November 1, 2014

GDRV Roundtable

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

It may seem like a bit of a comedown after last Sunday’s tense battle between playoff contenders, but this weekend’s match-up with the 2-9 Detroit Lions in Foxboro is no less significant to the playoff futures of the New England Patriots.

The Patriots must win to stay at pace with both San Diego and Baltimore and keep alive their hopes of securing a first round bye when the playoffs begin the first weekend in January.

It’s already an uphill battle. The Pats not only trail San Diego by one game in the loss column, they trail both the Chargers and the 9-3 Ravens in nearly all of the tiebreakers (even with Cincinnati’s helpful win over Baltimore last night). Their best chance may be to pass the field on the outside by winning out while the Chargers lose two of five and the Ravens drop another.

The good news is that the Patriots have the easiest remaining schedule of the three teams, by a decent margin. As John Tomase reported earlier this week, New England’s remaining opponents own a .363 winning percentage, compared to .455 for Baltimore and .500 for San Diego.

Still, the Pats are trying to thread a camel through the eye of a needle here. A misstep on Sunday will narrow that eye (or fatten the camel?) even more, perhaps too much to leave any hope.

With another ‘must win’ before them, the Patriots could have tougher opponents than the Lions. Detroit’s headed for another lost season. In typical Lions fashion, they started 0-5 under new coach Rod Marinelli. But they surged to a 2 of 3 run (home wins over Buffalo and Atlanta). Now they’re coming off a three game November tailspin, with their offense drying up against some pretty weak sisters. In back to back losses earlier this month, the Lions scored a grand total of 23 points in eight quarters against the 28th (Arizona, on the road) and 31st (San Fransisco) ranked defenses.

Overall, the Lions are 25th in scoring offense, and 29th defensively. They rush for about 76 yards a game (31st) and give up about 130 (23rd). They throw for a surprising amount of yards given the lack of output (239 PG, 7th in the league), but that can probably be explained (25th in giveaways). The Lions pass defense comes in at a comparatively respectable 19th, but they don’t take the ball away all that often (24th in takeaways).

Yet none of this can really matter to the Pats at game time. Bill Belichick said it Monday – at this time of year, every game is a big one. In that sense, this one’s no different than last week.

A little housekeeping before we get to the panel – this week, we welcome our friend Tim Jordan as a full-time member of Team GDRV. We so enjoyed his entries last week that we asked him to stick around and help us get the Pats back to another Super Bowl. Should be a good time, and if nothing else, we’ll be closing the word count gap between us and Bill Simmons. All right, everybody move down one chair.

As last week vividly illustrated, the Patriots have become one of the most turnover-prone teams in the league. This week they rank 25th in giveaways, with 21. This especially stings given the way last season ended. Bill Belichick’s teams usually win the turnover battles – why are they losing them now?

Greg: Turnovers can run in streaks. But that can’t be the only explanation. Some of it has to be good play by the opposition, but some of it also has to be sloppiness by the Patriots themselves. The good thing about turnover problems, they’re correctable. It isn’t like a lack of speed, or football intelligence or lack of athletic ability to play in the NFL. You can work on turnover problems and get better at protecting the ball. Even at midseason. I suspect it’s been a point of emphasis with the Patriots these last few weeks, even though it didn’t show up last week. Hopefully for their sake you’ll see improvement from here on out.

Tim: This is where just looking at the seasonal statistics can be somewhat misleading. The first 3 games of the season they were turning the ball over and, even with the defense playing well, not getting any turnovers of their own. In the eight games since then, they have lost the turnover battle in three games (and I bet you know which ones they are without looking), predictably losing 2 of them. I don’t see an epidemic threatening to be the team’s fatal flaw here. If you look at the losses, the turnovers were uncharacteristic (culiminanted by Brady’s 4 interception game against Polianapolis). In the win they turned the ball over 5 times, but forced 4 of their own, in the best played 9 turnover game I have ever seen. I hated seeing each one of those turnovers, but each one made the Chicago defense look good more than making the Patriots offense look bad. I think that’s called being an “apologist”, which I think is much more dignified than being a “sympathizer”.

Bruce:These things sure seem to come in bunches. It’s hard what to attribute them to, as Tim says, you have to give some credit to the defense, but at the same time, the opposing defenses seem to have spotted a weakness and are going for it. Once a team has a reputation as being turnover prone, it can become a self-fulfilling prophesy – teams look for opportunities to take the ball away, perhaps even increasing their efforts at stripping the ball or taking chances. The good news is that the Patriots have been forcing turnovers themselves, and still have a few weeks to get their act together on offense.

Scott: I agree – there’s times you just have to tip your cap to the other guys, like on the play Sunday when Laurence Maroney was held up and stripped. I don’t know what he could have done about that – it was just a good play by the defender. But there’s been others that were simply sloppy, unfocused plays by the Pats. They’re now turning the ball over at an average of nearly 2 per game, a greater rate than at any point over the last four years. Why? What with everything they’ve been dealing with offensively (new players all around, and trying to get everyone on the same page), I’m figuring maybe a focus on ball security has taken a back seat. The word is this week the coach has been hammering them on it – we”ll see if it makes a difference.

Most observers laughed when Junior Seau undid his retirement to sign with the Pats. Locally, the idea that Seau could contibute to the Patriots in any significant way was scoffed at. In fact, more than a few labeled it a ‘desperation move’ by the Pats. Now that Seau’s season is over, how would you assess his impact on the team? How big of an issue is his absence?

Tim: As I noted last week, I really liked the way the aging Samoan was playing this year. It just seemed like a very good fit between his skills and experience (and work ethic if anyone on the team is to be believed) and the defensive system. Quite a breath of fresh air after the Monty Beisel Experience in 05. Speaking of fresh air, I like having the guy who breaks his arm and leaves the field in an air cast waving to the crowd under his own power and not the one who hurts his funnybone and needs a souped up golf cart (apparently they removed the governor) to get him to Vicodin Lake. As far as Seau’s loss on the team, I think it’s big. Bigger than any other loss they have endured this year. They won’t be as dominant in certain situations now with Vrabel playing out of his best position. It’s not insurmountable, but I am glad that they have finished playing the best teams on their schedule. Give Tully and Vrabel time to adjust and improve for the playoffs.

Bruce:It’s fairly amusing that a move that was scoffed at by many in the preseason has turned into a situation where the same people who scoffed are now in a panic that the guy is done for the year. I’m pretty confident in saying that the guy outdid almost everyone’s expectations for him coming into the season. His loss is tough, but as the linebackers have repeatedly said this week, they will adjust and Vrabel should be fine in the middle next to Bruschi. I’d like to see another veteran body brought in for the last few weeks of the season as some insurance however.

Scott: Even us optimists didn’t expect a whole lot from Seau, but he turned out to be one of the most consistent players on defense, even if he did make Pepper mad by free lancing once or twice. Maybe its time for those of us who dismissed Junior to admit we were talking out of our hat again. It’s a damn shame that he wasn’t able to make it the whole way – like I’ve said before, football sucks sometimes. I don’t, however, think this cripples the Pats going forward. Mike Vrabel is a great football player; who better to plug a hole when you need one plugged? And Tully Banta Cain has been one of the better pass rushers this season – getting him more playing time might not be a bad thing. The depth will be a concern, but I think people tend to undervalue people like Don Davis. That guy has almost always answered the bell when called on, and if he has to fill in a play or two here and there to keep everyone fresh, I hardly think the world will crash down on him and the rest of the Pats defense.

Greg: I thought, in general, he was very good. One of the better players on defense and a leader. The short sample of life without him last week wasn’t good, at least in terms of defending the run. That is somewhat unfair, however, as you need a week of practice without him to really assess. And maybe a better opponent than Detroit, too. Still, I think they can replace him adequately among the main rotation. What worries me is the depth. Without Seau, they’re at the point they really can’t take any more major injuries among the linebackers.

The Patriots have split their running back carries pretty much down the middle this season, but it seemed in November that the focus shifted more to Laurence Maroney. He had more attempts than Corey Dillon (57 to 47 for the month), became active in the passing game for the first time (4 catches in each of the last two weeks) and he certainly has logged more snaps than his veteran teammate. Over the final month, will the younger, more explosive player further assert himself as the Pats lead runner, and will Dillon see his role further decreased?

Bruce: It’s a natural progression, somewhat faster than many had anticipated. Don’t count Corey out however. I think the Patriots are doing their best to rest him a bit, keep him healthy in hopes that he’ll be a factor in the cold weather games. His punishing style is well suited for the rough and tumble football of December, January and (hopefully) February. I think Dillon will also continue to be used more in the red zone to attempt to pound the ball into the end zone.

Scott: I’m surprised there hasn’t been more made of this, but I’m not counting Tomase and Felger out. They’ll make something of this yet. To me, anyway, there has been a perceptable shift between the two; Dillon may start the game, but Maroney seems to be a bigger part of the offense now. The theory has been that they were keeping everyone – particularly the veteran Dillon – fresh for the stretch run, but hey, its the stretch run right now, and I’m seeing Maroney on the field more and more. All due respect to one of the best runners of his generation (who is still a valuable commodity near the goal line), but between the 20′s, Maroney’s now the better player, and I think we’re seeing more of him as a result.

Greg: No, they have been alternating series, save an injury or other reason to come out of the game, consistently every game for 9 or 10 games now. They literally rotate every series, except when Dillon has gotten hurt or winded (which has happened more frequently than you’d like). Or if they go to a special formation like five wide. But when they’re conventional, they rotate. They tried rotating by favored plays early on and that wasn’t too effective. Now they just go by series and I suspect they’ll stick to it.

Tim: I think the Bully Brother has been banged up in November which helped open the door for more Maroney carries. Personally, I prefer the early season two back approach because it was effective and they both have different running styles. Ideally that’s what I’d like to see again, but I don’t think Dillon’s health will cooperate. My hunch is Maroney starts approaching 20 carries a game as the playoffs approach and he becomes more of a fixture in the passing game. Dillon should continue to get plenty of goal line work inside the 10. I love Dillon, but Maroney is just electric. For someone his size, his acceleration is just so impressive. Smooth, fast, powerful runner. For the first time since 01, the team’s best draftee was their first round choice.

What’s your take on the playoff race for the bye? Do the Pats have a realistic chance, or should they be getting ready to host a game on Wild Card Weekend?

Scott: The Ravens loss last night gives hope, though a 2nd seed still seems like an uphill battle because: 1) of the tiebreakers, and; 2) there’s two teams ahead of them rather than just one. What’s wrong with the 3rd seed, though? If you have to play on Wild Card Weekend, it might as well be against the 6th seed. At this rate, that gives them the rapidly declining Denver Broncos at Gillette. I’ll tell you, the Broncos free fall has been the best story of the last month, and their drop has neutered their head to head advantage over the Pats. Beautiful. Now they’re benching their starter and turning to a rookie QB on the first weekend in December. Things have really been going well out there. Heee.

Greg: Yes. I think Baltimore will lose 2-3 games as will San Diego. I don’t see the Patriots losing more than one. While that doesn’t guarantee them a bye at 12-4 or 13-3, it should put them in the mix and the tie-breakers will determine.

Tim: Of course they do. I don’t care who is on the schedule, winning 5 in a row in the NFL is dificult for any team and I am having trouble accepting the fact that Baltimore Ravens and San Diego Chargers are better teams than the New England Patriots. The Ravens lost to the Panthers at home this year and face a Bengal team that they beat by 6 only 3 weeks ago at home. In fact, they are 3 point dogs tonight. San Diego has a tough slate upcoming: At Buffalo, Denver, KC, and at Seattle. Are you telling me they are so dominant they couldn’t drop one or two of those? In 21 seasons as a head coach, Marty Schottenheimer has never won more than 13 games and he’s only done that twice. I want 13 NE wins and that bye, but the more I think about these two teams, I don’t care where the Patriots play either of them – they beat them when it counts. Although Brian Billick is the best game day coach he’s ever seen.

Bruce: It might seem like a tall order, as the Jets loss really hurts their AFC record as compared to the other clubs ahead of them. The Patriots are likely going to have to win out, and then hope for help. I think that scenario is plausible, though perhaps not probable. I’d really like the bye, but the more important thing is how they’re playing going into the playoffs, as Pittsburgh showed last season. In any event, I’m just glad we’re able to have this discussion and it should be a very interesting five weeks.

During last week’s episode, Tim said picking games each week is ridiculous. Ouch! But that was before he really got to know and appreciate our Big Board of Predictions. I’m sure he’s pumped to do it this time. Unfortunately, we’re looking at a largely lackluster slate this week: Indianapolis at Tennessee, Kansas City at Cleveland, NY Jets at Green Bay, San Diego at Buffalo, Jacksonville at Miami, and Seattle at Denver.

