September 2, 2014

The Boys of Late Summer – A Primer

by Scott A. Benson, Senior Foreign Correspondent
July 29, 2010

For me, the opening of Patriots training camp is the day when summer finally gets good. The weather gets better (eventually) and suddenly the days fill up with football again. If you don’t get mired in the details, it’s the most pleasant way to ease your way from the last hurrah into the fall. Then again, I don’t work for the Globe.

Here are the things I’m thinking about as the seasons begin to change. Perhaps you are too.

 

Its Not All Rainbows At Training Camp

Contractual Healing

Unless you’re going down to camp every day (sorry, that would be weird) you’re going to have to rely on the broadcast, electronic and print media to know what’s up. Just so happens that along with training camp, we have labor unrest on both the micro (Brady, Mankins, Moss, Gostkowski, others) and macro (NFL v. NLFPA) levels, and let’s face it, until the unrest is put to rest, it will cast a pall over everything. Worst case: millionaires on picket lines (a visual nearly as compelling as oil-soaked birds). Best case: we have to put up with some cable news-style posturing by both sides for awhile (interesting that the Commissioner has a new series of ‘fan forums’ debuting on his network soon) and professional football will go on uninterrupted in the United States of America.

Quarter-back to the Future

Tom Brady will be the quarterback for the Patriots this season and, right now, I guess that’s enough for me. Long-term, you’d have to go some to convince me that over the next 3 to 5 years, he won’t be among the best players at his position in the NFL. Certainly, he’s the most preferable to me. You’d also have to work overtime to prove to me that this sort of thing is easily replaced.

So that’s what it’s about to me – what’s the future of this team over the next 3 to 5 seasons? Or what we may reasonably anticipate as the terminus for the Belichick Era? What’s the plan? If The Plan includes taking a hard line with a player they can’t replace without despair, I’d like to know. So would 60,000 other people, at least.

Now, I think I already know and like the answer to these questions, and as surely, I think we’ll soon forget that we ever doubted it, so as to prepare for the next crisis unencumbered by nagging history. The problem is that takes time.

Left of the Dial

Any derelict with enough time on his hands could certainly comb the PD archives and find me – on more than one occasion – making the case that Logan Mankins is the Pats’ best offensive lineman since Hannah. So as annoyed I am at the “man of principle” storyline that’s been crafted, I don’t want to the Pats roster to be one Fresno State alum lighter in the future. God knows he’s not perfect (yeah, I know, Super Bowl XLII) but with the combination of durability, nastiness and agility he’s, as Judge Smails might say, top notch. Top notch! And he’s young enough to sustain it though our 3-5 year plan. The Patriots are better with him than without him.

That said, if I hear any more if this shit about broken promises (the players have become the worst offenders of “every time we say it’s a business, you say it’s a game. Every time we say it’s a game, you say it’s a business”) and if they think anything less than a premium is a slight, I’ll vote firmly for his ass out of town toot sweet. You may sign that guy, but you’ll be hearing from him again. And again. And you’re not the only one who will be hearing from him (see item 5 below). A left guard? It’s not worth it.

Tired of Waiting

Brady or no, this team is cooked if some (or most) of these players they’ve drafted over the past few seasons don’t step up and become players who have a consistent impact on the game. Start with tearing down the Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi posters if you like, but the end result will be altered, for better or worse, by how you coach production from not just the Mayos and Meriweathers but the Edelmans and Butlers and Chungs and Tates and Vollmers and Braces. The Prices and Cunninghams and Spikes and McCourtys. Significant resources have been spent and the immediate need is every bit as significant. This isn’t an organization that can afford to be wary of young people anymore, and none of these nascent newcomers can afford to take the Shawn Crable Path to Greatness. Even though this is placed fourth on my list today, no other issue facing this team gets me as fired up as this one. The time is now.

Let’s Stay Together

I’ll start by saying that I buy whole hog (not a second Hannah reference, believe me) the narrative that says there was not adequate coagulation in the Pats locker room last year. Granted, I have never been there, but I can’t imagine any organization can succeed when you have veteran players who openly and frequently question the on-field and off-field decisions made by their superiors. When you have the highest paid players show stubborn unwillingness to pay the price we all have learned must be paid. That kind of environment doesn’t breed success for anybody, in my experience. Don’t tell me I didn’t see what I saw here in the salad days of 01-04.

Anyway, the Vince Wilforks and Leigh Boddens and others like them (this time, see item 4) must begin to slip the surly bonds of leadership from the hands of the Bradys and Faulks and Lights and Neals and Warrens, and their words must have ever more passion for what can be out there for them and these kids they are surrounded by, and their actions must have ever more urgency about what it takes to get there. They have to show the way, before somebody forgets the map. That said, Brandon Meriweather can’t be whiffing tackles every so often if Wilfork is going to get any positive reinforcement for his effort. Here too, the time is now. Otherwise, the Patriots will one day (soon) become just another lonely outpost on the NFL’s vast landscape of middle class mediocrity. No pressure, though.

Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Positions Are In)

