by the Patriots Daily Staff
(Note- The Patriots Daily Buffet Table for this weekend is also posted.)
As is their custom on Fridays, the Lords of the Table have gathered again to chat about all things Pats. This week, they look at the team’s defense, Adalius Thomas opening up to Sports Illustrated, and of course, this Sunday’s home game with the 4-2 Washington Redskins.
Has the historic production of the New England offense had an adverse effect on the development of the team’s defense?
Greg Doyle: Yes, it has. And here is a concrete example. Last week the Patriots led 42-7 at halftime. So they come out in the second half and go mostly nickel and dime defenses. What do the Dolphins do? They just run their regular offense, including running the ball a lot. That is why you see big rushing stats last week. That is why you see a 19 yard run on 4th and 1 (the Patriots stayed in nickel). I heard Belichick say that in retrospect, they should have just run their regular defense the second half last week. I expect you’ll see some close games eventually and the defense mesh a bit better as the season goes on.
Scott Benson: I’m trying not to look an offensive gift horse in the mouth, but I just think the defense looks kind of sloppy and lethargic, and I attribute it to them playing the equivilent of the prevent defense for sixty minutes a week. It’s all about defending the big play. The overall numbers look okay, but have we seen anything yet to suggest this is a championship defense?
Dan Snapp: I never trust the numbers. Didn’t the Rams have the top-rated defense going into one of their Super Bowls? It’s totally reflective of the situation. If an opponent’s down three scores, their offense is going to be one-dimensional. They’re not going to win every game by three scores. Somewhere down the road, this defense is going to have to make some big stops.
Tim Jordan: I see the concern and don’t think it’s unfounded, but I think it’s too early to indict them. It is a stone-cold lock that the unit will improve – there is too much evidence to support this from past seasons. They have also had some flashes this year of being able to get key stops, unfortunately the last two games have been their least impressive defensive efforts.
Kevin Thomas: The stunning point differential the Patriots have put up suggest this is a championship-level team, regardless of how they’ve gotten there. I agree there is something missing from this year’s defense compared to some of the great defenses we’ve seen in recent years. The one major knock on this team coming into the season was the age of defense, and how they would hold up over a full season. They haven’t exactly dispelled those questions thus far. Bruschi appears significantly slowed for the second straight year, and now Harrison seems to be joining him. Adalius Thomas has not been the monster defensive presence we were all hoping for, and the short-handed D-line seems to be getting exposed a bit as the season progresses. The good news is that Seymour is practicing this weak, and hopefully the return of arguably the team’s best defensive player will add some stability to the unit going forward.
Bruce Allen: For some reason I have confidence that the defense can and will be a lot better. I think we saw glimpses of what they can be in the San Diego game, but really at no point this season has the defense been put into a “must-stop” position. At times during the Miami game, it seemed like they were actually working on situational stuff that they wouldn’t have if the game were closer. I remember seeing a few exotic formations such as one down lineman while the linebackers roamed around. As far as the notion that they’re playing 60 minutes of prevent defense…I think there might be something to that…by design. If their offense is potent enough that they can still blow out teams while playing a vanilla defense, then why should they show future opponents their formations and schemes? The problem with that is of course that they don’t get any practice in the defense that they’re actually going to need to play the tougher opponents (like the Colts) with.
This week’s opponent, the Washington Redskins, have a pretty good defense, if the NFL stats are any indication. The Redskins rank 3rd in points allowed and 4th in yards per game. As Chris Price told us this week, Washington’s secondary has limited opposing quarterbacks to just a 67.7 passer rating, the best in the league. They’ve limited their opponents to just five passing touchdowns, tied for second-best. Will the Pats continue to score at will this weekend, or will the Redskins slow them down?
Travis Graham: This will be an interesting test for the Pats. The stats say that this is the best defense they have faced this year. The Skins’ opponents weren’t offensive chopped liver, either. All of their opponents this year rank between 10th and 17th in yards per play (Miami being the 10th?!?).