Tim (2-4 last week, 2-4 overall, .333) : I like Tennessee over Indy coming off a stirring come from behind job against the Giants and after giving the Colts all they could handle in Polianapolis. I like KC over Cleveland because the Browns remind me of the snobby Sudbury girl I had to endure this week. I like Brett Favre to “have fun out there”, but lose to the over-hyped Jets (Quick aside: how can one look at Mangini’s humble roots and not think the guy has more ambition than heart? He leaves the guy who took a chance on him as a snot-nosed ball boy 11 years ago and on his way out decides to try and recruit some of the staff to defect with him. I hope Eric “Mangenius” burns himself dipping bacon into a vat of melted cheese and gets bed sores in the hospital). I see Levy’s Legions making LT uncomfortable and winning at home. Jacksonville takes Miami out for a Sabanese dinner and Seattle becomes Jay Cutler’s first NFL victim. Despite the rookie’s first win, Shanahan’s mouth will still look like a sphincter after the game.

Greg (5-1 last week, 41-29 overall, .585): Tim is right, it is ridiculous when you got someone doing it as poorly as I have this year. Lets endorse Tim’s theory and give me the alphabetically first team in every game (Indy, Cleveland, Green Bay, Buffalo, Jacksonville and Denver for those of you scoring at home). Could I do any worse with this method?

Bruce (Bye week last week, 44-20 overall, .687): I gotta go with Indy, the Titans had their Super Bowl last week. Cleveland in the upset. (Don’t see Romeo getting outcoached by Herm) The Jets take out Green Bay, the Bills upset the Chargers, Miami continues their resurgence with a win over the Jaguars and Denver takes out Seattle.

Scott (5-1 last week, 44-26 overall, .628): I’ll take the Colts to continue along towards the first seed, passing another test against the mighty AFC South. How do those guys hold up under that strain? Cleveland has had one of the most depressing seasons in the league this year (come home, Romeo), so I’ve got Kansas City. I’ll take the Jets, Chargers and Jags on the road, and Santa, if you’re listenting, I want a disasterous debut by Jay Cutler and a Seahawks road win in Denver.

How about it boys? Hang a final outcome and score on the Pats and Lions.

Greg: This should be easy. The only player to fear is Roy Williams on the Lions. I see a 23-6 final in a ho-hum easy victory.

Bruce: I’ll say 24-14 Patriots. The Lions are going to move the ball some. Roy Williams is a player at receiver and Furrey isn’t bad either. I think Kitna will make some hookups with those guys. Kevin Jones is a decent back as well.

Scott: Pats, 24-7. The Patriots defense is headed towards a team record for fewest points allowed, and even Jon Kitna can’t stop them now.

Tim: 27-10 New England. I’ll be watching this one from home, since I am going to the Miami game. Besides, Marinelli-Bellichick I is nuanced chess match I want to see in high definition.

I’m sure some numb nuts has said or written something incredibly stupid this week. Now’s your time to take a whack at him. It’s our Mediot of the Week!

Bruce: The Globe has been the object of my wrath for years, but this season the Herald has done it’s best to become my number one target. This week alone we had Felger and his “report” about Pioli and Belichick making a deal with Bill Parcells to keep Adam Vinatieri underpaid, Tomase trying to make Belichick’s statements about the Lions look stupid and Massarotti’s general doom and gloom outlook. They easily outdo the Globe in stupidity when covering the Patriots. Mike Reiss has saved the Globe between his blog and his ascension to the beat. The irony of this of course, is that Reiss was originally under the Herald/MetroWest Daily News umbrella and they lost him to the Globe. In fact, they brought Tomase in from the Red Sox beat on the Eagle-Tribune to take the Patriots beat. How different things could’ve been had the Herald been able to hang onto Reiss. I guess I’m giving the award this week to the higher ups at the Herald who decided to change the tone of Patriots coverage for the worse.

Scott: I have been remiss in not mentioning Paul Zimmerman’s hatchetjob on Richard Seymour a couple of weeks ago, based on another of his precious film reviews (the same kind that leads him to assert that Corey Ivy is all-pro). He basically slaughtered Seymour for his performance in the Jets loss, and suggested (in the words of a BSMW poster) he has a bit of Manny in him. Of course, then he says “well, MAYBE he’s hurt”, which gave him the opportunity to (AGAIN) complain about the way the Pats share information. If the Patriots were more open with Paul (he’s no freaking Doctor), he wouldn’t have to call Seymour a dog. But the Pats MADE him do it. He had no choice.

Tim: Remember the good old days back in the 01-04 seasons when we would have an endless pool of farcical columns to point and laugh at? We had the “Tapioca Kid” Kevin Mannix writing something ridiculously out of touch every week or so, Nick Cafardo (my personal favorite) passive aggressively taking petty shots at the organization on a daily basis, Ken Powers cutting and pasting from the worst football writer of our generation, Peter King, and the “Rowdy” Roddy Piper of the Boston sports media, Ron Borges, writing some of the most asinine prose you’ll ever read on a sports page twice a week taking vitriolic pot shots at the winningest coach in the game for benching his best source. Now it’s different. The real idiocy is left to the airwaves where the team itself hosts some of the worst offenders in Gary Tanguay, the aforementioned Borges, and Andy Gresh on their pre and post game show. You throw in the full slate of WEEI programming, as well as the insipid cable shows (NEST, NE Tailgate, Four Downs with Felger ) and you’ve got all the crap in one broadcast cesspool. I am highlighting a ubiquitous and particularly agregious member of this fraternity this week, Greg Dickerson. The Sports Dick gets the nod simply for being a part of the Gillette Stadium experience as the PA announcer. Of all places, the stadium should be an escape from that stupidity. It’s where the games actually take place. It should be out of the reach of bottom feeding muck rakers like Greg Dickerson, even if he’s just reading Bob’s Sporting Goods spots between the action. Free Gillette!

Greg: I’ll pick Gary Tanguay for going predictable on Fox Sports Tonight show Wednesday. This was really easy to spot coming a mile away. Newsflash, Tanger, you don’t have to trot out the ole “trap game” gobbeldygook every time a good team plays a bad one midseason or so in the NFL. Its just an easy throwaway line that lacks analysis and which probably turns out right 10% of the time. Given the nature of upsets in the NFL, that is often enough for some stupid commentator like Tanguay to say “Seeeeeeee…..”, but not real significant in the grand scheme of things. If you really think Detroit might win this game, tell us why. Just don’t throw “trap game!!!!” up on the wall and hope it sticks, Tanger. But then again, I know you really don’t have much more than that to offer.

Analyzing How WR’s Do When Delineated By College Conference

By Bill Barnwell, Football Outsiders – special to BSMW Patriots Game Day

Surely, there’s got to be someone left on Detroit Lions’ President and General Manager Matt Millen’s side. D.J. Gallo probably doesn’t want Millen to be fired. Well, and Ted Thompson. Actually, you can do a whole NFL Network commercial parody around that with NFC North personalities alone. You don’t need to tell Brett Favre twice that Matt Millen’s an excellent general manager. Lovie Smith knows he’ll need to spend a whole half-hour gameplanning against this mess of a franchise. Fred Smoot’s been preparing his boat all week. Najeh Davenport hasn’t come out of the sorority closet all week. Lions football. Now, on the NFL Network. OK, maybe Najeh’s not in the NFC North anymore, and maybe that joke is busted. But you know if you saw it on TV, you’d laugh heartily.

As the Pats prepare to host the Lions this week, there are a lot of ways to take a look at the visiting team and how their plan has been miserably executed over the last several seasons. I could go the gimmicky route of hindsight and list all the players the Lions could’ve chosen with their high draft picks, but that’s really unfair. Sure, the Lions could do a better job of scouting, but it’s hard to say that a player who went onto success somewhere else would have succeeded on the Lions; after all, it could have been the poor coaching of one of the three staffs that have presided over the team during the Millen Era.

Alternately, I could point out that the 80 teams who have drafted a wide receiver in the first round since 1979 have won a grand total of eight games more (or, yes, .1 wins per team) in that wide receiver’s third season (at which point you’d be hoping that this stud wide receiver you drafted was making a difference) than the team did in the year before they drafted that wide receiver. That number is lower than any other position except for interior linemen and defensive backs, which would seemingly point to the drafting of wide receivers in the first round as being a relatively fallacious decision, but that research is a little too dependent upon the rest of the team to be conclusive. So let’s not bash Matt Millen for wanting to draft a wide receiver in the first round. Well, at least once.

Instead, what I want to evaluate is whether there’s anything in history that tells us whether the wide receivers Matt Millen chose — the infamous trio of Texas’ Roy Williams, Michigan State’s Charles Rogers, and USC’s Mike Williams — had pedigrees that would have made them advisable draft selections. I’m going to look at all the wide receivers who were drafted from 1983 (the draft from the year following the bye) to 2001, and evaluate how they did in their first year, their first three years, and their first five years (2001 will be the endpoint so that we can look at five years’ worth of statistics for those players). We’ll look at the first five years since that’s when Millen could’ve definitively expected the players to be Lions property; obviously, from there, the players could’ve moved on if so enticed. Following that, I’ll break the players down into groups to see if we can find out anything in particular about them that would make them stand out.

To do this, I’m going to use the really nifty draft history available from, shockingly enough, DraftHistory.com. I’ve cross-checked that with the excellent player database from Pro Football Reference, and compiled data from other sources on the net with regards to injuries and conferences.

First, let’s take a look at how wide receivers selected in the first round do. Keep in mind that all the numbers I’ll list are the cumulative statistics of all wide receivers from that Conference over the specified timeframe, divided by the number of wide receivers that fit said criteria, providing an average performance by each wide receiver over that time frame as opposed to a seasonal average.

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As you can see here, the sample is somewhat limited by the fact that there have only been 61 wide receivers chosen in the first round over that timeframe. What this points to at least anecdotally, though, is that Big 10 receivers (like Rogers) tend to perform significantly better than receivers from the Pac-10 (like Williams) or the SEC. The lone Big 12 receiver in the sample, by the way, was Rae Carruth.

The list of SEC receivers from that timeframe is pretty staggeringly bad, actually. It includes busts like Clyde Duncan (who compiled all of four catches in two seasons with St. Louis), Ricky Nattiel, Reidel Anthony, and Marcus Nash, and mediocrities like Willie Gault (chocolate swirl smoothness notwithstanding), Tim McGee, Wendell Davis, Alvin Harper, Ike Hilliard, and Travis Taylor. The only SEC guys who really lived up to their draft status were Anthony Miller, Eric Moulds, and eventually, Eddie Kennison.

The Pac 10 also didn’t provide particularly fantastic talent. While Keyshawn Johnson was undoubtedly an excellent selection over those first few seasons, Mike Sherrard’s numbers were pretty poor, while Aaron Cox was an outright bust. Sean Dawkins, Curtis Conway, Johnnie Morton, and J.J. Stokes all had solid performances over those five seasons, but the four combined averaged 47 catches and 648 yards a season — adequate numbers, sure, but you’d want more out of the playmaker you drafted with your first round pick. The last Pac 10 wide receiver to go in the first round was Reggie Williams in 2004; it’s safe to say he hasn’t shown any signs of stardom so far.

The Big 10, meanwhile, can name five first-round wide receivers better than anyone the SEC produced in that timeframe: Al Toon, Andre Rison, Joey Galloway, Terry Glenn, and David Boston (in his first five seasons, at least). Furthermore, O.J. McDuffie, Derrick Alexander, and Plaxico Burress all had numbers as good as Miller, Moulds, and Kennison. Only Kenny Jackson, Mark Ingram, and Thomas Lewis would be characterized as Big 10 draft busts at WR. Of course, Rogers would ensue to be a bigger bust than all of them, but with this in mind, it’s reasonable to say that First Round-caliber Big 10 WRs have some pedigree attached to them.

The four guys in the “Other” category didn’t do too poorly for themselves, either — outperforming most of the major conferences! Want to know why? Those four guys are Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, Shawn Collins, and Sylvester Morris. You may not remember the latter two too well; they combined for 16% of the group’s catches. So, essentially, if you’re going to draft a player from a small school in the first round at WR, well, make sure he’s really good before you do it. See — tautology!

Expanding the player pool to all wide receivers chosen on Day 1 of the draft (in the first three rounds) pushes everyone towards the center of the pack.

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You’ll note the solid performance of the players from the Independent teams; since teams are organized into the conferences they played in at the time, that includes guys like Michael Irvin, Ernest Givins, Brian Blades, and Isaac Bruce — players who would make any conference look good. Big 10 wide receivers still look like a winning proposition, but you’ll notice that the Pac-10 suddenly looks very solid as a receiver factory. That’s because the Pac-10 produces some nifty players in the second and third rounds at wide receiver, guys like Vance Johnson, Flipper Anderson, Jerome Pathon, Dennis Northcutt, and Ed McCaffrey. To compare, while the SEC produced Robert Brooks, Peerless Price, Frank Sanders, Carl Pickens, and Darrell Jackson in the second and third round, they also gave eleven players to the NFL who would end up with fewer than twenty catches.