We can talk about training camp’s ceaselessness, but things do get addressed in the dog days. We’ll know more about these hot spots in thirty days than we do now: Running Back – can anybody here play this game? For more than a few weeks, I mean? Fact is I like many of the players in this group, but collectively, they give me the heebie jeebies. You can’t move away from being a pass-happy bunch of lightweights if you can’t possess the ball and make fucking first downs. Tight End – I’m oddly optimistic about this group. For me it feels like they have the Role Model (Crumpler), the Immediate Contributor (Hernandez) and the Every Down Player of the Future (whatever his name is. I’m working on this). Short of throwing a bunch of money and a second round pick at a (then) 33 year old Tony Gonzalez, what do you want? Ben Watson? Left Guard – again, optimistic in an odd fashion. I think Nick Kaczur to LG might be passable – it takes him off the edge, where he struggled with speed and athleticism, and drops him inside, where he encounters less of both. It, in fact, plays to his strengths, which seem to me to be in the close area. Do your worst as far as the Oxy goes, and the kill shots on Brady, but he’s an experienced guy that has (if extensions are any indication) obviously signed on to The Program. Nobody wants the Mankins thing but your have to make the best out of it, and this seems like the best option right now. Plus it opens the door for full-time work for a guy – Sebastian Vollmer – the Patriots have to be counting on in a big way for the seasons to come. Defensive Line – honestly, the Pats should be better on the defensive line. They have upper echelon players in Ty Warren and Wilfork.  I guess the problem lies because the rest of the rotation is a confusing mess. Mike Wright is a steady back-up (and that’s a great thing, by the way), but someone(s) from the Warren-Lewis vet cartel and someone(s) from the underclassmen (Brace, Pryor, Richard, even Deaderick and Weston) play to a higher level. If they don’t, they may as well have kept Jarvis Green. You know what they need – a Tony McGee type. Somebody that drives a dent in the pocket every time they’re called. McGee was a fantastic, and sometimes forgotten, Patriot. Linebackers – Sigh. I’ve already written reams on this. Look – they have one linebacker truly capable of playing every down. That cannot stand. They’ll nearly gone all in on the kids – so they’ll be measured on that. All of them. Secondary – again, no pressure, but if Darius Butler doesn’t get his starter bona fides in a hurry, there’ll be a disconnect in Foxborough all right. No doubt the lethargic pass “rush” of 2009 shouldered its share of the blame for the Pats defense being 21st in passing yards, but it seems to me that’s not helped by guys who can’t get into position to play the ball. If I had a buck for every time a Patriot defender draped himself over a receiver who ultimately caught the pass, I’d have a shitload of bucks. By the way, like Butler, Patrick Chung’s “patient supportive nurturing environment” window is closing. Their safeties suck. Somebody’s got to do something, and that somebody is Chung.

Fixing A Hole

About Shawn Crable, who was released yesterday in his third season of ignominy with the Patriots; it’s easy to blame the kid (BTW, I defy you to see his bio pic without laughing like hell. He comes off as the ultimate sad sack), but I again reflect on what a shit show linebacker development was in New England after 2001. Somebody missed something pretty big when they were scouting this player, and somebody after them failed to ask the pertinent questions. Most aggravating is that this was the 78th pick in the draft (only Mayo and Cunningham have been picked higher as LB’s by Belichick), and they pooched it at a position that needed the most help. The position that was once central to their very identity as a team, and they got it WAY wrong, and wasted a lot of time. I’m sorry, but that’s almost worse than two Chad Jacksons. If a lesson can’t be learned from this episode, then this whole fucking thing will be a complete waste.

Scott Benson is enjoying semi-retirement in glitzy Augusta, Maine, hobnobbing in suits made of linen with ambassadors and their attachés. He can be reached by carrier pigeon, or by e-mail at [email protected]. Better yet, follow him for occasional bursts of Tweeted profanity at  http://twitter.com/scottabenson

Pats Pre-Draft Visits and Workouts

by Scott Benson, Patriots Daily Staff
April 21, 2010

With the 2010 NFL Draft just hours away, let’s take a final look at the list of college prospects that have had significant contact with the Patriots over the last several weeks.

For these purposes, we define ‘significant contact’ as either a prospect site visit to Foxborough, or a private workout with Pats coaches and scouts. Interviews at post-season all-star games, the Combine, or at college pro days are not tracked. We’ve only included contacts that could be confirmed by media report (links).

There are those that will tell you that any interest on the part of the Pats that is made public is simply a ruse, or a ‘smokescreen’, to mask their interest in another, unnamed player.

As we’ve asserted many times before, that’s just untrue. Last year, Patriots Daily tracked visits by Patrick Chung, Brandon Tate, Tyrone McKenzie and Rich Ohrnberger before they were selected by the Patriots. In 2008, pre-draft contacts with Jerod Mayo, Terrence Wheatley and Shawn Crable were also noted.

Okay, so maybe there are some mixed reviews there, but that’s not the point. When the Pats make their picks later this week, it’s likely that two or three of the selections – if not more – will come from this contact list.

Note – if you see any that we’ve missed, please speak up in the comments section, and include a link to the reported contact.

Team Visits – Offense

QB Tim Tebow, Florida
RB Montario Hardesty, Tennessee
RB Charles Scott, LSU
WR Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State
WR Arrelious Benn, Illinois
WR Eric Decker, Minnesota
C Maurkice Pouncey, Florida

Private Workouts – Offense

QB Tony Pike, Cincinnati
QB Mike Kafka, Northwestern
QB Zack Robinson, Oklahoma State
QB Rusty Smith, Florida Atlantic
RB Jonathan Dwyer, Georgia Tech
RB Manase Tonga, BYU
RB Dexter McCluster, Mississippi
RB James Starks, Buffalo
WR Andre Roberts, Citadel
WR Mardy Gilyard, Cincinnati
WR Scott Long, Louisville
WR Taylor Price, Ohio
TE Dennis Pitta, BYU
TE Aaron Hernandez, Florida
TE Nate Bynam, Pittsburgh
TE Scott Sicko, UNH
OT Nic Richmond, TCU
OG Phil Costa, Maryland
C Jim Cordle, Ohio State
OT Daniel Baldridge, Marshall

Team Visits – Defense

DE Brandon Graham, Michigan
DE Corey Wootton, Northwestern
DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, Washington
DE Hall Davis, Louisiana-Lafayette
DE Chris McCoy, Middle Tennessee State
DT Dan Williams, Tennessee
DT Tyson Alualu, California
DT Brian Price, UCLA
DT Cam Thomas, North Carolina
OLB Sergio Kindle, Texas
OLB Jerry Hughes, TCU
ILB Jamar Chaney, Mississippi State
LB Donald Butler, Washington
CB Kyle Wilson, Boise State

