriots’ defense were well planted.

In just 30 snaps, the defensive tackle had the most impact of any defender, with two run stuffs (carries for 1 yard or less outside of goal line and short yardage), two quarterback hurries, and 1.5 quarterback knockdowns. Two drawn holding penalties are included in those numbers.

But in a step up in competition against the Chargers and left guard Kris Dielman, Haynesworth just about vanished in 22 snaps. He didn’t have one impact play.

Haynesworth got out of his perceived run gap three times - a unit-wide problem - including on Ryan Mathews’s 10-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

Maybe Haynesworth was just fooled by the pulling guard, or maybe he was free lancing when he left too much room for linebacker Jerod Mayo to cover. We don’t know what Bill Belichick’s instructions are to Haynesworth. Sometimes a coach will tell certain players they don’t need to worry about their gaps - and after Haynesworth’s tenure in Washington, that is a definite possibility.

Haynesworth was far from terrible. For the most part, his competition level was fine and he fired off the snap.

You’d just expect an enormously talented player to have more of an impact when he was single-blocked 15 times (68 percent). Most of the time, it was by Dielman, who is in the upper echelon of the league’s guards. But he’s a better run blocker than a pass blocker.

The book on Haynesworth from scouts is that his predominant move, a swim move, leaves him high and he can be put on the ground. If you knock Haynesworth down, he’s not going to get back into the play. We saw it against the Dolphins when rookie center Mike Pouncey pancaked Haynesworth.

This was the type of game - when the opponent is keeping extra blockers in and chipping the ends - where the Patriots need Haynesworth to push the pocket and make the quarterback uncomfortable. Vince Wilfork did it, but he needs a running mate, especially after the promising Myron Pryor went out early with an injury.

Haynesworth was a luxury in the preseason. If Pryor is out, better play from Haynesworth becomes a necessity.

A closer look, position by position, at the San Diego game:

QUARTERBACK (Rating: 4.5 out of 5)

Tom Brady, no shock, was excellent again. He had just nine incompletions (two sacks are included in his final stats), and only three throws out of his 38 attempts (8 percent) were not put in the right spot. He had several subtle pump-fakes and looks that got receivers open. If there is a sequence Brady would like to have back, it’s probably the three plays for the early second-quarter field goal. Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski were open on first down. It’s surprising that he didn’t audible on the second-down run, as Aaron Hernandez was man-up with small safety Bob Sanders. And the throw on third down was high to an open Deion Branch. Brady continues to excel at the short passing game; 27 of his 38 attempts (71.1 percent) were in the air less than 10 yards. His average release time was 2.65 seconds, including three over 6, which led to a knockdown and hurry of his own making. Brady probably will hear it from left tackle Matt Light, because Brady’s decision to hold it for 6.19 seconds on one play caused Light to be called for a holding penalty.

RUNNING BACKS (Rating: 3.5 out of 5)

BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a solid game with 70 yards on 17 carries. He wasn’t even touched on his 16-yard touchdown run - that’s how well-blocked it was. Both he and Danny Woodhead hardly ever pick a wrong hole or fail to get what’s blocked on the play. That does not happen on every team. Woodhead is an excellent football player, but he’s always going to be average in pass-blocking because of his size. He gave up a hurry (second in as many games) and a sack, the latter of which did not make Brady happy. Good to see rookie Stevan Ridley, who showed live legs, get in the mix with two carries for 9 yards.

RECEIVERS (Rating: 5 out of 5)

Through two games, the receivers and tight ends have combined for one drop - and that one was very borderline on Matthew Slater against the Dolphins. Against the Chargers, the receivers accounted for 195 yards after the catch - 51.6 percent of Brady’s total yardage. After a slow start in which he allowed a sack and drew a holding penalty, Gronkowski was nearly flawless with two tough catches for touchdowns, two standout run blocks, and 36 yards after the catch on the opening play of the second half. Branch might not excel in a lot of schemes, but he’s outstanding here. Just terrific awareness. Branch, Brady, and offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien need to find a better fourth-down play. The big failed one in the fourth quarter looked like a replay of the Jets playoff game. Chad Ochocinco’s third-down catch is his forte - the in-breaking route in traffic. His 30-yard dig route is something the Patriots previously lacked and need more of.