Kevin: I disagree. I think the Redskins are a classic NFC fraud, and the Patriots will stomp them on Sunday. There’s nothing much impressive to what they’ve done so far this year: 6 games against middling-to-bad opponents, 4 at home, with 2 losses to the only halfway decent (by NFC standards) teams they’ve played: Green Bay and the Giants. (Yes, the ‘Skins did beat up on Detroit–at home, coming off the bye–and the Lions do currently have a winning record–but Detroit also has a -31 point differential this year and should not be considered a good team). The Redskins strength is supposedly in their secondary–I fear that much less than a ferocious pass rush. The Patriots may need to mix up their playcalling a little bit, but at home, on the turf, they will be able to move the ball and score on these guys with regularity.
Tim: Something worth looking for is how our WR’s respond to a physical defensive backfield. How will the Moss-Welker-Stallworth threesome fair if they are allowed to make the catch so that Landry and Taylor can get their hits in and try to wear them out. All have been pretty adept at avoiding any substantive contact after the catch this year. It will be interesting to see how they respond to some hard tackles. The schedule works out here, I think this Redskins team is a good one to play before Indy.
Did anyone happen to catch Joe Gibbs conference call with the NE media this week? He is either a brilliant actor and he’s playing possum or he’s senile and shouldn’t be handling sharp objects. Did you know the redskins have three Assistant Head Coaches? Joe Bugel (Assistant HC, Offense), Al Saunders (ditto), and Gregg Williams (Assistant Head Coach, Defense). Is there any work left for Gibbs to do or is he just there as a wrinkled and shrunken reminder of the glory days of Redskins football? Also, gotta be frustrating for Gibbs to go out and give the old “we don’t have a chance” routine, then respond to Brady saying that he is sure that Gibbs isn’t saying that to his team – only to have Clinton Portis ruin the whole skit by claiming they believe that they are just as talented as NE. I heard that this week after an early meeting many players were coming out quoting Denny Green (“We are who we thought they were!”). If true, I am guessing the message is the Skins are playing the role of Arizona going up against the undefeated Bears last year. BB is brilliant. He doesn’t try and manufacture ways to prepare, he spells it out with cautionary tales that everyone will understand. It’s comforting to know that this team has a very slight chance of an emotional letdown each week, despite the otherworldly numbers they’ve recorded thus far.
Greg: You know, I’m not really sure on this one. On the one hand, I do think the Redskins are pretty good on defense. They have a lot of talent there. And Gregg Williams has the reputation as a pretty good coordinator. But then I think back to when Williams was in Buffalo as head coach and how easily the Patriots dealt with his defense the vast majority of the time, even as it did pretty well against other opponents. My suspicion is the Patriots may be slowed down a bit, but still move the ball pretty effectively against Washington.
The Redskins offense, however, is just 17th in points scored and 25th in yards per game. They favor the run, ranking 16th in rushing and 26th in passing. Similar challenge to the one the Patriots faced in Miami last week. Can the Pats D tighten it up against the Redskins?
Greg: The Washington offense is a mystery to me. I look at their offensive line and I see Chris Samuels, Pete Kendall, Casey Rabach, Todd Wade and even a non-starter like Randy Thomas and that is a lot of talent. They did lose Jon Jansen for the season to injury, but still, that is some quality talent on the line. They even have former Colts starter Rick DeMulling backing up. I wonder if Clinton Portis just isn’t fit for this type pound it running game Joe Gibbs prefers. I think Ladell Betts may be more effective in it and actually the type of bruising back that gives the Pats problems, so its a good thing for them Betts is getting limited chances. They have some capable receivers and their quarterback Jason Campbell has talent, though he is inexperienced and inconsistent. I just think overall they haven’t come together, Campbell’s inconsistency hurts them and they will continue to have to try to win games 17-13 or 20-16 behind the defense. They just aren’t explosive and what they need to hope for is competence and avoiding turnovers. So I don’t expect them to do much more than that against the Patriots.
Wes Welker has 2 fair catches in 17 attempts this year, meaning 88% of the time, he’s bringing it back, regardless of the circumstances. Yet the Pats rank only 13th in punt return average, and Welker was limited to 9 yards on 3 returns last Sunday. Is Welker pushing it by so often risking returns with coverage close by?
Dan: Is Welker pushing it, or is it by design? Seems he’s pretty sure-handed, and always tough to bring down. I’d say this isn’t an issue until he muffs one.