Private Workouts – Defense

DE Antonio Coleman, Auburn
DE Alex Daniels, Cincinnati
DT Al Woods, LSU
DT Torell Troup, UCF
DT Arthur Jones, Syracuse
DT Corey Peters, Kentucky
DT Aleric Mullins, North Carolina
DT Jeff Owens, Georgia
DT Ricardo Mathews, Cincinnati
LB Brandon Spikes, Florida
LB Jason Worilds, Virginia Tech
LB Ricky Sapp, Clemson
LB Kavell Conner, Clemson
LB Thaddeus Gibson, Ohio State
LB Dekoda Watson, Florida State
LB Matt Mayberry, Indiana
S Earl Thomas, Texas
S Kam Chancellor, Virginia Tech
S Myron Lewis, Vanderbilt
CB Kareem Jackson, Alabama
CB Chris Cook, Virginia
CB Dominique Franks, Oklahoma
CB Nolan Carroll, Maryland
CB Robert McClain, Connecticut
CB Brandon Ghee, Wake Forest
CB Sherrick McManis, Northwestern
P Brent Bowden, Virginia Tech
P Zoltan Mesko, Michigan

Even if the Pats don’t select any of the players from this list, the direction of their efforts may tell us something. For example, by our count, the Pats have made ‘significant contact’ with 66 draft prospects. 39 of them, or nearly 60%, are defensive players.

Of the defensive contacts, more than half were defensive linemen (18 contacts). Linebackers represented 28% of all defensive contacts.  20% of contacts were with cornerbacks. Safety was apparently the only defensive position not focused on (just 2 of 39 contacts).

Nearly half of the 27 offensive contacts were either running backs (22%) or receivers (26%). Oddly, only 4 of 27 offensive contacts were with tight ends, a position that is considered a top need for New England. Offensive line contacts were concentrated on late round or priority free agent prospects. The Pats also looked at 5 quarterback hopefuls, including Tim Tebow.

This would seem to indicate the Pats will focus on their front seven and their offensive skill positions in this draft.

This Week on PD, October 11 –October 17, 2009

by the Patriots Daily Staff
October 18, 2009

Here’s a rundown of the top five most-read posts on Patriots Daily for the week of October 11 through October 17, 2009.

  1. Take a Lap – QB Tom Brady – On Monday, Scott Benson assigned some post-game running to the jittery quarterback, whose comeback struggles were on full display in a tough road loss to the surprising Broncos.
  2. Gut Check – Game 5 at Broncos – Chris Warner’s weekly post-game gut reaction was another popular Monday post among PD readers, who were dealing with some stomach issues of their own.
  3. Making the Grades, Game 5 at Broncos – The Pats conveniently forgot to get their parents’ signature on Jeremy Gottlieb’s Tuesday report card.
  4. First Impressions – Tennessee Titans – On Thursday, Greg Doyle got us looking ahead again with his weekly breakdown of the Pats’ next opponent, this time the 0-5 Tennessee Titans.
  5. Final Thoughts, at Broncos – Last Sunday’s 4:15 start gave Scott Benson too much pre-game time to think, and the 5th most read post of the week was the result.

These posts would be the proverbial trees falling in the forest were it not for your clicks. Many thanks.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics – Titans at Pats

by Scott Benson, Patriots Daily Staff
October 18, 2009

The Pats are back home this week after the team’s second tough road loss in its first five games.  At first blush a 0-5 opponent looks like the right medicine, but nothing is coming easy for your New England Patriots. Let’s look at our weekly distortion of a few perfectly innocent numbers.

Combined Record of Opponents

Pats:  15-9 (BUF, NYJ, ATL, BAL, DEN)

Titans: 15-10 (PIT, HOU, NYJ, JAX, IND)

Lies, damned lies – Pretty even. This seems like a good time to point out that the Titans have gone oh-for-five against this particular degree of difficulty, while the Pats have managed three wins. I should also point out that last week, some people thought the Broncos hadn’t played anybody, ergo, they would buckle under the Pats. The point is, next question.

Run

Pats Offense: 20th, 101.0 YPG, 3.6 AVG (139 attempts)

Titans Defense: 3rd, 75.4 YPG, 2.8 AVG (136 attempts)

Titans Offense: 8th, 127.6 YPG, 5.3 AVG (120 attempts)

Pats Defense: 11th, 96.8 YPG, 4.4 AVG (109 attempts)

Lies, damned lies – The Pats aren’t getting any breaks when it comes to drawing weak rushing defenses. It’s no better on the other side of the ball, even though the Pats are somehow 11th in the league while giving up almost four and a half yards per carry.

Pass

Pats Offense: 6th, 260.8 YPG, 6.5 AVG (207 attempts)

Titans Defense: 31st, 303.0 AVG (193 attempts)

Titans Offense: 21st, 208.2 YPG, 5.7 AVG (188 attempts)

Pats Defense: 13th, 218.0 YPG (170 attempts)

Lies, damned lies – I don’t want to go on a rant here, but twice this week I’ve read that Tom Brady doesn’t look like he did in 2007. Hmmm, 2007…2007….oh, yeah, you mean the season he threw for more touchdowns and directed his team to more points than anybody ever has? The one he (anyone) would have had a tough time following even if he DIDN’T BLOW HIS FUCKING KNEE OUT? Well, no shit, Sherlock. It’s five weeks, by the way. Isn’t the story that it took Peyton Manning about half a season before he regained his form? Wasn’t that the story with Carson Palmer too? Everybody can see he’s playing like shit – which has been pointed out – but let’s not burden him with unrealistic expectations, like children. Regarding the stats, this may be a good week for the Pats to do something about their awful big-play numbers.  The secondary seems to have a chance at redemption too.

Third Down

Pats 3rd Down Offense: 10th, 44% (32-73)

Titans 3rd Down Defense:  14th, 37% (27-73)

Titans 3rd Down Offense:  15th, 38% (26-68)

Pats 3rd Down Defense: 24th, 41% (24-58)

Lies, damned lies – Our eyes are immediately drawn to the Pats third down defense, because we know what happens to you when you can’t get off the field.