OFFENSIVE LINE (Rating: 4.5 out of 5)

One year after allowing Brady to get tuned up by these same Chargers with a season-high 16.5 pressures, the offensive line allowed only five - three hurries and two knockdowns - of the team’s 10. The Patriots’ no-huddle kept troublesome pass rusher Antwan Barnes off the field. The Chargers blitzed only 11 times (27.5 percent) and came up with only three pressures on them. Dan Connolly, starting for the first time at center, was solid enough. He gave up two of the knockdowns, including the scary one to Brady’s knee, and a stuffed run. Connolly had a tough matchup against Antonio Garay but held his own. Light allowed just two hurries, and Logan Mankins, Brian Waters, and Sebastian Vollmer were outstanding. Waters is such an old pro and fun to watch. He lit up linebacker Shaun Phillips on a fourth-quarter screen to Welker, and later knocked down the hands of rookie linebacker Donald Butler on a run bock. The offensive line, Gronkowski, and third tight end Nate Solder should hang Green-Ellis’s touchdown run on a wall. Perfectly executed.

DEFENSIVE LINE (Rating: 3 out of 5)

Thank goodness for Wilfork. He was almost a one-man band up front, playing 62 of 72 snaps and delivering six impact plays: two shared knockdowns, a solo knockdown, a shared run stuff, a hurry, and his outstanding interception. Just two of his impact plays came while Haynesworth was drawing a double-team. The Patriots needed the interior to do damage because the Chargers kept extra blockers in on 22 of the 46 pass attempts (47.8 percent). When the ends weren’t helping out to feign coverage of tight end Antonio Gates, there was chipping and double-teaming. That’s why the injury to Pryor hurt, because he earned more time after the Dolphins game, and appeared set to get it. As expected, Shaun Ellis got kicked inside more but didn’t have anything to show for it. His hurry, which aided Sergio Brown’s interception, and key run stop came at the end. Rivers’s average get-off time was a reasonable 2.9 seconds. He exceeded 2.74 seconds on 26 occasions, which is plenty of time to affect the passer more than the 10 total pressures the Patriots had - two of which were a zero-yard sack by Rob Ninkovich and Mark Anderson’s late sack and fumble. The Chargers’ line did a number on the Patriots.

LINEBACKERS (Rating: 3 out of 5)

This group didn’t have much impact against the run or the pass, but that was probably by design. The Patriots know the Chargers love to dump the ball off to the backs, so they stayed back and blitzed only four times (8.6 percent). You can tell the influence of the four-man line, because the Patriots sent three rushers on just six occasions. Last year it was double (12). Mayo did well to clean up Devin McCourty’s penetration on the key fourth-and-1 stop. Mayo was even surprised that Mike Tolbert fumbled after going backward (a really poor decision); Mayo grabbed his arm, not the ball. Still a huge play that doesn’t happen if Mayo isn’t fighting through the trash. Dane Fletcher had a knockdown on a blitz. Fletcher can’t give up that much yardage to Tolbert on third and 8 before halftime. We got a glimpse of the difference Brandon Spikes can make on a few run plays where he read run, attacked the gap, and helped free Mayo to clean up. That’s the design of this defense.

SECONDARY (Rating: 1.5 out of 5)

The Patriots started out playing a lot of man free and then dropped into a soft zone once they had a 20-7 lead, and then 28-14. With little or no pass rush, it was a rough day for this unit. There were seven questionable pass coverages, three penalties, and two missed tackles. Sure, the coverage on Gates affected some things (though he was in man coverage more often than not after disguising pre-snap), but once Malcom Floyd went out of the game, the Chargers’ lack of dangerous weapons was apparent, and they kept extra blockers in. There were a lot of plays this unit should have cleaned up. Kyle Arrington should have peeled off coverage to break up Vincent Jackson’s final touchdown. Arrington was fine against Jackson in the slot. The most he can do is keep him to the middle of the field, which he did. If he lets him go outside, then it’s a touchdown. About the only thing you can hope for is to have a free safety like Ed Reed who reads the quarterback and cleans up over the top. Josh Barrett should have broken up the 23-yard third-down play to Floyd. Brown showed promise and solid instincts against the pass and in run support. McCourty twice lost track of the ball. He always rebounds, though, and he did with a pass defensed and the sensational play on fourth and goal. The Patriots need Leigh Bodden to be the Leigh Bodden they signed. He’s better than he’s shown.

SPECIAL TEAMS (Rating: 4 out of 5)

The injury to punter Zoltan Mesko is one to be wary of. He has developed into one of the top young punters in the league, and replacing him isn’t like grabbing Shayne Graham off the street to kick 30- and 40-yard field goals. The punters on the street are there for a reason, and the Patriots could wind up losing a ton of hidden yardage if he is out for an extended period. Stephen Gostkowski had one short kick into the wind and continues to show effects from his quad surgery. Tracy White and Slater continue to excel in kick coverage.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard.

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