It’s when you look at the statistics of all the wide receivers selected over a five year span, though, that three groups stand out.

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The Big 10 has to be considered the predominant producer of wide receiver talent in the country based upon this data. Later round Big 10 wide receivers that became contributors included Derrick Mason and Tim Dwight (Round 4), Calvin Williams (Round 5), Mark Jackson (Round 6), Tai Streets and Ernie Jones (Round 7), Curtis Duncan (Round 10), and Anthony Carter (Round 12).

The Big East isn’t too shabby, either; besides first rounder Marvin Harrison, it’s produced the woefully underappreciated Kevin Johnson, Antonio Freeman, and depth guys like Horace Copeland, Jerry Porter, and Qadry Ismail. That being said, Harrison’s numbers do skew a somewhat small sample size.

What the numbers show here is that the Big 10 is a good place to look if you want to get a wide receiver, and if you have a wide receiver you have some regard for, his presence in the Big 10 might be a sign that he’ll be useful in the future. So, strangely enough, Matt Millen’s selection of Charles Rogers may actually, at the time of his selection, have been the most defensible of the three if you judge from history. As for Roy Williams, it’s hard to say because the recent shift to the Big 12 leaves data for that conference pretty incomplete. Recent first round draft picks from the Big 12 include Matt Jones, Mark Clayton, and Rashaun Woods, which doesn’t hold out much in the way of future suggestion that they’ll be regarded highly.

And now, a data dump.

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Second Look: Chicago at Patriots

by Greg Doyle
[email protected]

Yes, there were turnovers. Five of them. That’s not good. But does it correlate into otherwise bad play? No, not necessarily. Because the Patriots did play a good game Sunday and beat another good team. It was a tough, physical game and players did cough the ball up on both sides. But the Patriots did enough positive things to escape and that they played a pretty good game overall, other than coughing it up, is pretty encouraging going forward.

QUARTERBACK: Tom Brady played a terrific game, his second in a row. This is perhaps the best two game stretch he has had this season and that is reason for optimism in and of itself given the up and down nature of his year so far. But he was once again extremely accurate. And his legendary leadership was on display late in the game when it was in the balance. From the long, improvised pass to Ben Watson on the go-ahead touchdown drive, to his scrambling juke of Bears linebacker Brian Uhrlacher, Brady led the Patriots in every way he could and was the major reason the Patriots were able to pull the game out.

RUNNING BACK: Not a great day running the ball. Both Laurence Maroney and Corey Dillon dropped fumbles. Maroney did a nice job in the passing game, as did Kevin Faulk. But the running game has been somewhat sporadic lately and at least some of the blame has to go to the running backs. They need to turn up their level of play here late in the season and play more as they did earlier in the year.

WIDE RECEIVER: A quiet night here. Chad Jackson could have had a big night. But just barely missed a long bomb in which he got himself wide open. Perhaps a dive there would have been called for, though Jackson appeared to gamble a bit and try to catch it in stride so he’d have the touchdown. Rookie mistake. Make sure of the catch first. Later, he seemed to draw a pass inteference call that inexplicably wasn’t called (especially puzzling given the lesser ones thrown against the Patriots a short time later). Reche Caldwell made a few catches, but made a bad decision stepping out of bounds on one late in the game as the Patriots tried to kill the clock. I’m sure he’ll get an earful about that in films this week. Still, I like the way he has worked himself into the offense and is getting downfield more. Troy Brown had one big catch, but beyond that the receivers were quiet.

TIGHT ENDS: Good night from both Daniel Graham and Ben Watson. Graham made one outstanding catch early in the game, as good as you will see. And Watson had some good catches as well. Though the caveat to that is he dropped a couple and fumbled once. His first drop popped high in the air after a ferocious hit and allowed Chicago to intercept. Its hard to blame him too badly for that one, the hit was just perfect. But he let a few others drop as well. I don’t think this is really a major problem, but an occasional one for Watson. He’s had a very good year and is a tremendous weapon at tight end. He’s made big catches all year. If he could just become slighly more sure handed, he could become among the top 3 tight ends in football. He could be that good.

OFFENSIVE LINE: An outstanding day pass blocking. Stephen Neal was one of the few who did a nice job in the run game as well. Chicago has a tough front seven. The line didn’t do much in the run game, but credit Chicago for that. They’re tough. It wasn’t for a lack of trying and they did such a good job pass blocking, overall it was a good effort for the line.

DEFENSIVE LINE: A very good day. Ty Warren was again a force, particuarly early. Vince Wilfork had perhaps his best game, going against a Pro Bowl level center in Olin Kreutz. Richard Seymour had a sack, a fumble recovery and a blocked field goal on special teams. The backups were fairly quiet. Jarvis Green hasn’t done much for a few games, it would be nice to see him step up and he was very quiet Sunday.

LINEBACKER: The backers were playing very well until Junior Seau went down with injury. After that, you saw Chicago run the ball a bit more effectively. That is somewhat worrisome as the Patriots depth will be exceedingly thin now that Seau is lost for the year. Roosevelt Colvin has been better lately, though I disagree with assesments he’s had a great year. He’s was bad early in the season, good lately, but still not at the level he played at last year, in my opinion. He’s simply had too many missed tackles, quiet days rushing and dumb plays to call it a great year. Even Sunday, his offsides penalty in the second half was costly, stupid and helped the Bears continue a drive. He needs to play more focused and has been better lately, but pretty good isn’t good enough. They need him to step up his game down the stretch here and eliminate the missed tackles, over pursuit and dumb penalties.

SECONDARY: Great day here. What else can be said about Asante Samuel, other than he had a shut down day that included three interceptions and sound run defense? Samuel has been good all year, but Sunday was the highlight. Ellis Hobbs was solid on the other side though he drew a pass interference penalty and possibly could have had another. Artrell Hawkins was good again and the penalty thrown against him was completely bogus. You simply can’t play a receiver better than he did and I’m sure the coaches are confused what they could tell him to do better on that play. James Sanders appears to be getting more comfortable as well and had a very good day. Several times he came up in run support and made nice plays and he was good in coverage as well. He actually reminded me of Rodney Harrison in his style of play a couple times and that is as high a compliment as you can get for a Patriots safety. I like the direction his game is headed in. Troy Brown played well also and and its amazing to see how he’s taken to the defensive back role.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Ken Walter returned to the Patriots after being away for several years and his first punt was a thing of beauty. High and unreturnable and about 45 yards. But after that, his next two were a bit shaky, though unreturnable. Stephen Gostkowski booted a nice 52 yard field goal to end the first half and his kickoffs were good. Coverage was good all night as well on special teams. A good day. They’ve picked up their play.

The Patriots have what should be an easy win in Detroit next. It would be surprising if they didn’t handle them easily, but I suppose stranger things have happened. We shall see. Until then.

Game Day Rear View – In Spite of Themselves, Pats Prevail, 17-13

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

There. Now the Patriots have beaten a good team.

In spite of themselves.

The Patriots defense responded to five turnovers by the New England offense by forcing four of its own to lead the Pats to a crucial late-season 17-13 win over the NFC-leading Chicago Bears on Gillette Stadium’s brand new, surprisingly lifelike carpet tonight.

The atmosphere was playoff-like, but the play was not. Tom Brady had two tipped passes intercepted and Laurence Maroney, Reche Caldwell and Corey Dillon all lost fumbles as the Patriots offense spent most of the night playing right into the hands of the NFL’s top ranked defense.

But each time, the undermanned Patriots defense had an answer. Asante Samuel tied a team record with three heady picks of Rex Grossman, and Richard Seymour recovered a Grossman muffed snap after blocking an earlier Chicago field goal attempt. The Bears finished with 325 yards of offense but were only able to dent the scoreboard late in the game when aided by 70+ yards in marginal pass interference penalties.

For all their faults today, and there were many, the Patriots offense became the first team to gain 300 yards on the Bears defense, and had two long drives produce touchdowns and eat nearly twelve minutes of clock. One of those drives came in the fourth quarter after Chicago had tied the game at 10, after two straight New England turnovers. But Brady, Watson and Maroney atoned by driving the Pats 70 yards for the touchdown that provided the margin of victory.

Make no mistake, though. The Patriots offense is damn lucky to be a winner tonight. Their fat would once again be in the fire were it not for their defensive teammates. Playing without Rodney Harrison, Eugene Wilson and Chad Scott, the Patriots bent, but never broke. Unless it was to break the Bears with another game-saving takeaway.

Chicago’s 2nd ranked scoring offense took the ball inside Patriots 30 on five occasions but came away with just 13 points and two Grossman turnovers. One hundred yard days by Thomas Jones and Bernard Berrian registered barely a ripple.

It was all timing. Three times the Patriots defense made a big play on the heels of a Bears takeaway – in the first quarter, Seymour knocked down a 46 yard Robbie Gould field goal after a Brady pick, then fell on a Grossman fumble after Maroney had coughed up one of his own. Later, Samuel grabbed his second pick deep in New England territory shortly after a bizarre – yet oddly typical – third quarter Patriots pass play on which both Ben Watson and Reche Caldwell fumbled the ball away.

I shudder to think where the Patriots would have been without these turnarounds tonight. The New England defense persists, allowing the second-fewest points in the league while losing players at an all-too-famliar rate. Tonight, it was linebacker Junior Seau, who left with what appeared to be a broken arm. Even with another crippling injury, the league (and perhaps some Patriots fans) would be well advised to note this defense. At times they may struggle to get off the field (as they did during an early Bears drive), but look, isn’t eleven games enough to prove that these guys simply do not give up points? Is there another statistic that would make you feel better about their playoff readiness?

Mike Vrabel moved inside to cover for Seau as Tully Banta Cain took the edge, and the linebackers held it together (with a strong night from Rosevelt Colvin). The defensive front racked up an impressive stat sheet (Seymour, joined by Vince Wilfork with 8 tackles and Ty Warren with 7) but tonight, it was all about Asante Samuel.

The veteran corner, nursing a sore knee (he missed last week), became the first Patriot since the great Roland James (1983) to snag three picks in a regular season game. And each one was a thing of beauty; while tightly covering the intended receiver, Samuel showed great awareness by flashing to the ball at the last instant, grabbing position, then possession. His last interception came as the Bears – down by four – took a last ditch shot deep downfield. Samuel ran step for step inside Rashied Davis and grabbed the ball to seal the win. They were the best plays made by a Patriot corner this year.

Hey, just a thought – did the new turf enable Samuel and the other defenders to break more sharply on the ball? I don’t recall Samuel ever moving that confidently to the football. In any event, his six interceptions are the most by a Patriot since Ty Law had six in 2003.

Any offensive highlights are marred by another big game filled by turnovers. The Patriots offense has turned the ball over 12 times in their last three home games. Even their resourceful defense will eventually buckle under the weight of the Patriots shoddy ballhandling. Fixing this problem – and fast – must be the greatest priority for the coming weeks.

To be fair, the Bears don’t get lucky breaks – they make them. Fumbles were caused by hellacious hits (Maroney) and clever strips (on Watson, then Caldwell, on the same play – Watson was stripped after a completion, and it was picked up by an alert Caldwell, who immediately lost it himself). Brady can only be blamed for one of his interceptions (a bad throw that careened off Troy Brown), as a wicked hit on Watson broke up an early completion and possible touchdown at the Bears goal line, popping the ball straight into the air, where it was grabbed by Charles Tillman.

Watson led all receivers with 6 catches, including a leaping 40 yarder on the final scoring drive (on a crucial 3rd and 3) that set up his own short touchdown on a play action fake by Brady. it was the quarterback’s 20th TD of the season. Brady twice had rare runs to convert big third downs on the drive – one an 11 yard scramble past Brian Urlacher on 3rd and 9.

Nonetheless, the Patriots couldn’t run the ball worth a damn today, but to their credit, they kept trying. They finished with 34 rushes to 33 pass plays (which they carried off without a sack). Play calling wasn’t an issue today – but execution was.

Thankfully, that was not the case for the Patriots ballhawking defense. Finally, the Patriots break through the ‘can’t beat a good team’ barrier. They just did it in the unlikeliest of ways.

A crazy sequence late in the first half led to Stephen Gostkowski’s biggest field goal as a Patriot.