Scoring

Pats Offense:  18th, 20.8 AVG

Titans Defense: 29th, 27.8 AVG

Titans Offense:  24th, 16.8 AVG

Pats Defense:  11th, 18.2 AVG

Lies, damned lies – This all looks good, even with the Pats bottom-half offense. At home, against a team that’s struggling against the pass… like I said, it looks good. The truth is they have to win two games against teams with (at the moment) combined record of 0-10, and then get to the break to retool. If the Palmer and Manning examples mean anything, we may see a more approximate version of Brady emerge by then. It seems to me that consistency team-wide would follow.

Kickoff

Pats Kickoff: 4th, 69.6 AVG (8 touchbacks in 23 kicks)

Pats Kick Coverage: 28th, 26.1 AVG (19 returns)

Titans Kick Return: 29th, 19.9 AVG (21 returns)

Titans Kickoff: 23rd, 64.1 AVG (4 touchbacks in 22 kicks)

Titans Kick Coverage: 18th, 23.2 AVG (17 returns)

Pats Kick Return: 14th, 23.0 AVG (21 returns)

Lies, damned lies – I suppose we could argue that the Pats have a chance to fluff up those kick coverage numbers this week, but this all looks like middling crap to me. Draw. I mentioned last week how good Stephen Gostkowski’s kickoffs are and how bad the Patriots’ coverage is of them. I now realize this is probably a function of longer kickoffs; the top four longest hitters (Jacksonville, Denver, Carolina and the Patriots) all have return averages of at least 23 yards.  I probably should have figured that out without looking anything up.

Punt

Titans Punt: 22nd (Net), 37.2 AVG (26 punts)

Titans Punt Coverage: 11 returns, 114 yards, 10.3 AVG

Pats Punt Return:  13th, 7.6 AVG (10 returns)

Pats Punt: 30th (Net), 34.5 AVG (17 punts)

Pats Punt Coverage: 5 returns, 40 yards, 8.0 AVG

Titans Punt Return:  24th, 5.7 AVG (13 returns)

Lies, damned lies – Julian Edelman brought a little spark last week, desperately needed across all of Scott O’Brien’s very average units.

E-mail Scott Benson at [email protected]

Making The Grades, Game 5 at Broncos

by Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff
October 13, 2009

Just so we’re all clear, there are four quarters in a football game. Two halves. It’s at least conceivable that the Patriots forgot those guidelines out in Denver, where they lost to the Broncos, 20-17 in overtime. Maybe it was the thin air. Regardless, one team made some major adjustments at the half and it didn’t look like the Pats. And that’s the biggest reason they are now 3-2 while the amazing Josh McDaniels’ Broncos are still unbeaten. After looking like he’d gotten things figured out last week against the Ravens, Tom Brady regressed back to the first half of the Atlanta game, missing multiple open throws, two of which would have gone for easy touchdowns. There was no Joey Galloway to blame this time. Just Brady, who simply is still not all the way back. On defense, a couple of the usual suspects (Vince Wilfork, Brandon McGowan) had their typical strong games, and the return of Jerod Mayo was a pleasant development. But the continued inability to get one iota of pressure on the quarterback (hello yet again, Derrick Burgess!) led to multiple sustained Denver drives, culminating in a stunning, 98-yard march in the fourth quarter that wound up tying the score at 17. The Patriots had multiple chances to win anyway, but couldn’t capitalize, each time more frustrating than the last. Brady admitted as much, saying that “we really squandered some opportunities that we had in the second half that we don’t normally do. The offense left the defense out to dry.” So with that, batten down the hatches for this week’s report card. The professors here at Patriots Daily University are none too pleased.

OFFENSE: Overall Grade: C

At halftime, this side of the ball was humming right along toward a big, fat A, thanks to two TD passes for Brady, a solid effort in the running game by Sammy Morris and Wes Welker’s continued consistency and excellence, especially on third down. But zero points and 63 yards passing, along with one failed third down attempt after another in the second half broke the Pats collective back. If anyone wants to relive the pain and happens to have the game Tivoed, just watch their first drive of the fourth quarter, on which they were stopped twice, got the ball back each time thanks to penalties by Denver’s punt return team, and still could only move the ball 40 yards in 13 plays. It’s the perfect microcosm of the entire game from the New England perspective. Ouch.

Quarterbacks: C

Boy, was this an tough game for Brady. He’s never played particularly well against Denver (now 1-6) but after looking like he might shed some of those past failures with a very nice first half, he crashed and burned in the second. He finished the day at 19-of-33 for 215 yards and 2 TDs with a 97.4 passer rating, but again, he was just 5-for-14 for only 63 of those yards in the second half. His second quarter overthrow of Randy Moss, who was basically standing alone in the end zone, was a precursor of things to come. In the fourth quarter, on a crucial third down after Denver had tied things up, Brady had Welker over the middle with a step and half on the entire Broncos secondary. But where Welker stayed in stride, Brady threw as if he expected his favorite target to pull up. The throw was right around Welker’s shoetops, wound up bouncing off the grass and marked the second probable score Brady had missed on the day. After a lightning quick three-and-out following Denver’s 98-yard drive, the defense got Brady the ball back with 2:27 left but he fumbled near midfield after a sack by the Broncos’ Vonnie Holliday, which was less his fault than Logan Mankins’, who was torched by Holliday on the play. But still, it ended any chance to win in regulation. The Pats converted as many third downs in the second half as they had points – none. It’s a group effort, undoubtedly, but Brady’s inability to make plays against the completely for real Denver defense was the biggest reason.

Running Backs: B

This was mostly Sammy Morris’ day as he got the bulk of the reps in the absence of Fred Taylor. Morris responded well with 17 rushes for 68 yards (4.0 YPA) and two catches that he turned into a pair of long gains. Kevin Faulk not surprisingly made a couple of nice plays in both the running and passing games, though he only got one third down chance in the second half and was stopped for a one-yard gain on a third-and-3 draw play out of a shotgun formation on that excruciating, early fourth quarter, multiple chance possession. Would have been nice to see BenJarvus Green-Ellis get a few carries with Taylor missing – maybe something of the like is yet to come. And for all you Laurence Maroney fans out there, you can breathe easy. No Maroney bashing this week, but not because he didn’t dance or actually made it through a full game without getting hurt. It’s because he barely played, netting just five carries for 21 yards.