Kevin: I don’t see this as a problem area, really. In fact, it may be to their benefit that they are being relatively aggressive in the return game. They are 13th in return average, but there’s not a lot of variance in those stats (the Pats are within +/- 2 yrds of about 12 other teams). And the sample size is pretty small–some of the teams ahead of them have less than 10 returns total all year–so one moderately good return could probably leap them into the top 10. When you factor in the number of fair catches for each team (the Patriots have 6 fair catches to 17 returns), then the Patriots are netting about 7.5 yards per opponent’s punt, which would put them 10th overall. It’s clear that they have faith in Welker’s ability to safely handle the ball, and want him to try to make plays. So far, he’s been pretty sure handed and it hasn’t cost them yet.
What did you think of Adalius Thomas’s comments in SI last week? Will these words come back to bite the Pats when they play the Ravens later on?
“You’ve got to remember, I’m coming in from Baltimore,” says Thomas. “People there wanted the limelight, people sought out the limelight, starting with the head coach. It was a star-studded system. Here it’s about as different as you can get. Everybody here shies away from being the star guy. Nobody on this team beats his chest. They just all go about their business. And win.”
Bruce: I strongly believe that in some quarters within the Patriots organization, these comments were applauded, as I don’t think Brian Billick is held in very high esteem in these parts.
Travis: I don’t think anyone in the Patriots organization likes a controversy that the Patriots started. I bet they are pretty upset with AD. We often hear that there is a “Patriots Way” of doing things (acquiring “good guys”), which we’ve seen isn’t the case by some of the free agents they’ve picked up the past couple of years. I do feel that there is an unwritten code of conduct that they are required to uphold and the first rule is not to disrespect the opponent. Also, I’m not so sure that Brian Billick is hated as much as you think because he was one of the lone coaches that called out Mangini after Spygate, which I took as his way of supporting Belichick.
Dan: I don’t understand the bulletin board argument. I get that a good coach will try to come up with whatever he can to motivate the team, but I have a hard time believing Thomas’s comments will work the Ravens up into a lather any more than taking on the league’s top team would. Same goes for the rematch against the Dolphins. Does Gregg Easterbrook really think this manufactured “running up the score” issue will be enough to close the gap between the two teams?
Travis: If the Patriots can make “Get your popcorn ready” into a rallying cry, then another team could easily make an opposing player that calls out their players and head coach into bulletin board material. As for Miami, I doubt there are any hard feelings because anyone who knows football knew they weren’t running it up.
Kevin: I don’t think AT quite “gets it” yet. The Patriots are usually very good about expressing opinions like this but without specifically calling out a particular player or team, or otherwise providing the proverbial “bulletin board material.” The Patriots “beat their chests” as much as anyone in the league, in my opinion, but in their own unique way. It’s part of what separates them from the Billicks and Ray Lewises of the league, and by his comments this week, I think Thomas showed that he still has more in common with his former teammates than he’d like us to believe. I don’t think it’s a big problem, and hopefully it will be a learning experience for Thomas.
Tim: No better evidence of this then the way he handled it. It’s fine that you slip-up early in your tenure and give a disparaging quote unwittingly to SI. What’s inexcusable is responding to Ray Lewis, on his radio show no less, with “I don’t want to get into a ‘he said-she said’….” and then spending five minutes doing just that. The response there is ‘I am going to take Ray’s advice and give him a call. He’s a great player and he plays with many other great players.” Then you let it die. On that same note, anyone notice Maroney with that stupid “I knew I was playing all week. I gotta keep you guys in the media guessing” quote? Laurence – you don’t have to do anything but keep your trap shut. If you go by games played you’re still a rookie. Get with the program, “Kool-Aid”. You still haven’t done anything in this league.
Okay, let’s get back to this Sunday’s game. Anybody care to venture a final score?
Dan: I think the Redskins do slow them down a little. Nice game for the defense to show their mettle. 24-10, Pats.
Travis: Pats 24, Skins 3.The Pats offense lays an egg, while the defense steps up to Belichick’s challenge.
Greg: Patriots 27-13.
Kevin: Pats 35, Washington 13. Big day for Maroney (who is notably missing from the injury report this week).
Tim: 27-10, and Clinton Portis still maintains that they have more talent than the Patriots after the game.