Mike Wright got a small piece of a Chicago punt, and the Patriots set up their two-minute offense at the Bears 39. After two first downs, Brady had two consecutive completions overturned by replay (one to Caldwell, and the second to Watson). Deterred at the Bear 34, the Pats ran out their rookie kicker for a 52 yard attempt, and Gostkowski left it right despite getting plenty of distance. But the kick went away after the Bears had called timeout, giving the rookie a reprieve. His next try was not hit as well, but this time he had the accuracy, and the Patriots went to halftime with a two-minute score, and a touchdown lead, on the league’s best defense.

Ken Walter had the hold on that one, but was uninspiring in his return as Patriots punter.

The Patriots are now 3-0 against the NFC North, and they welcome the fourth entry from that division, the Detroit Lions, next Sunday.

Game Day Blog – The Sunday Papers

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

The Patriots welcome the 9-1 Chicago Bears to a re-floored Gillette this afternoon for a game that many believe will tell the tale on New England’s Super Bowl hopes for this season. Let’s see what the morning papers think.

Over at the Globe, Mike Reiss reminds us that there are sometimes bigger things than the Chicago Bears. Reiss logs in with a feature on Daniel Graham and the upcoming kidney transplant for his older brother Jason. Dan’s 57 year old mom Marilyn will be the donor. The rest of the world stops for the Grahams on Tuesday, when the four hour procedure takes place. I’m not going for ‘prawpuh puspective’ here – rather, Reiss’s story just reminds you that, along with our blustery expectations of them, each one of these 53 players has their own cross to bear as they run on the field each Sunday.

Reiss brings it back to the field with a piece on the Patriots record after Thanksgiving. They’re a league-best 33-6 since 01, when they started their run of three championships in four years. Can they continue? Mike also has some news this morning – Patrick Pass has been activated. He fills the roster spot left open when Josh Miller was IR’d.

Jim McBride has the Globe’s venerable scouting report, and Ron Borges has the weekly football notes. Ron looks at a new NFL Network series from NFL Films (by the way, screw you Time Warner), a couple of struggling New York quarterbacks, and (at least in on-line versions early this morning) an inexplicable batch of Nick Cafardo’s baseball notes. And yes, there it is……..a Roger Clemens reference!

Oh, yeah, Dan Shaughnessy is dispatched to comment on the new Field Turf. That’s our cue to check out the Herald.

Michael Felger carries the ball again for the Tumbling Tabloid, laying out what’s at stake for both heavyweight teams today. Felger also takes a spin around the league, and has Charley Casserly on Laurence Maroney. When will someone find an NFL GM that didn’t plan to draft Maroney? “No, he was off our board entirely. We hated him from the moment we saw him on film, and that only intensified when we met him personally. A loathsome, despicable creature.” Now THAT would be news.

Mike has another bit about the Josh Miller injury, and naturally, speculates that the Patriots will dump him to save a buck.

John Tomase has the Herald’s scouting report, and Albert Breer does him one better with a breakdown of the Bears’ Tampa 2 defense. Like every other week, there are also about a hundred ‘articles’ that amount to no more than a paragraph. I’m not linking that stuff. I’ll get arthritis. It’s hardly worth it anyway – I’m pretty sure one of them simply said, “Brian Urlacher’s favorite color: blue.”

The Herald also features its weekly column from the rival city, a clever, thought-provoking newspaper gambit if there ever was one. This week it’s some guy named Mike Mulligan from the Sun Times, who claims the Bears are disrespected. Hey! Get your own material, Chicago.

As always, you can find more Patriots links at Bruce Allen’s Patriots News Mash Up page. And as they day unfolds, check for the latest news from Reiss’s Pieces.

I’ll be back after the game. I’m reasonably sure it will be to celebrate a Patriots victory. It may even be decisive enough to salve our doubts about the playoff mettle of these Pats. A couple of things I read this week stick out:

First, a Reiss’s Pieces blurb about the Bears three-game road trip:

Sunday’s game marks the Bears’ third straight on the road. The Chicago Tribune, as part of a Bears notebook, passes along this stat: According to NFL.com, 93 teams since 1990 have had three consecutive road games on their schedules. Only 38.7 percent of those teams won the third game.

Then, on the BSMW message board, learned poster ‘KT the Brick’ weighed in on the Bears’ intra-conference record during the Lovie Smith era (a posting gem, KT indefatigably weaves these beauties into our regular maze of business news, food and beverage chats and fart jokes):

The Bears only play 4 AFC games per year, and in the Lovie Smith era, their record vs. AFC teams is 4-7.

In 2004, they went 1-3 vs. the AFC South: W 19-17 @Tenn, L 41-10 vs. Indy, L 22-3 @ Jacksonville, L 24-5 vs. Houston.

In 2005, they went 1-3 vs. the AFC North: L 24-7 vs. Cincy, L 20-10 @ Cleveland, W 10-6 vs. Balt, L 21-9 @ Pitt

This year, they are 2-1 vs. the East (probably the weakest division in the AFC): W 40-7 vs. Buff, L 31-13 vs. Miami, W 10-0 @NY.

As KT points out, even with their 2-1 record this year, the Bears have largely been unimpressive when faced with the Superior Conference. They’ll be trying to reverse that trend today while on the last leg of an extended road trip. I don’t know what that says to you, but to me, it says we won’t be getting their best game today.

The great equalizer may be the Patriots recent troubles at Gillette (7-6 over the last two seasons; a hair over .500 in a place they once ruled with a iron fist). Maybe the new turf will give the Pats new life at home. If they can hang on to the ball today, they’ll be off to a good start.

GDRV Roundtable

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

So this is the time of year that I start thinking about things like playoff seedings, and this morning I learned that if the playoffs started today, the Patriots would host the Kansas City Chiefs* on Wild Card Weekend.

*Up until this morning, this read ‘Denver Broncos’, but that was before the Chiefs beat them at Arrowhead last night. For those scoring at home, that’s two in a row (and three of the last five) for the mighty Broncos, who have dropped from possible second seed to sixth in the matter of a week or so. Giddyup!

I know what you’re saying. “You’re starting already with this stuff?” Already? There’s only six weeks left. Don’t people do the same thing for pennant races?

Besides, I think it provides a nice benchmark. We know that as long as the Patriots maintain their hold on the division, they can’t seed any worse than fourth, and a first round home game. But they can certainly do better (namely, seeds three, two and one).

Holding down the 2nd and 3rd seeds today are Baltimore and San Diego, who lead the Pats by a game. With no head-to-head action between the clubs, conference records would break any ties between the teams. Right now, the Ravens have one conference loss to San Diego’s two, and New England’s three.

This week’s intra-conference game with 9-1 Chicago can do nothing for New England’s AFC record, but its no less significant as a win over the Bears would keep the Pats (at minimum) on pace with the Ravens and Chargers for another week, as the weeks dwindle to a few.

I suppose the Bears game is also significant because it represents a true “test” for the Patriots, who “can’t beat the good teams.”

Normally, I’d agree with that. There’s no defending the record. I just know that if the Patriots were to Berry the Bears this weekend, you’d see some serious backpeddling around here as to how good Chicago really is. I’m not falling for the banana in the tailpipe, man.

But at the same time, I don’t want to be the Patriots on Monday if they lose another home game to a team with a winning record. That wouldn’t be good for anybody.

But here’s something that’s good for everybody – it’s our pal from the BSMW message board (and noted denizen of Gillette), Box Score. Box is here on this rainy Thanksgiving filling in for Boss Allen, who’s yucking it up on the Left Coast, probably drinking smoothies and clubbing with show biz cronies like Eli Roth.

Anyway, Box is quick with a joke and a light of your smoke, and after we get through with him here, there’ll be someplace that he’d rather be.

The Pats played a pretty thorough game last week in throttling the Packers, 35-0. Yet the result was quickly discredited, on the basis of severe malfeasance on the part of Green Bay. Even if the Pats didn’t ‘prove’ anything last Sunday, was there anything in that shutout win that raised your hopes for the coming weeks?

Greg: Just that they played well. Yes, the Packers were bad Sunday. But the destruction was thorough and if you really looked at it, the Patriots all played and functioned very well in every area of the game. They would have beat almost any team Sunday. Granted, it would have been closer against a good opponent, but one shouldn’t take away that they played a great game.

Box Score: Per usual, this team can’t catch a break with the coverage they receive. Either they get “dominated” in their (close) losses or they win thanks to their opponent’s shortcomings. The Green Bay win was exactly the type of game you hope for, but can’t expect, as a fan when you sit down for the pre game on Sunday. It was the surgical domination of a team on their own field. The most encouraging thing about the win was seeing the players enjoying themselves so much. There was alot of enthusiasm and exuberance on display throughout the game. That’s always encouraging.

Scott: I think there were a lot of things to feel good about last week, like the patient, balanced approach on offense, and the thumb-screw job the defense did even without three-quarters of its secondary. I like how they practiced in pads all week and came out hitting. But it comes down to consistency at this point. It’s got to be every week from now on, and I think we’re still waiting to see if they can do that, particularly offensively.

Wrapping up the Packers win, who gets your Roundtable Game Ball for last week?

Box Score: My runner-up is the unheralded Ellis Hobbs, who was quick enough to avoid the medical cart carrying Brett Favre and his ailing humorous. I liked his field awareness in stopping short at the very last second, but I was most impressed with his indignant glare at the oblivious (“I’ve got BRETT FAVRE here, people! Clear the way! This man is having funnybone trauma!”) driver after the near crash. My game ball goes to Ty Warren. The entire defense played a great game and the defensive line keyed the performance after a disappointing effort against the Jets. The difference was Ty Warren. He seemed to be involved in every sack (finished with 1.5 on the day) and brought a lot of energy to the defense. The line keyed the dominance and he keyed that line.

Scott: I’m going with Laurence Maroney, who had 82 yards on the ground and another 35 through the air (4 catches, and a nifty TD). The Patriots’ offense handled itself beautifully Sunday, and Maroney was a steady producer from start to finish, even though he’s got to be getting close to Nick Cafardo’s Dreaded Rookie Wall. If they can get 18-20 carries for Maroney and another 12-15 for Corey Dillon every week, I think we’ll be very happy with the results.

Greg: Tom Brady. He finally looked like his old self and his accuracy was special. Lets hope he can finally string a few games like that together. They have a tough one coming up this week and his personal house of horrors in Miami a few weeks after that.

Surely as there are teams that emerge at this time of year, there are players that do the same. I’m thinking of the late season and post-season heroics of Brady, Vinatieri, Law, McGinest, Bruschi and Branch, among others. Their play made the difference. As we begin the season’s eleventh week, are there any current Patriots that can elevate their games similarly?

Scott: Obviously, the above list contains the names of at least a couple of active Patriots, so I suppose we look to them first, and Richard Seymour too. I’ll throw out a couple of names – Mike Vrabel and Daniel Graham. Vrabel’s been kept pretty quiet at times this year, but on Sunday he was his old self, all over the field. He’s back in the offense again too, and he might have made the best catch of the day by anybody. Graham, of course, has had injury problems again this season, this time in the final year of his contract. But he’s back for the stretch run, and every Pats fan knows that the Pats offensive line is always better when Graham is on one end of it. He also reminded us last week that he represents a decent option in the red zone. Speaking of the Pats offensive line – how about those guys too? You’ve got three old pros there (Neal, Light and Koppen) that ought to know the way from here.

Greg: Roosevelt Colvin. I have been somewhat disappointed with his play this year after a very good year last year. He’s had his moments, but its been inconsistent. Lets see if he can raise his play the rest of the way out. He was good last week.

Box Score: On offense the difference maker remains Brady, he is always the guy most likely to elevate his game when it matters the most. Joining him this year would be Ben Watson, Laurence Maroney and, yes I am going to say it, Reche Caldwell. Watson and Maroney are the big play threats for this offense and one or two of those big gains is going to come at a memorable time as we approach the stretch run. As for Caldwell, if there is 85 seconds left on the clock and the Patriots need to get into FG range who else do you trust to make the adjustments and be in the right spot for Brady? For the defense, Artrell Hawkins has shown a knack for making plays at the right time. I think Seau is a good candidate too. He’s always around the ball and I’ve been especially impressed with the way he plays TE’s in the flat. He’s fast for a samoan facing menopause.

Let’s get to it. 4:15 PM on Sunday night, the Bears and the Patriots on a brand new field in Foxboro. Whaddaya think?

Greg: I have to go with the Patriots. The Bears are a good team, but the Patriots have handled the NFC easily so far this year. I’m thinking maybe this particular Patriots team is better fit for field turf and perhaps the slow track did slow down guys like Maroney and Ben Watson and Brady’s accuracy. I’ll take the Patriots to beat a Bears team on the road for the third straight week 24-6.