Wide Receivers: C+

Don’t look at the fairly mediocre grade as an indictment of Moss and Welker. Moss was blanketed by all-world cornerback Champ Bailey for most of the afternoon, resulting in just four targets and one catch (which was perfectly executed, timely 36-yard catch and run). Welker made eight grabs for 86 yards and a score and while Brady may have been looking to him a little too much in the second half, that’s not his fault, nor was the the missed connection on that late third down play. No the weaker grade reflects what there is after the two stars. The answer is not much. Julian Edelman continues to have his moments, but he is still very much a work in progress, his failure to get a first down on a second quarter catch near the marker on which he went backwards trying to make a play instead of knowing where he was on the field the most prevailing evidence. And then what? Sam Aiken? No catches, not much more than a special teams guy anyway. And the second consecutive healthy scratch of Galloway signals that the coaching staff must have next to no faith that he can help out in any way. With the trade deadline a week away, I wonder if the Pats may make a move here. It’s unlikely, but at least worth thinking about.

Tight Ends: B

Pity Ben Watson had to leave the game with a head injury. He made another big play before departing – seemingly a weekly occurrence – with his seven-yard score at the end of a textbook, two-minute drill to close out the first half. Chris Baker made no catches but was involved in a close play that involved a replay review that went against the Pats and blocker Michael Matthews almost able to make a running grab of a Brady bomb to the end zone in the fourth quarter that looked like it was intended for a well-covered Moss. All three looked good when called on to stay home and block.

Offensive Line: C

It’s not that this group played all that bad. It’s that one of them had an absolutely horrible day. Logan Mankins, annually regarded as one of the best offensive linemen in the game, had better forget about this one quick. First, on a second quarter third down run by Faulk that moved the team into the edge of field goal range, Mankins leaped onto the two Broncos defenders, elbows out, after the play was over, costing the his team 15 yards and potentially three points in a game that was ultimately decided by that very amount. Then in the fourth quarter, he was singed by Holliday on the sack and fumble that wound up the Pats last chance in regulation (and the game, thanks to the overtime rules). Matt Light was pretty good for three quarters yesterday in keeping Denver speed demon and NFL sack leader Elvis Dumervil off the stat sheet until he got his knee rolled up from behind by Dan Koppen and had to leave. Everyone else was solid in giving Brady time to throw all day, including giant rookie Sebastian Vollmer, who filled in fairly well for Light. But Mankins, who hasn’t had too many days like this one, dragged the rest of them down.

DEFENSE: Overall Grade: C

More victims of the one good half/one bad half syndrome that plagued the offense, the guys on D couldn’t get off the field after halftime, letting the Broncos go up and down the field for scores on them three times, including of course, the 98-yard killer. To be fair, this group did make a couple of stands on the waning minutes, preventing Denver from taking a late lead and allowing the offense a couple more chances to do something. But they were clearly gassed by the time the extra period began with the Broncos charging 53 yards in 11 plays en route to the game winning field goal and subsequent on-field celebration by McDaniels (which, by the way, we can’t say we have a problem with here at PDU). Again, Jerod Mayo’s return was productive and Wilfork and McGowan continued their season-long stellar play. But beyond that, the only good news here is that the next two opponents for the D to redeem itself against are the woeful Titans and Bucs, respectively.

Defensive Line: B

Most of this grade comes courtesy of Wilfork, who was an absolute beast. He was credited with five tackles, including a big stop on third and short in the third quarter and a couple of trips into the backfield both on running and passing plays. Big Vince was the anchor and while Denver did wind up surpassing the 100 rushing yards barrier as a group, rookie burner Knowshon Moreno was mostly just OK. Ty Warren wasn’t as visibly good as in the past couple of weeks and also racked up a rather egregious roughing the passer call when he blasted Denver QB Kyle Orton a good two seconds after Orton released the ball on a second quarter play. Mike Wright didn’t provide much of an encore to his breakout game last week against Baltimore and Jarvis Green, so solid the first four weeks, didn’t register a single statistic.

Linebackers: C+

Such a mixed bag from this group. On the plus side, Mayo’s return netted six tackles and a forced fumble while also allowing the rapidly developing Gary Guyton to move back outside which is his more natural spot. Guyton kept up the good work with five more tackles and rookie Rob Ninkovich, in his first extended time of the season, took advantage of the opportunity with a big pass deflection as well as one of the Pats two sacks. Which brings us to the not so good. Tully Banta-Cain had the other sack, this one on the Broncos last possession of regulation, and it prevented a potential game-winning field goal attempt. The bad news isn’t just that he almost completely sullied the big sack with a completely egregious offsides  call that allowed Denver kicker Matt Prater to boot the winning kick from 41 yards instead of 46. It’s that not only did he and Ninkovich record the team’s only two sacks, they recorded the team’s only two hits on Orton all day long. It’s impossible to go any further without pointing out that once again, Adalius Thomas, who looks like he’s aged about 10 years since last fall, was invisible (one tackle) and has not made a play of any kind since he body slammed Bills QB Trent Edwards and was called for it in Week 1. And once again, we’ll shine the spotlight on Derrick Burgess, supposed pass-rushing specialist (he even has a radio ad in which he refers to himself as such). I don’t know too much about football, but I think pass rushing specialists are supposed to be able to, you know, rush the passer. Burgess has one sack (in the final minutes of Week 1) and eight tackles in five games. He appears to be useless. I hope he does something at some point this season – given the law of averages, I expect he will, someday. But for now, he remains the most puzzling, frustrating player on the defense and arguably, on the entire team.