Box Score: Great game that comes at a great time in the season. They are both physical teams with great defenses and inconsistent offenses. The difference being that New England’s defense seems to be improving with each game, while Chicago’s seems to be slipping a bit from their dominant early season play. This coincides with the Bear offense being forced to go to a more conservative ball control approach on offense. It’s worked, but they haven’t looked as dominant as they did in the first 6 or 7 weeks of the season. Grossman will struggle against multiple fronts and Thomas Jones ain’t running free against our front four. As for the multiple fronts, one thing I really like about this game is that the Patriot coaching staff has the Jets game to use to prepare for Chicago. New York frustrated the Chicago offense for most of the game and held them to under 300 yards of offense. This bodes well for the NE defense. The question remains, can the Patriots score when they need to? This is the best defense they’ve faced on paper and the Patriot offense hasn’t done much against good defenses this season. I am hopeful for a great game for the ages. Add some mystique to the rubber grass we have now.

Scott: If they go out there and patiently and methodically play ball control, ball protection offense, as they did (for the most part) last week, then I think they win, maybe even easily. If they go out there and try to out run these guys by spreading them out and throwing it all over the place, then I think they lay the ball on the ground and probably pay big for it. Chicago’s ranked #1 in virtually every defensive category, except run defense – where they’re ranked 10th (YPG, with 99.3; the Patriots run defense is actually 2nd in the league with 76.2 YPG). I’m going with my first scenario – Pats play December (almost) football and win 23-16.

In a late week surprise, the Patriots re-signed Ken Walter, their punter on two Super Bowl winners. Josh Miller is hurt (shoulder) and appears to be out. Any concerns here?

Scott: I’m less concerned than I was Sunday. It’s startling to see Miller’s kicking suddenly become a liability, but it was that against the Packers. He’s clearly not right. I’ll always remember Walter fondly for his expert holds on all those epic field goals (he never got enough credit for how clutch he was) more so than his punting, but he’s probably a reasonable alternative given the time of year, and his past experience here. He’s at least healthy, so we got that goin’ for us.

Box Score: I am just glad that Hank Poteat found someone to cover the mortage at his Foxborough townhouse. The punting game will obviously suffer and I am sure they’ll need to compensate for it in other areas, but let’s give Ken a warm welcome back to New England if for nothing else, then to remind us of the 2004 season. A quick note: quietly the Special Teams group has had a good year despite a ton of injuries to key members of the group, Mel Mitchell, Tebucky Jones, and Willie Andrews (with Miller joining them at the backgammon table this week) have all missed a considerable amount of time. Maybe Pierre Woods can punt? Against the Packers he looked like he could do anything he wanted on special teams.

Greg: Yes, because Walter isn’t that good. He had a good year in terms of placing it inside the 20 in 2001. But then has been horrible or out of the league in subsequent years. Lets hope he can revisit his 2001 form, though at age 34 is that realistic?

OK, Box, step up to our Big Board of Predictions. You get to pick for Bruce. If you happen to pull an 0-6, or even a 1-5, let’s just say no one’s the wiser. This week we’re tracking Cincinnati at Cleveland, Houston at the Jets, Jacksonville at Buffalo, Oakland at San Diego, Philly at Indy, and Pittsburgh at Baltimore.

Box Score (Bruce 4-2 last week, 44-20 overall): Picking games is a fool’s errand. I have no idea, anyone who reads this has no idea, and the players and coaches have no idea. Seems like the only ones in the know live in the desert and spend week nights at the Spearmint Rhino. With this in mind, here are my picks: Cleveland, Jets, Jacksonville, San Diego, Philly, and Pittsburgh.

Greg (4-2 last week, 36-28 overall): I think Cleveland suffered a devastatingly tough loss last week in a game they should have won. They won’t regroup and the Bengals will take them out as they are still fighting for playoff chances. The Jets should dispatch Houston, though it wouldn’t shock me if Houston gave them a pretty good run. Jacksonville will beat up on Buffalo, San Diego take out the horrid Oakland, Indy beats up the Donovan McNabb-less Eagles and Baltimore takes out Pittsburgh.

Scott (3-3 last week, 39-25 overall): What are you saying about the Spearmint Rhino? Anyway, I’m taking Cincinnati and Jacksonville on the road, and the Jets, Chargers and Colts at home. I would dearly like to believe that the Steelers can rise up and win on the road in Baltimore, but alas, I see THAT is the true fool’s errand. So I’ve got the Ravens.

Where but the bottom would you find our Mediots of the Week?

Greg: How about Michael Irvin? His buffoonish act as a commentator on ESPN really is pathetic. He offers little insight, little legitimate commentary and he is strictly there to raise the clown level of the show and, apparently, the belief among media geniuses who run these shows is this will raise viewer interest. I don’t get that. Irvin was a great NFL receiver, I can’t take that away from him. But listening to him just trying to be outrageous and talk about the NFL today is less enlightening than listening to George Bush spin the Iraq war. And that’s pretty bad.

Box Score: I was traveling last minute to Toronto this week and didn’t get the full chance I wanted to lie in the feces of EEI, the Globe, or the Herald and detail it here. I’ll go back to last week’s post game coverage to highlight Bob Lobel’s incessant use of the imaginary nickname he coined for Tom Brady. Tom “Bread & Butter” he’d mutter over and over with the smirk that only a lush with a charmed life can wear. Nevermind that it makes no sense and has no context. The most annoying thing about it is thinking about Bob hatching this idea during the game and thinking it is his next big catch phrase during the 5th Quarter. While we are at it, let’s just point out that Steve DeOssie is the most folically confused public persona in the history of the Boston airwaves. This past week it was a dramatic transformation to the “Twisted Caeser”. I can’t wait to see what’s in store next week, it’s almost as exciting as the games themselves.

Scott: I can’t say I’m a big fan of the Herald’s new column for Pats fans, Tony Massarotti Pisses On Your Parade. What a nag. This whole trend of Tony Mazz and Buckley weighing in on the Pats – very disturbing. How many days until spring training?

Second Look: Patriots at Green Bay

by Greg Doyle
[email protected]

Now that is more like it. It would be tempting, even valid, to somewhat dismiss the Patriots dominating 35-0 win over Green Bay this past Sunday. Afterall, Green Bay played a dreadful game and barely mustered any opposition at all. But that wouldn’t be fair to the Patriots. A close look at the tape of the game reveals excellent play all around. Very few poor individual efforts, let alone plays, could be found at all in taking a second look at this game. So lets take a look at each individual unit.

QUARTERBACK: This was Tom Brady’s best game of the year. Better than even the Minnesota game. In Minnesota, he made at least a few bad throws, including a poor interception. This Sunday, you would be hard pressed to find even one poor throw. Oh, maybe the slightly too high pass to Mike Vrabel in the endzone (maybe it was just a Michigan-Ohio State thing?). But besides that, Brady was in a zone. Accurate, good decisions, calm, in control. The touchdown throw to Ben Watson in the corner of the end zone was as good a throw as an NFL quarterback can make. All day long, he simply sliced and diced Green Bay so badly, they never really had a chance. He was just on. And for once, there wasn’t even small displays of being erratic. If he can stay focused like he was Sunday, we may just yet see a return of the old Tom Brady week in and week out. The key is to start stringing these performances together in a row, rather than being up one week, down the next. If he can regain consistency, it’ll make the Patriots very tough to beat.

RUNNING BACK: An okay performance. Laurence Maroney had his moments. His touchdown on a flats swing pass late in the game featured a memorable move that left Packers linebacker Nick Barnett falling helplessly to the ground. Heath Evans proved a good short yardage choice again, converting a big fourth down run. Kevin Faulk had a big early catch to help get the Patriots offense untracked. Only Corey Dillon had a bit of an off game. He fumbled once (although it wasn’t entirely his fault) and didn’t find much running room. He did have a touchdown, however.

WIDE RECEIVER: A pretty good day. Reche Caldwell again showed toughness and that he is getting more and more comfortable in this offense. He is also starting to get downfield more often. You’d have to say, much to probably everyone’s surprise, he has been one of the more consistent and solid players on offense this season. Chad Jackson, although he only had one catch, seemed to do a nice job and looks to be getting more comfortable. Look for his playing time and production to start increasing down the stretch here assuming he stays healthy. Jabar Gaffney took a step back, dropping a ball early and only contributing one catch. He also needs to find consistency. Troy Brown was his usual self, catching some good move-the-chains type passes in the slot once again.

TIGHT END: A very good day. Ben Watson had some big catches and also his blocking is noticeably improved this year. Although he only caught one pass (a touchdown), Daniel Graham looked more himself this week and did a better job blocking. He also drew a big penalty in one on one coverage to set up the Patriots second touchdown.

OFFENSIVE LINE: A very good day overall. The right side was much improved with Stephen Neal back in there. Neal is one of the Patriots more underrated players and his solid blocking created some good holes for the Patriots in the second half. Nick Kaczur start at right tackle and was good. Ryan O’Callaghan was back filling in there as well and did a good job, though he did have a couple penalties. Dan Koppen partially contributed to the Corey Dillon fumble that almost cost the Patriots points by getting unacceptably blown backwards into the play. He was solid otherwise though, as was the rest of the line.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Ty Warren was back and noticeably improved this unit. He is having a superb year and continued his fine play on Sunday, dominating the man on him. All along the line, there was no room to run for Green Bay and the defense as a whole held the Packers to 5 first downs. A lot of that started up front with the dominance of the line.

LINEBACKER: A good day here too. Mike Vrabel was active. Roosevelt Colvin was much improved in coverage and Tully Banta-Cain was disruptive in reserve. In the middle, Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau were good filling the holes all day long and giving Green Bay zero room to run.

SECONDARY: Nice job here for this shorthanded unit. The strategy was to take away Donald Driver and make the Packers throw to Greg Jennings. It worked to perfection. Driver was quiet and Ellis Hobbs and Chad Scott were able to shut down Jennings one on one. At safety Artrell Hawkins had a good day. James Sanders had one of his better days as a pro, though I did spot him out of position on one play that ended up being an incompletion. Still, a nice job filling in from him.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Poor job punting again from Josh Miller. The coverage was much better this week. Kevin Faulk ripped off one long punt return, but also dropped one just prior to the half which could have hurt, though Faulk managed to jump on the loose ball himself.

Now a bigger test comes Sunday versus the 9-1 Chicago Bears. It’ll also be the debut of the Patriots new field turf surface at home. Should be a very entertaining game. Until then.

Game Day Rear View – Pats Freeze Green Bay’s Tundra, 35-0

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

Alan Greenberg was right!

Matt Cassel DID play quarterback against the Packers today.

Thankfully, Cassel was not in there to relieve an ailing Tom Brady, as Greenberg fretted might happen this week. Rather, Cassel played only to mop up what was left of the Green Bay Packers after Brady and the Patriots suddenly got very healthy by creaming the Pack 35-0 this afternoon at Lambeau Field.

Brady threw for four touchdown passes and cooly directed a balanced offense that moved efficiently from the opening gun, while his defensive teammates put Brett Favre out of the game after thoroughly squashing Green Bay in the air and on the ground. The Packers were held to just over 110 yards of total offense, while the Patriots offense rolled up 350 yards and five scores.

New England was never in one second’s danger of losing this game today.

The Patriots should immediately petition to be transferred to the NFC North. In eight quarters this season, they’ve have overwhelmed half of that division (the Packers and the Minnesota Vikings) by a combined score of 66-7.

The division’s other half, Chicago and Detroit, travel to Foxboro (and its new Field Turf surface) over the next two weekends.

They may have arrived just in the nick of time, as there’s something about the NFC North that makes the Patriots look like Super Bowl champions. Today, New England was in complete control from the opening kickoff.

After the defense began by sweeping Farve and the Packers away with a quick three-and-out, Brady and the offense took over with a 7 play, 63 yard scoring drive that gave them an early lead they would never reliquish.

They key play was a deep center toss to an in-stride Ben Watson, who took it 36 yards to the Green Bay 11. The Packers held, forcing the Pats to a 4th and goal from the 2. Again Bill Belichick eschewed the field goal, and Brady held the line with a sharp play action fake before hitting an open Daniel Graham for the scoring pass.

The defense, even without three-quarters of its secondary, continued to make quick work of the Packers. The biggest test came when Brady and Corey Dillon muffed an exchange, and the Packers recovered at the New England 30. Favre could neither find open running lanes or open receivers, and with another three-and-out, the Pats forced at 44 yard Dave Raymer field goal attempt. He badly missed it to the right, and Green Bay was left with nothing.

Suitably de-hooked, the Patriots offense marched again. This time, they took to the ground behind Laurence Maroney, as Dillon cooled his heels on the Pats bench. The rookie carried 4 times for 14 yards on the drive, supported by Kevin Faulk, Heath Evans (a key fourth down conversion) and finally, by Dillon, who carried the ball for the final yard and the Patriots second touchdown.

The balanced attack gave Brady more time to pass, and even his incompletions racked up yards. His goal line miss of Daniel Graham resulted in a 22 yard pass interference penalty, which set up Dillon’s plunge.

Aside from the handoff miscue with Dillon, everything went Tom’s way today. After the penalty, Brady missed a wide open Mike Vrabel at the back of the end zone. Vrabel leapt and came down with the ball on a close play, but was ruled out (a replay showed he may have made the catch). But the missed opportunity was quickly assauged by Dillon’s scoring run.

Even with the two touchdown lead, the Patriots defense persisted. The Packers continued to try the run, but were met every time by the Patriots defensive interior, led by Vince Wilfork. Wilfork talked this week about playing more physical football, and he was at his penetrating best today. Green Bay could muster but 43 rushing yards against Wilfork and the others.

The Packers passing was no better. Favre was under no great pressure at first, but he could find no one to throw to. Even without Rodney Harrison, Eugene Wilson and Asante Samuel, the Patriots secondary choked off the underneath throws while sealing off the big play downfield.

Some, or all, of it must have come from design, or maybe it was just luck. At times, Favre had an open receiver, but he was so generally flummoxed by the options downfield that he misfired wildly despite being presented with a free battery mate.

He was eventually driven from the game entirely. After Brady had stretched the Patriots lead to 21 (another effective play action that produced the season’s longest pass play, a 54 yard beauty to a wide-open Reche Caldwell), Favre took the ball with two minutes left in the half. He finally exploited the Patriots ailing secondary, going over Troy Brown (again pressed into nickel coverage) to hit Donald Driver down the right side for 38 yards and a first down at the Patriots 40. The Packers would try to make a game of it before the half.

On the next play, Tully Banta Cain rushed from Favre’s left, eventually landing at his feet. Banta Cain hung on for dear life, and as Favre sagged to the ground, he got a face full of a fully launched Tedy Bruschi. The hit drove Favre’s shoulder into the chilled turf, and he left for the day with a numb right arm and some simply awful passing numbers (5 for 15 for 73 yards).

Aaron Rodgers took over for Favre, missed his first two passes, and basically maintained that level for the rest of the day.

The Patriots added a third quarter touchdown by Ben Watson (the end product of a 6 play, 60 yard drive), who made a nice vertical catch of a Brady throw into tight end zone coverage. Watson, who critics called ‘invisible’ for his recent play, was the leading receiver (5 catches, 74 yards) in Brady’s solid 21-30, 244 yard, 4 TD, 0 INT passing attack.

Maroney, who led the Pats on the ground with a steady 19 carry, 82 yard day, scored the Pats final TD when he took a fourth quarter swing pass to Brady’s left and deked Nick Barnett into next week before racing untouched 19 yards down the sideline into the end zone. The score was set up by a Kevin Faulk 36 yard punt return that gave the Pats a first down at the Green Bay 23.

The Patriots faced one more Packer challenge, after a late punt gave Green Bay the ball at midfield. But Mike Vrabel raced from Rodgers’s right to strip the ball, and Mike Wright fell on the fumble to close out the Packers’ final possession.

Vinny Testaverde, signed on Tuesday to serve as an emergency quarterback, took his first snaps as a Patriot while taking the knee and running out the clock.

The Patriots offensive line closed the leaks in their pass protection, giving Brady all kinds of room and all kinds of time. Of course, this usually gets easier to do when you have some semblance of balance in your offense, as the Patriots finally did today. They ran the ball 40 times and tried to throw only 33. What was most encouraging was that the Patriots stayed patient and in a deliberate, huddle offense, leaving aside the frenetic no-huddle fastbreak.

You can’t argue with the results. The Patriots piled up 22 first downs to Green Bay’s 5, and held the time of possession by a two-to-one advantage.

Troy Brown had another unsung Sunday in a career built from them, making first downs on offense and taking them away on defense. Other highlights included Caldwell’s picturebook touchdown (he’s now set or tied career highs in catches, yards and TD’s, with 6 games to play), Vrabel’s 6 tackle, 1.5 sack day, Ty Warren’s return (and 1.5 sacks), and New England kick coverage teams that were all over the Green Bay returners.

Josh Miller sounded the only down note with another poor punting display. He’s off his stride.

It’s hard to tell just much the Pats gained today, as 4-6 Green Bay struggled badly in every facet of the game. But maybe the Patriots really are that much better than the teams they have in the NFC North.

With the 9-1 Chicago Bears up next, let’s hope so.

Game Day Blog – The Sunday Papers

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

If you’re anything like me, you’re not sure if you’re looking forward to this afternoon’s Pats-Packers tilt or not. After all, the Patriots are in their worst dip in a year, with two discouraging performances in a row, and the thought of another Sunday like the previous two make me a little gun shy. What the hell – let’s open the papers anyway.

At Dan Shaughnessey’s Daddy Globe, our friend Mike Reiss carries the ball again, and this morning’s big story is that Asante Samuel will join Eugene Wilson and Rodney Harrison on the Patriots sidelines today, leaving the team without 75% of its starting secondary. Mike’s word is that James Sanders will replace Chad Scott at Harrison’s safety spot while Scott replaces Samuel at corner. It’s nice to have Chad back on the edge, where he’s played well, but I would have preferred it happen under better circumstances, obviously.

Reiss continues with a few thoughts from Vince Wilfork, who calls for the Patriots to return to physical, throwback football at historic Lambeau Field. Have at it, Vince. The big tackle tells Reiss that the Pats “can’t wait to get out there” after the last two weeks.

Mike also relieves Ron Borges on the weekly Football Notes, where he talks with San Diego GM AJ Smith about the construction of the Chargers as they prepare to face the Broncos in Denver tonight. Anybody calling Phillip Rivers a stiff lately, by the way? Reiss also connects with the world’s clutchest field goal holder, Ken Walter, who hopes for a comeback after being out of football for awhile. Ken has some poignant thoughts about the Foxboro fandom.

Jim McCabe writes beautifully of Titletown’s local flavor, and Jim McBride has his weekly scouting report.

At the Herald, Michael Felger is – like Frank Constanza – prolific. I’ll give Mike credit here – for a ubiquitous multi-mediot, he sure does a lot of heavy lifting on Sundays. As usual, he’s responsible for most of the Herald’s content today.

He probably could have saved himself the trouble with his lead article, where he grabs on to some innocuous Tom Brady comments to slug away at Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre. That’s so 2005, Michael. I suppose as part owner of the Packers, Felger can’t help himself. He must be popular with other Packer fans, who have of course deified the former pill popper.

Felger then runs the Herald’s Chad Jackson flag up the pole again, though I suppose this week it makes sense, as it was the Packers who traded the pick that the Pats used on the rookie. Naturally, the Packers selected a wide receiver with the pick they received in return (Greg Jennings), and wouldn’t you know it, he’s had a better rookie year than the Patriots Playstation champion (hopefully, Chad took his playbook with him when he was on line for the PS-III this week). I hate it when things are so easy for the media. Mike also has some thoughts about a couple of potential free agent Chicago Bears corners.

In a collection of random thoughts, Felger ruminates on the move from grass to Field Turf, and adds a sidebar warning the Patriots secondary to prepare for the slant, a staple of the Packers passing game. Hey, NEM, there’s your offense right there.

John Tomase has the Herald notebook, which includes a look at the Pats secondary woes and a few thoughts from Jabar Gaffney – like who seems damn glad to be here.

Want more? You do the clicking then, you lazy bastards – just hit the BSMW Patriots News Mashup page.

Elsewhere, the Cold Hard Football Facts has its own unique spin on (their words) the Stats That Matter, with its Quality Standings page. I just recently picked up on their offensive and defensive line rankings. They’re based on yards per carry, negative pass plays and time of possession averages, which makes sense to me. The Pats come up well on both fronts, ranking 5th on offense and 7th on defense, despite middling TOP averages on both sides of the ball.

Run the ball, Josh!

It’s only fair that I mention that Bill Barnwell’s outfit, Football Outsiders, has its own method for measuring line play, its richly detailed Adjusted Line Yards. This one’s cool because it tells you how often (and how successfully) a team runs in a given direction. I admit it – I don’t exactly have the intellectual horsepower to keep up with these guys, but if you’re a Bill James kind of guy, FO has to be your top bookmark.

Speaking of Barnwell, did you catch his GDRV bit on expatriate ex-Patriots yesterday? Bill’s been a great pickup for us. When Bruce and I started GDRV a few years ago, I never thought we’d have guys like Barnwell and Greg Doyle contributing the kind of quality stuff they do every week. Those guys, along with the Tall Man himself, bring our readers some much needed relief from my crude, guttural wails.

It’s been a fun season already, and I hope we’ll all have many more. Next week, our Roundtable feature will even drag in a buddy from the dark, sinister world of the BSMW message board, the well-traveled ‘Box Score’. There is absolutely going to be a hospitality question in there somewhere, I assure you of that.

Why does anybody care what an NFL coach wears on the sideline? This week, 49′ers coach Mike Nolan got the OK to wear a suit for the Niners game with Seattle (as an homage to his dad Dick, who sartorially coached San Fransisco in the Sixties), and Jack Del Rio quickly followed suit (heh, heh) for the Jags MNF game with the Giants. Permission was needed, of course, because of the league’s apparel deal with Reebok, who – and I thought this was a joke at first – will now fashion the dress up duds for Nolan and Del Rio.

That’s all fine, but naturally, the enterprising local media quickly (and predictably, and annoyingly) makes the story about Bill Belichick, known far and wide as the Worst Dressed Man in the World. If you believe these guys, anyway. John Tomase launched this beauty on Friday, in reference to the Dreaded Hoodie:

Could the days of Bill Belichick dressing out of the nearest trash can be coming to an end?

Dressing out of a freaking trash can? That might be overstating it a bit there, John, and never mind the mess you’re making out of your glass house. It’s a sweatshirt. A football garment being worn at a football game. Imagine that. These guys can gin up a fit over just about anything. It’s funny, because now that they show up on my TV at all hours, uninvited, I can see they’re not exactly runway models either. So what’s the beef? It’s just another easy angle to bust the coach’s nuts some more for not playing ball with them, and I’m always surprised and disappointed at how many fans lap it up.

I’ll tell you why this bothers me so much – earlier this week, when the Pats signed Vinny Testaverde, that goof Alan Greenberg wrote one of his typical knee-jerk, half-cocked columns shrieking that the marginal acquisition proved that Tom Brady was mortally wounded. I mean, get a load of this junk:

Is Tom Brady injured? Is Brady, who has not missed a start since taking over for the injured Drew Bledsoe in the third game of the 2001 season, sufficiently banged up after last Sunday’s loss to the Jets that he’s on the verge of giving way to backup Matt Cassel for Sunday’s game at Green Bay against the Packers? If he isn’t, why did the Patriots announce the signing of Vinny Testaverde Tuesday?

Matt Cassel? Huh? Whaaaa?

Anyway, why it bothers me is that a couple of days later I’m cruising si.com, and I stumble into one of their unctuous ‘rumor’ pages, and there it is, big as life, right up top: ‘Brady hurt’. Source material? Mr. Greenberg. So now people all over the counry are looking at this and seeing it as an actual representation of reality, which as we know, is not a place Alan frequently visits, at least where the Patriots are concerned.

That just bothers me for some reason.

Back to the field for a second, you know where to go to find the latest game day news – the indispensible Reiss’s Pieces. Click later to confirm whether the Pats will indeed have a returning Ty Warren and Stephen Neal when they take the field this afternoon.

Naturally, unless I pass out on the couch in a deep funk, I’ll be back after the game.

Checking in with the Ex-Patriots

By Bill Barnwell, Football Outsiders – special to BSMW Patriots Game Day

Expatriots

When the Invisible Turf Monster caused David Givens and his ACL to part ways last week, I was shocked to even discover that David Givens still existed; while Tennessee appears to be a black hole for all success and notoriety right now (unless you are practicing for your mixed martial arts debut on unsuspecting opposing players), I still would’ve periodically expected to read something about a player who received a $24 million contract this offseason and was seen as a legitimate loss to the Patriots’ offense. I started to think about the other ex-Patriots who’d lost their way: Damian Woody getting benched for being unable to control his weight in Detroit, Lawyer Milloy going from being a reason to hate your coach to becoming a league vagabond, or Ty Law’s year barely holding his head above water on a Jets team trying to drag him to the bottom. While Law did have 10 interceptions last season, there were other metrics compiled by Football Outsiders that showed his slippage from the league’s best. He stopped 41% of the passes thrown in his direction, a number that ranked 80th amongst starting defensive backs in the league; he allowed 7.2 yards per pass attempt in his direction, which ranked 33rd. What I thought would be interesting to do for this week’s column would be to take a look at the ex-Patriots and see how they’re faring this year on foreign soil, using some of the advanced metrics at our disposal at Football Outsiders. I’ll explain each of them as they come up.