Secondary: C-

The worst game of the season so far for the DBs. Other than McGowan, who registered nine tackles, two pass deflections and a fumble recovery, no one had anything to brag about. Brandon Meriweather followed up his game ball from the Baltimore win with a gigantic dud. He was consistently out of position, overran multiple plays, was dragged at least five yards by former Pat Daniel Graham on a third quarter play and, perhaps most conspicuously, cost his team 15 yards by taunting Denver receiver Eddie Royal on an incompletion near the end of the 98-yard drive. Yikes. Corners Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs took turns being abused by Denver’s Brandon Marshall, each of them looking awful on Marshall’s two scores, respectively. Bodden led the team with 11 tackles, but that’s a deceiving stat that pretty much only means he was bringing down players who made catches in his general vicinity. Jonathan Wilhite seems overmatched the last couple of weeks and he also failed to come down with a pass on third-and-14 that was tipped by McGowan and went right through his hands before being caught by Bronco Jabar Gaffney – for 14 yards! Darius Butler didn’t play much a week after his big game against the Ravens and rookie Patrick Chung saw some time with the regulars given the injury to James Sanders. This group was victimized by Orton, who completed 35-of-48 for 330 yards and two TDs, a) because there was zero pressure on him all day and b) because McDaniels found the soft spots in the Pats’ zones and subsequently called play after play on which Orton was throwing short to medium range passes that were very low risk. It certainly helps when there is any semblance of a pass rush. But regardless, someone other than McGowan needed to make a play and no one did. Special props to Moss for collecting his first career pick on a last second Hail Mary in the first half.

Special Teams: C

Edelman was the return man du jour and he acquitted himself fairly well, averaging 23 yards per kick return and 11 per punt return. Kick and punt coverage was solid too. But this grade is in the realm of the mediocre because of one Stephen Gostowski, yet another victim of the good half/bad half disease. In the first half, he drilled a career long, 53-yard field goal. In the second, with the Pats up seven late in the third quarter, he shanked a 40-yarder, keeping the Broncos within one score. It was his first miss in his last 12 attempts, an excellent percentage to be sure. But given the circumstances and the eventual outcome, it was as costly a miss as can be.

Coaching: C+

It wasn’t the first time Bill Belichick was outdueled by a former protege. But it may have been the most glaring. Again, that good half/bad half thing must be mentioned because it was the intermission that made all the difference. In the first half, the Pats seemed to have concocted the perfect game plan to combat the Broncos top-ranked scoring defense. They posted 17 points, just nine fewer than Denver had allowed all season prior to the start of the game, and easily left even more out on the field. But if there’s one thing McDaniels learned from  Belichick it’s how to make adjustments at the half, a quality that was very much on display in this game. What wasn’t there for the Broncos on both sides of the ball in the first half was there in the second.  And even though he blew a couple of replay challenges and didn’t see too much from his variation on the Wildcat after the game’s opening drive, he made the right calls when it mattered most. Belichick will be fine, naturally. He’s only the best coach in the game. But McDaniels will only get better and given how good he’s looked through his first five games, especially against the Pats, that’s a scary thought for the rest of the league.

Take a Lap – QB Tom Brady

by Scott Benson, Patriots Daily Staff
October 12, 2009

Where do I begin?

I’ll start with the second conference loss in five weeks. This shit adds up when it comes to tiebreakers in December. That is if we’re even having those conversations in December. Yesterday’s second-half collapse – and the futility displayed therein – was that disconcerting.

When the Pats defense made its last, best stop of the game to turn Denver away before it could win in regulation, I said a little football prayer that the coin flip would come up for New England. It didn’t, and I couldn’t help but think of the last time the Patriots defense played overtime. What followed was eerily familiar, even if the principals were different; a sobering reminder of how far this transitioning defense has yet to go.

In fairness, they were on the field for almost 23 of the final 35 minutes. Which brings me to Tom Brady and the popgun Patriots offense, who don’t scare anyone more than ten yards away from them.

Let me just say this about Brady – spare me the celebrity-stalking pud-pulling because it’s as plain as day what’s “wrong” with him.  His decision-making, his timing, and his execution all suck, and we should be expecting it to, because you don’t sit out of football for a year rebuilding your tattered knee and emerge unscathed.

I defy you to offer a better explanation for that ridiculously ill-timed and ill-thrown slant to Wes Welker that could have won the game for the Patriots. Brady’s antsy, anxious read on that golden opportunity was so unlike anything proffered by his pre-injury self that the cause is as obvious as the effect. There is still more scar tissue – both physical and mental – left to break through, and until Brady does, it will seem as if the entire New England offense is trying to come back from major reconstructive knee surgery.

Not that the others don’t need some kind of rehabilitation themselves. In two straight weeks the Patriots offensive line has allowed someone a clean shot to separate their quarterback from the football. And suddenly, the Patriots passing game has become about as vertical as Tiny Elvis. Man, look at the size of this field! It’s HUGE! And the ball! It’s HUGE!

They’ve played two road games and haven’t scored a point in the second half of either one.

The unfortunate truth is that time waits for no one, least of all a hobbled New England Patriots. These games count, even if Tom Brady and the rest aren’t quite ready for them. Until they are, the Patriots seem destined to run with the pack, rather than in front of it.

E-mail Scott Benson at [email protected]

PD Game Ball – QB Kyle Orton

by Scott Benson, Patriots Daily Staff
October 12, 2009

It was a mustard yellow nightmare is what it was. A throwback game that should literally be thrown back.

For the second time this season, the Patriots have played poorly on the road and lost, both times to teams that harbor their own playoff hopes. Yesterday’s mustard yellow nightmare may end up haunting the Pats tournament dreams come December.

If it does, we can thank in large part Kyle Orton, the prototypical journeyman quarterback who has led the upstart Broncos to a perfect 5-0 record by taking only what is given to him and not a morsel more.

From New England’s pressure-less defense, much was given to Orton yesterday. The former Bear went 21-30 for a smidge under 200 yards in the second half, bringing the Broncos from 10 down to a coin flip that in Orton’s steady hands decided the game.

In hindsight, the Pats may have been better off sending five and six guys at Orton on every play and taken their chances he wouldn’t hit the big one, because the cumulative effect of the little plays (Orton’s specialty) sliced like a hundred drive-extending paper cuts that ultimately took down a ragged New England D.