Joe Andruzzi (CLE)
Andruzzi’s currently playing left guard for the Browns, who currently have the worst offensive line in all of professional football according to FO’s Adjusted Line Yards. This stat measures the effectiveness of an offensive line in opening holes for a running back versus the effectiveness of a running back in simply being fantastic; as a result, offensive linemen are given less credit for plays where the result is a 30-yard-run and they’ve stopped blocking after six yards than on a play where the run goes for five and they’ve done all the lifting. The results are then compared to the average result against that down, distance, situation, and opponent, and then normalized so that the average team gains the average amount of yards (4.08) that an NFL team does on every play. The Browns, as I mentioned, sit dead last with 3.48 yards per rushing play. The weakness of the line? Left tackle Kevin Shaffer, who may legitimately be a worse run blocker than Richard Seymour. While Seymour is pouting. Shaffer’s .90 adjusted line yards behind him at left end are a ghastly figure, the lowest seen in some time. Furthermore, the Browns are last in the league at runs in the middle of the line, which could be expected due to the problems they’ve had in keeping a center healthy. Behind left tackle, the Browns are 20th in the league — so Andruzzi isn’t necessarily the weak link of the line, certainly, but he doesn’t appear to be great shakes, either.

Tom Ashworth (SEA)
Ashworth has been filling in at right tackle for Sean Locklear, who has been troubled by ankle injuries and the urge to beat up his girlfriend in public so far this season. In that sense, Ashworth is a huge upgrade on Sean Locklear as a human. On the football field? Ashworth’s been a bit of a mess. While Seneca Wallace has taken the blame for Leonard Little’s sack and forced fumble that was returned for a touchdown against the Rams last week, some of the blame has to realistically be placed on the guy Little blew right by, Ashworth. Furthermore, the Seattle offensive line play has gone down dramatically with the loss of Locklear and Steve Hutchinson’s poison pill move to Minnesota; the Seahawks, according to our adjusted sack rate statistic, rank 29th out of 32 teams in pass protection so far this year. Adjusted Sack Rate, much like Adjusted Line Yards, considers the context of opposition, down, distance, and situation so that the protection of teams who drop back 45 times a game (why hello Joseph Harrington!) can be compared to those teams that run the ball 40 times (and you’re doing well, every Jets opponent!) Furthermore, while the Seahawks rush offense ranks tenth in runs at right tackle, they are 24th in runs at right end, plays where Ashworth would be needed to block his end straight up while a guard pulls behind him, or alternately where he might be needed to get to the second-level and clear out a linebacker to make a two- or three-yard gain a seven- or eight-yard one.

Deion Branch (SEA)
Is Deion Branch’s season this year a wash? Are the Seahawks paying him like it is, or expecting it to be a wash for him? It’s hard to say. So far, Branch hasn’t been particularly impressive even whilst learning the offense in Seattle. Looking at the DVOA statistic that measures how Branch does versus an average wide receiver in the same situation, Branch’s -1.1% performance puts him 47th in the league for all wide receivers; it’ll be interesting to see whether that goes up in the second half and Branch returns to being a favorite of the statistic.

Matt Chatham (NYJ)
Establishing a hierarchy of emphaticity for “whoo’s”. Good for Matt. Still a solid special teams player, but the Jets run defense is the worst that the NFL has seen in six years. Not really Chatham’s fault, though.

Christian Fauria (WAS)
Fauria has struggled with an ankle injury in recent weeks and is yet to catch a pass this season in the Redskins offense, which I believe is some sort of mistaken performance art project using the screen pass and Santana Moss as a Christ-like figure.

David Givens (TEN)
See beginning. Givens caught eight passes in five games.

Brandon Gorin (ARI)
Gorin, traded in the offseason for a conditional pick, suited up for the first time last week against the Cowboys in a reserve role. He’s buried on what’s probably the most famously bad offensive line, after the Bears-Cardinals game, in years. On the bright side, he knows who the Bears are; on the brightest side, that joke is officially dead.

Damon Huard (KC)
Hey, finally some nice things to say! Huard was the sixth best quarterback in the league this season according to our DPAR statistic, and that’s even without playing in the first couple of games; his DVOA, which only counts the plays he was involved in, has him fifth. DPAR, by the way, measures the total number of points scored due to plays that the quarterback threw or ran with the ball versus that of a freely-available “replacement level” quarterback (insert your favorite ex-Steve Spurrier QB here). I say “was” instead of “is” because Huard is about to lose his job back to Trent Green, but he’s basically set himself up to be a highly-regarded backup quarterback for as long as he wants to be, and judging from his performance, a starting quarterback in those areas where God has scorched the earth. You know, like Oakland. Oh, and wherever Joey Harrington goes.

Bethel Johnson (MIN)
Last year, Minnesota ranked 12th in kick returns according to our adjusted kick return statistics, which account for location and measures kickoffs versus the average return. This year, employing Johnson as their primary kick returner, they’re tied for ninth. He doesn’t contribute anything to the passing game, but as a kick returner, Johnson’s fine.

Dan Klecko (IND)
Slightly less noticeably booed than Adam Vinatieri upon his return to New England, Klecko has played in six games and made two tackles. Much like I said about Matt Chatham earlier, Klecko’s an uninvolved part of one of the worst rush defenses in all of football.

Adrian Klemm (n/a)
The resurgence of the Packers’ offensive line (eight in the league in Adjusted Line Yards, and second in Adjusted Sack Rate) has gone on without Klemm, who was cut by the Packers before the season started. He hasn’t caught on anywhere, and he may have played his last NFL game.

Ty Law (KC)
As I mentioned earlier, while Law had a gaudy interception total last season, that may have had something to do with the fact that teams weren’t particularly concerned about throwing in his direction. This year, though, Law is doing much better. Football Outsiders tracks how teams do whilst defending the opposition’s #1 WR, #2 WR, other WR’s, tight ends, and running backs, relative again to situation and context. This season, the Chiefs are first in defending against #1 WR’s and 10th against #2 WR’s. I haven’t seen enough of the Chiefs this season to say whether Law is matching up against the opposition’s #1 receiver often or not, but either way, he and Patrick Surtain are clearly both having very effective seasons.

Willie McGinest (CLE)
Even though he hasn’t been playing with them this season, McGinest joined the rest of the Patriots linebackers in taking a comfortably large step back this season. While he won’t be appearing on the side of a milk carton like Mike Vrabel shortly will be, McGinest has struggled with injury this season and has only 16 tackles and 2 sacks in 7 games. On the other hand, McGinest can still serve as an assistant coach for Romeo Crennel whilst hurt, so there’s some added benefit there.

David Patten (WAS)
Patten went from being a nifty deep threat with the Patriots to being the worst regular wide receiver in all of football in 2005, according to both DPAR and DVOA. This year, Patten’s played in four games and caught one pass for 25 yards. His lack of proclivity is disappointing for someone with his surname.

Tyrone Poole (OAK)
I had no idea Poole was still in the league. None. Poole’s been a backup cornerback for the Raiders; while the Raiders’ defense has been solid this season, they’re 22nd in defending passes against the opposition’s #3, #4, and #5 wide receivers. He hasn’t hurt himself yet, though, which at least saves on physio costs.

Antowain Smith (n/a)
Smith was cut by the Texans at the beginning of the season and hasn’t caught on anywhere. He hasn’t officially retired, but when all Google News turns up for you are items from press releases about how you’re being passed for team records, you’re done.

Adam Vinatieri (IND)
Accounting for the effects of playing in a dome half the time and the distance of his kicks, Adam Vinatieri’s been the 12th best kicker in football this season on field goals. Of course, the one game-winning kick he had to make, he did so without fail, leading to Bill Simmons’ peak in the 2006 season. On kickoffs, though, Vinatieri was expected to be an improvement on the weak-legged Mike Vanderjagt; instead, though, the Colts have had the worst performance on kickoffs in all of football; the team has lost 8.9 points worth of field position since the beginning of the season. The Patriots, meanwhile, have gained two points of field position; that’s an eleven-point swing, and something to think about when analyzing the Gostkowski-Vinatieri tradeoff that not many people do.

Ken Walter (n/a)
Genesee County, Ohio Bowling Results, courtesy The Flint Journal:

Whitey Craine Memorial – Bryan Reagan 299-775, Bob Wirsing 298, Jesse Koch 289, Spider Edwards 771, Justin Crosby 279-752, Ken Walter 278-739, Larry Hubbard 704, Tim Bailey 279, John Ross Jr. 277, Tracy La Rose 288.

Ted Washington (CLE)
Is still enormous. Plays nose tackle for the Browns, who are 24th in the league in rush defense DVOA. Will remain enormous for foreseeable future, die, disintegrate into large pile of ash. So, he’s pretty much remained the same.

Damien Woody (DET)
Sprained his foot in Week 5 and was placed on IR. The Lions were 0-5 at that point. Woody has as many catches as Mike Williams, though, so presumably Matt Millen is pleased with his performance. In slightly worse news for Woody, the AOL Sports Blog noted last month that he’s being sued for $250,000 by a woman who claims Woody promised her financial security, marriage, and her own business to break an engagement to another man. The high point of the lawsuit, though, was the woman’s insistence that she’d agreed to have extensive dental and cosmetic surgery at Woody’s request. At that point, though, Woody was probably just trying to see what he could get away with, right?

Fred McCrary (ATL)
McCrary is the reserve fullback for the for the Falcons, who have the sixth best rushing offense in all of football. This is the antithesis of the Klecko and Chatham notes, except their almost perfectly-equal irrelevance to their teams’ success or failure.

GDRV Roundtable

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

This week, the Patriots travel to Lambeau Field in Green Bay for a intra-conference matchup with Brett Favre and the Packers.

A win is imperative.

New England badly needs one after a horrendous two-week slump that has seen the Pats fall back to the pack in not only their conference but in their own division as well.

With the 2006 season nearing the homestretch, the Patriots trail the AFC-leading Colts by three games (four when you count the head-to-head Colts advantage) and Denver by one (again, due to their head-to-head advantage over the Pats, its actually two) for first-round playoff byes. Suddenly, two more teams have become a factor at 7-2: the Baltimore Ravens (with a better conference record, the next tiebreaker) and the San Diego Chargers (also a better conference record) both stand between New England and a first round pass.

Even their previously-thought-to-be-unimpeachable division lead is down to one game, with the Jets now at 5-4 (and a 3-1 division record, just behind the Pats’ 4-1). If they can’t reverse their slide soon, the Pats and their fans will spend December lowering their expectations while scoreboard-watching for results from places like Jacksonville and Kansas City.

The 4-5 Packers have seemingly improved under new head coach Mike McCarthy, winning three out of their last four, including last week’s road win over the Vikings. With (evidently) his enabler Mike Sherman out of the way, Favre has surprisingly become an effective quarterback again (13 td’s to only 7 int’s), though Green Bay ranks only 16th in scoring offense. The Packers defense continues to be among the league’s worst (27th in the NFL in points allowed), which has to be welcome news for the badly-slumping Tom Brady.

Thankfully, the game will be played on the road, where the Pats are undefeated at 4-0. Just as well. Lately, the Patriots win in Foxboro about as often as they win in Denver.

There, amidst the rubble of the last two weeks, resolutely stands the Row of Chairs. What’s up, panel?

Last Sunday, a few veteran Patriots made on-the-record postgame comments that suggested the team had not only been outplayed, but outcoached. Last week, players seemed to publicly question the offensive playcalling. Never mind whether the public criticisms were appropriate (they weren’t); do they have a point?

Greg: Patriots players tend to mimic the language and phrases Belichick uses, I have noticed. And he always includes coaching as something that needs to be better or they were outperformed in when they lose. I believe they were just once again describing it as Belichick would and often does.

Bruce: Well, Belichick said the same thing, and I think he meant it. As for the comments, I don’t think they bothered the coach too much…I think he’s more concerned about the fact that they WERE outplayed and outcoached than he is about Seymour or anyone else stating it.

Scott: Yeah, they did. Bottom line – it’s November, and the team is scraping bottom. The convenient thing is to blame people like Ben Watson and Ellis Hobbs. The buck doesn’t stop there. The offense is flagging (in many respects because of its approach), and the defense (though pretty steady) still suffers some maddening third-down breakdowns. Things are getting worse just as they’re supposed to be getting better. He’s a great coach having a not-so-great season. That said, I was really happy to hear that BB had the team in pads all week, indicating a return to basics.

The Patriots have gone in the tank since we instituted the Roundtable Game Balls. That’s their problem, I guess. You guys care to hand any out this week?