With no perceptible pressure to Denver’s pocket, and multiple receivers spread from sideline to sideline, Orton always had options. Josh McDaniels had the Bronco receivers crossing the field from all angles, and it tore open passing lanes you could land a plane in. With his feet set and his vision unobstructed, Orton basically played catch on some of the game’s most critical plays, like third-down conversions to Eddie Royal that broke the Patriots’ back in regulation, and again in overtime.

Every week Bill Belichick says the same thing; every game comes down to a handful of plays, and the team that makes them wins. Yesterday Kyle Orton made more than anybody, and he gets this week’s PD game ball.

E-mail Scott Benson at [email protected]

Final Thoughts, at Broncos

by Scott Benson, Patriots Daily Staff
October 11, 2009

Thoughts from a mile high…

  • The inactives will come in later than usual, I assume – but we know the Pats won’t have Fred Taylor of course, and James Sanders (10th in total defensive snaps; see below) has a bum shoulder that will keep him out. Joey Galloway will apparently be inactive again, according to ESPN. Is Galloway going to be the player released to make room for Junior Seau this week?
  • So that’s three of eight inactives already. Assuming the invisible duo (Ohrnberger and Simmons) joins them, now we’re at five of eight, and the chances are getting better and better that Jerod Mayo will play.
  • If he does, he will have completed his comeback from an opening night knee injury in just 26 days. Let that be a lesson to us the next time we’re on the ledge over this sort of thing. We don’t know, we can’t know, because nobody knows.
  • As noted above, the top eleven Pats defenders in terms of total snaps to date – LB Gary Guyton, 99% of all defensive snaps (226, by my count), CB Leigh Bodden, 95%, S Brandon Meriweather, 92%, CB Shawn Springs, 85%, LB Adalius Thomas, 82%, DL Jarvis Green, 79%, S Brandon McGowan, 69%, DL Ty Warren, 64%, DL Vince Wilfork, 62%, S James Sanders, 60%, DL Mike Wright, 59%.
  • Speaking of Mike Reiss (the above was based on his weekly totals), I’m enjoying those ‘Football Journey’ posts he’s been doing on his ESPN Boston Patriots Blog. So far, we’ve gotten back stories on some of the team’s lesser known players, like this one with rookie Myron Pryor. I’m looking forward to seeing how Pryor develops. In spots he’s looked like their quickest, most agile interior lineman, but you know how it goes with young players. They can always go either way.
  • Anyway, back to the above list; the first thing I see is the Pats getting a hell of a lot out of a second year guy who wasn’t even drafted, and the second thing I see is three 09 free agents dominating the secondary.
  • Bodden’s impressed me the most – he’s a tough, competitive guy, and it seems to me he’s making the receivers work all the way through their routes. Even when he’s put in the position of giving up that awful ten-yard cushion, he’s not making it easy. I’m already working up a “they gotta sign this guy” thing here, and we’re only at the quarter pole.
  • I’m such a Josh McDaniels fan that I’m actually happy that Denver is 4-0, but wait a minute – that’s stupid.  A good team in Denver has rarely been a good thing for the Patriots. So screw it – you’re on your own, McDisaster!
  • All week I’ve been figuring this as a tight game, so I’m going to stick with that. The reflex may be to think that Denver’s played nobody, and they’ll sink as soon as they do. I’m not ready to make that leap. I think they’ve already displayed a certain amount of toughness by going 4-0 after the off-season they (coaches and players) just had. They’re going to roll over at home, against the notorious Patriots, in one of the loudest stadiums in the league?
  • The Pats sailed through their recent home stand with flying colors, but today have to win their first road game in a city that has not typically been hospitable to New Englanders. Especially when it’s number two in total defense.
  • Still, the Pats defense will be no day at the beach for Kyle Orton, not if he has to string together 15 play drives to score. So there’s the crux of my ‘tight game’ theory – nothing will come easy for either side. If this game is decided before the 5:00 mark of the fourth quarter, color me surprised.
  • I like Tom Brady in those situations, by the way.
  • First appearance of the all-white road throwbacks today?

E-mail Scott Benson at [email protected]

This Week on PD, October 4 –October 10, 2009

by the Patriots Daily Staff
October 10, 2009

Here’s a rundown of the top five most-read posts on Patriots Daily for the week of October 4 through October 10, 2009.

  1. Media Observations – Rodney, Rodney, Rodney – Last weekend Rodney Harrison needled Tom Brady – and vice versa – and on Monday Bruce Allen captured it all in our most read post of the week.
  2. Take a Lap – Baltimore Ravens – On Tuesday Scott Benson wondered if the Ravens ever take responsibility for a big game loss.
  3. Gut Check – Game Four vs. Ravens – As always, PD readers enjoyed our Monday game re-cap from Chris Warner.
  4. Making the Grades, Game 4 vs. Ravens – On Tuesday, Jeremy Gottlieb’s Ravens report card topped the PD charts.
  5. First Impressions – the Denver Broncos – By Thursday, PD readers were ready to move on to today’s showdown with Josh McDaniels and the Broncos, and Greg Doyle accommodated.

The first quarter of the season has been completed, but not without your support. Thanks to everyone who finds a few minutes each day for Patriots Daily.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics – Pats at Broncos

by Scott Benson, Patriots Daily Staff
October 8, 2009

And now, for some shallow analysis of the Pats coming visit to Denver, let’s see how the New England’s numbers stack up against the surprising Broncos.

Combined Record of Opponents

Pats: 9-6 (BUF, NYJ, ATL, BAL)

Broncos: 6-10 (CIN, CLE, OAK, DAL)

Lies, damned lies – Pats win! Next.

Run

Pats Offense: 17th, 102.2 YPG, 3.7 YPC

Broncos Defense: 5th, 77.2 YPG, 3.2 YPC

Broncos Offense: 4th, 148 YPG, 4.7 YPC

Pats Defense: 11th, 95.2 YPG, 4.5 YPC

Lies, damned lies – ‘4th’ and ‘5th’ sounds a lot better than ‘11th’ and ‘17th’, but then again, Denver has already played two of the worst teams in the NFL. Credit to the Broncos, though; they didn’t lose either time.