Bruce: I think a lot of people are starting to realize that Reche Caldwell isn’t as bad as they thought he was. The guy has been solid. He’s been getting each week and had his best game of the season against the Jets. The knock against Caldwell was supposedly that he was soft (leading some to call him “paper” Reche), but I’ve seen a receiver who can make the big third down catches and the play that he scored the TD on against the Jets required more than a little heart and determination to the make the play. He’s my pick.

Scott: I’m giving mine to Billy Yates. It was out of necessity, but he came off the practice squad and stepped right into the starting lineup, where he handled himself like a pro. Then he breaks his friggin’ leg. I hate football sometimes.

Greg: Has to be Reche Caldwell, who easily had the most inspired game out of any Patriots player last week. He has turned out to be a lot better signing than the panic mongers like Michael Felger were claiming in pre-season.

Just three weeks after his brilliant display in Minnesota, Tom Brady is struggling. Most of it has been attributed to other areas (new receivers, an injured offensive line, a slumping running game). Is it that simple?

Scott: No, it isn’t. It’s funny we’re discussing this just as the Pats head to Green Bay, where they can always find someone other than the quarterback to blame. We don’t want that, do we? I didn’t think so. I know a lot has been placed on Tom’s shoulders, this season more than any other, but I’m worried about his fundamentals (a few of us noticed last week that he’s gone from Meryl Streep to Sharon Gless as far as selling his play action fakes, and of course, his failing accuracy could be traced to his throwing fundamentals) and frankly, his perspective (for the first time in his career, he’s throwing up patently stupid prayers instead of thinking better of it). Whether its frustration or confusion, he’s not exactly playing smart football, at a time of year when you expect nothing less from him. Like Charlie Pierce said during his visit to BSMW this week – at some point the ‘new receiver’ excuse doesn’t cut it anymore. As far as the injury theory – isn’t most everyone beat up by now? We’d have to be crazy to think that isn’t an intrinsic condition of being a pro quarterback playing in November. Unless somebody can cite something specific, that seems like just more lazy thinking, the kind that enabled Brett Favre to play some goddam lousy football without ever answering for it.

Greg: Honestly, I’m at a loss. It certainly is at least part of those reasons. But is that it? I can’t say. I know not the most insightful answer in the world, but I really can’t explain why Tom Brady is having his worst season since he became a starter. I wish I had the answer or knew he’d turn it around, but I’m not sure any longer. He was not good the last two weeks and there have been too many of those weeks.

Bruce: Yes. It’s not like he suddenly lost the ability to play quarterback. The only other option is that he’s hurting, which might lead us into the next question.

On Tuesday, the Patriots signed 43-year-old Vinny Testaverde. Why?

Greg: I am thinking as a de facto quarterback coach. He’s a veteran. He’s played in this offense. He can give tips to Tom Brady. He may eventually want to get into coaching. And, in a pinch, he can manage a game and get them through a crisis.

Bruce: Isn’t it obvious? The last time Bill Belichick brought Testaverde to a team he was the head coach of, he replaced the longtime starting QB of his squad, who was a local favorite, with ol’ Vin. History repeats itself folks, the writing is on the the wall. Brady is DUN. Actually, he’s just here as an insurance policy and I hope he never sees the field.

Scott: Guy is an incredible dresser. I mean really sharp. The best suits. Most of the Patriots now are slobs, running around in those matching track outfits. I heard that’s why they signed him – they were worried they were going to get caught short by Mr. Blackwell. They were just trying to class the joint up a little. Seriously, what I said about Brady’s perspective before? I think that’s where Vinny comes in. Think of him as a consultant, giving the situation a fresh pair of eyes. By the way – I’ve always liked this guy, and I’m glad he’s here.

Unfortunately, on Tuesday the Patriots didn’t stop at signing Vinny. They also ripped up the grass field and express ordered a new Field Turf surface. Is this for the good, or have the Patriots given up some of their home field advantage?

Bruce: I don’t think it was the mud and grass that won those playoff games in the past. The surface is a small factor in the outcome of a football game. It may give some sort of mental edge, but again, that advantage would be minuscule. Plus, the field was pretty embarrassing to see on TV. I think the combination of better footing and better appearance is a good move.

Scott: Count me as one that couldn’t have given two shits how the field looked to the fans. How about the complacent fans work on making some freaking noise for once and leave the groundskeeping to Dennis Brolin? Well, you know what I mean. ‘Home field advantage’ includes ‘field’, which is why the Patriots held on for so long in the effort to maintain the grass. My term for this is ‘indiginous advantage’ (snappy, huh?) and in my opinion, the Patriots (a Northeast foul weather team) gave some away here. It remains to be seen what the long-term impact will be. Until then, I’ll exercise my Constitutional right to make a fuss.

Greg: If it stops me from having to listen to more story in the press about the turf, then sure. Go for it. And, what home field advantage?

Scott: Now THAT’S a hell of a point.

Okay, back to the Big Board of Predictions for another week. Why are we doing this again? Anyway, we’ll start with the Chicago Bears visiting Coaching Legend Eric Mangini and the Jets. Then we’ve got Atlanta at Baltimore, Oakland at Kansas City, Indianapolis at Dallas, San Diego at Denver, and the Giants at Jacksonville.

Scott (5-1 last week, 36-22 overall): Time is running out in this pennant race, so I’m digging into my pocket and buying Dave Kingman or somebody for the stretch run. The Bears will beat the Jets, though I expect Eric Mangini will coach magnificently anyway. Who do you take if you’re starting a team – Mangini, Lombardi, Noll, or Walsh? Tough call. I’ll take the Ravens, the Chiefs, and the Broncos at home, and the Giants on the road. In a strategic move (see below), I’ll go with the Colts remaining unbeaten.

Greg (5-1, 32-26 overall): Bears. They impressed me last week taking out the Giants and the Jets aren’t as good as the Giants. Baltimore is about to go 8-2? Yep. Kansas City beats up on the horrible Raiders. Dallas finally takes out the Colts. Denver beats San Diego and the Giants beat Jacksonville, who is inconsistent.

Bruce (3-3 last week, 40-18 overall): How could we possibly pick against Mangini? You’d have to be a fool to do so. I’m that fool. Chicago. I’ll take Baltimore, Kansas City, Denver, the Giants, and in the upset of the week – The Cowboys.

The Frozen Tundra…..Lombardi……The Ghost of John Facenda must know! Packers, Pats. What say you?

Greg: It won’t be easy, but I’ll say the Patriots regroup, make enough defensive stops and cause some turnovers to turn back the Pack 24-17.

Bruce: The Patriots have to break out sometime here, right? The NFC has been kind to them, so hopefully this is the week. Patriots 31-13

Scott: As you can tell from my entries above, I’m wildly optimistic at this point. In a move that’s only part reverse psychology and superstition, I’m going to pick the Packers, 23-13. I don’t know if the slide is over, or in progress. By the way, I seem to remember Corey Dillon running all through the Packers the last time the Pats were in Green Bay (05 pre-season), so Josh, you might consider having your guy mix a hand off somewhere in there amongst the double fake screens.

Lastly, and I do mean lastly, our Mediots of the Week.

Bruce: So was there a rule against changing surfaces in the middle of the season or not. We were told there was, even an NFL Spokesman confirmed it. But it turns out he was wrong. Or did he LIE? Where are our intrepid reporters on this? Even though rumors about changing the playing surface had been reported before, it still came as a surprise announcement to many.

Scott: Gerry Callahan basically said that the Patriots lost Sunday because Bill Belichick ‘hates’ Eric Mangini. That’s pretty idiotic if you ask me. Didn’t Belichick ‘hate’ Parcells too, Gerry? Whatever happened to that? I don’t see football as THAT complicated of a game, but these guys go to the ends of the earth to write about anything but.

Greg: I’d go with Hector Longo, but he is barely media and not worth commentary. So, lets go with Gerry Callahan who went from ridiculing Eric Mangini for months with “rib boy” comments, jokes about his age and a lack of general respect for in all his reporting on the guy since he was hired by the Jets to turn him into the second coming of Vince Lombardi. All based on one game in which the Patriots did not play well, and neither did the Jets particularly, in which the Jets sneaked off with a close, but not real impressive win. Mangini has done a decent job. Callahan, on the other hand, has gone from one overstated extreme to the other in covering the guy, as opposed to actually providing decent, accurate analysis. What should we expect at this point, I suppose?

Scott: Callahan wins in a landslide!

Second Look: New York Jets at Patriots

Well, this was certainly an unpleasant, ugly game to look back at it. Having slogged through the tapes, not much positive can be found yet again this week. It was simply the second poor performance in a row for the Patriots and that has to be somewhat worrisome. Every team is entitled to a slump, I suppose. But in the Super Bowl years of the Patriots, a slump may have meant one off game that they usually pulled out anyways. Or one poor loss. But two is a cause for concern. Particularly at home. On to the individual units.

QUARTERBACK: Tom Brady has not been himself this year. There can not be any debating that. I suppose we do have mention the changes at receiver. Logically, that has to contribute. But clearly, it goes beyond that. Sunday, the bouts of inaccuracy we have seen this year was evident. The poor decisions. Some bad throws were actually rescued by his receivers and turned into catches. I really can’t say what is wrong with Brady. Its just inconsistency because at times he is fine and looks like the old quarterback we’ve grown to know around here. Technically, nothing really stands out. He has velocity, he makes some great throws at times. Its just not there all the time. I don’t think the patchwork offensive line helped much Sunday, but still Brady is not playing that well.

RUNNING BACK: Seriously, what is up with Corey Dillon. Don’t get me wrong, Dillon played well Sunday. When he played. He ripped off a nice 55 yard run Sunday which featured a “get offfff me” stiff arm and though he ran out of gas at the end, it was still a nice run. But after that, he disappeared until after halftime. Why? Why does he seem to leave the game so often these days? He came back in the second half and made some more good runs, but was out of the game again quickly afterwards. Its puzzling. Laurence Maroney didn’t do much with his chances, which was unfortunate considering he was in there most of the time for Dillon.

WIDE RECEIVER: A nice day, overall. Reche Caldwell had an outstanding day catching big passes all over the field. He was certainly the star of the day. Jabar Gaffney too had a nice day in his first extended playing time and showed an ability to get separation on numerous plays. Look for his playing time to increase. Doug Gabriel on the other hand fumbled on a first half play and was not seen or heard from again. Apparently the carelessness with the ball led to him being made an example of.

TIGHT END: Daniel Graham returned, but did not seem his usual self. His blocking was a bit below par for him. Ben Watson didn’t do much in the passing game but did have some nice blocks to help spring Dillon. David Thomas was quiet and did not show up in any aspect of the game tape positively that I saw.

OFFENSIVE LINE: A bad day. Billy Yates and Nick Kaczur were starting on the right side and that represents a change from the opening day lineup. Yates was ineffective before getting hurt. Kaczur was also ineffective and eventually Wesley Britt came in for him. This patchwork unit needs Stephen Neal back desperately. Too much pressure and inconsistency in the run game was at times the line’s fault. They are not playing up to their early season play at the moment.

DEFENSIVE LINE: An ineffective day. Whether it was injuries or whatever, Richard Seymour did not show up at all. Vince Wilfork was surprisingly handled easily by the center of the Jets line and they controlled the gaps and ran decently, particularly on their first touchdown drive. With the Patriots missing Ty Warren for the game, Jarvis Green did not pick up the slack. Marquise Hill made a rare appearance in the second quarter, promptly went offsides and was never seen or heard from again. He could be on thin ice with his roster spot. Mike Wright did not display his previous hustling, good play. Overall, the worst game of the year for this unit.

LINEBACKER: A quiet day. Roosevelt Colvin had a sack, but continued to miss tackles at times, as well as midjudge coverage out of the backfield. Junior Seau was good again and Tedy Bruschi was definitely improved this week. But neither was great. Mike Vrabel was quiet and had among his worst games as a Patriots, not showing up at all. A bad day here as well.

SECONDARY: I didn’t think this unit was that bad. Ellis Hobbs got beat for a touchdown and could have been beat for another one earlier in the game, but the unit was okay for the most part. I was not real impressed with Asante Samuel’s job on the last Jets, clock-killing drive in which he allowed his man to slip around him for a critical first down. Artrell Hawkins had a nice day at safety.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Bad coverage on kickoffs was on display again. They did pop a couple decent returns. Josh Miller had some terrible punts, punting it deep into the Jets end zone on one occasion when the Patriots were trying to pin the Jets deep. That is just horrible. He didn’t even come close to keeping it on the field and putting it inside the 20. A bad day overall yet again. Brad Seeley needs to get all these units playing up to par. Its killed them against the Colts and hurt them again Sunday.

On to Green Bay, a game that is looking a lot tougher. Much tougher than it did before. Until then.