Pass

Pats Offense: 5th, 273.8 YPG, 6.5 YPA

Broncos Defense: 3rd, 162.5 YPG, 5.7 YPA

Broncos Offense: 18th, 217.0 YPG, 7.7 YPA

Pats Defense: 7th, 192.2 YPG, 6.9 YPA

Lies, damned lies – I’m thinking Tom Brady presents a pass defense with a few more challenges than, say, JaMarcus Russell. I’m also thinking the Pats pass defense – last week a pleasing blend of madcap blitzing and tight coverage from the secondary in big spots – will force Kyle Orton to complete one hell of a lot of passes to score a touchdown on any given drive.

Kick

Pats Kickoff: 4th, 70.8 AVG (5 touchbacks)

Pats Kick Coverage: 29th, 27.4 AVG

Broncos Kick Return: 30th, 19.6 AVG

Broncos Kickoff: 3rd, 70.9 AVG (9 touchbacks)

Broncos Kick Coverage: 14th, 22.6 AVG

Pats Kick Return: 16th, 23.0 AVG

Broncos Punt: 17th (Net), 37.8 AVG

Broncos Punt Coverage: 9.5 AVG (10 returns)

Pats Punt Return: 21st, 6.8 AVG

Pats Punt: 31st (Net), 31.3 AVG

Pats Punt Coverage: 10.0 AVG (3 returns)

Broncos Punt Return: 18th, 7.8 AVG

Lies, damned lies – I guess the thing that strikes me here is the disparity between Stephen Gostkowski’s kickoffs (average kick is in the end zone) and the average return by the Patriots opponents. Might as well kick it to the 30 and get it over with.

Scoring

Pats Offense: 14th, 87 PTS, 21.8 PPG

Broncos Defense: 1st, 26 PTS, 6.5 PPG

Broncos Offense: 19th, 79 PTS, 19.8 PPG

Pats Defense: 10th, 71 PTS, 17.8 PPG

Pats 3rd Down Offense: 6th, 46 PCT

Broncos 3rd Down Defense: 2nd, 26 PCT

Broncos 3rd Down Offense: 18th, 37 PCT

Pats 3rd Down Defense: 23rd, 41 PCT

Lies, damned lies – It feels like a defensive game, don’t you think?

E-mail Scott Benson at [email protected]

Take a Lap – Baltimore Ravens

by Scott Benson, Patriots Daily Staff
October 6, 2009

First, I should note for posterity’s sake that I was going to tag Matt Light with this week’s “award”, for turning a 17-7 lead to a 17-14 white knuckle thrill ride with one third-quarter stumble on Sunday. But then I realized that stumble came against the lightning-fast Terrell Suggs, he of 55 career sacks and $38 million guaranteed dollars, which gave me pause.

‘Pause’ became ‘pass’ once the Baltimore Ravens opened their post-game mouths.

Naturally, to hear them tell it, this was just another example of the National Football League’s unwavering commitment to the deification of its beloved New England Patriots, winners of every Super Bowl this decade because that’s exactly what the league wants. ESPN too.

“Without totally going off the wall here, it is embarrassing to the game,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “[Tom] Brady is good enough to make his own plays, let him make the play. When you have two great teams that are going at it, let them go at it. Both of their touchdown drives had personal fouls that kept drives alive. Did that win or lose the game? No, but it got them 14 points.”

Hey, it wasn’t why we lost, but we did lose, so you have to wonder if it was because of those extraordinarily biased refs and their transparent propping up of Tom Brady. I’m not saying that’s why we lost though, but…I’m just sayin’.

I might have overlooked all this if they hadn’t done exactly the same fucking thing the last time the two teams played. In the standings, they should replace “L” with “Sc”, because the Ravens never lose a game, they just get screwed out of it.

I have to say I thought John Harbaugh would be different, being that he’s a Harbaugh and everything, but yesterday he was still carrying on about “credibility” while retaining precious little of his own.

The Patriots were credited with 10 quarterback hits and a pair of sacks, both by Mike Wright, who was penalized 15 yards for unnecessary roughness for a helmet-to-helmet blow on Flacco. Harbaugh said Flacco “got hit [six] different times hard, and there was one call.’’

“Tom didn’t get hit five times,’’ said Harbaugh. “We want him to be hit more than he was hit, but when he did sort of get hit, it was called. That goes to the credibility of the whole thing.’’

Hang on a minute. Brady was sacked three times on Sunday, and the two roughing calls makes five, and that’s before we even get to the times he was hit as he threw. But he didn’t get hit five times.  I mean, if you’re going to talk about credibility, at least take the time to get your goddam facts straight. You’re not going anywhere if you’re going to cut those kinds of corners.

Neither is your team.

E-mail Scott Benson at [email protected]

PD Game Ball – S Brandon Meriweather

by Scott Benson, Patriots Daily Staff
October 5, 2009

You don’t beat a 3-0 team without some solid performances on both sides of the ball, but Brandon Meriweather was the best Patriots player on the field yesterday.

It wasn’t just his cross country trek to knock a long touchdown pass away from Derrick Mason in the second quarter; it wasn’t just that he came just as far to run down Ray Rice later in the game, after Rice had sprinted 50 yards beyond the rest of the Pats defense.

It wasn’t just that he kept showing up whenever the ball was tipped, or that he later smartly read a Ravens short pass and nearly stole it. It wasn’t that he led the team in tackles, or that he was both fleet centerfielder and hard-nosed, downhill hitter, often on the same play.

It was all of it, and Meriweather’s performance throughout made this the easiest PD Game Ball of the young season. By the end of the game it actually seemed possible that Meriweather – at times considered a meh first round pick – could be an NFL star.

That’s something that requires more thought, and more Sunday’s like yesterday, but for now, Brandon Meriweather is the PD man of the hour.

E-mail Scott Benson at [email protected]