The Patriots are toeing the tightrope between awesome and average.
Whoa, Chicken Little. Easy on the sky-is-falling talk.
The simple truth is these aren?t your 16-0 Patriots. They?re not your 18-1 Patriots. And there?s a chance they might not even be your 2005 Patriots. But that doesn?t mean you should jam up sports talk phone lines with decries of doomsday.
There is no denying that the Patriots are a team in transition. On defense, they?re still finding out what they have in a collection of prospects and projects. Losing linebacker Jerod Mayo — unquestionably their best defensive player — is a problem. But I can?t sit here and complain about the job the defense did against the Jets. Sure, they allowed rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez to look poised in the face of pressure (particularly on 3rd down). But if you told me on Saturday that they?d leave the Meadowlands holding the Jets to 16 points, I?d have guaranteed a win.
Now, let?s get this straight: The Jets are no joke. Heard plenty of that talk coming into the season and thought it was ridiculous then. Clearly, after New York stifled the Pats in a 16-9 win, it?s an even more ridiculous notion now. The fact of the matter is Rex Ryan knows a little something about defense. And say what you will about the amount of yapping coming out of the Jets locker room, but they have walked the walk. We?ll see if that changes in November, of course.
If the Jets exposed anything about the Patriots, it?s that their offense could use a running game, especially while Tom Brady still finds his football legs in the early going.
Granted with Brady throwing to Randy Moss, Wes Welker, et al, the Patriots offense will always be a pass-happy one. But in order to sell play-action pass, you must at least have the threat of a running game. We?re not looking for the second coming of Adrian Peterson here. Just another Corey Dillon, really.
Heading into Week 3, the Patriots rank 26th in rushing offense, just a tick above the Cleveland Browns. And it?s not like Fred Taylor (17 carries, 71 yards, 4.2 avg) and Laurence Maroney (16 carries, 55 yards, 3.4 avg) aren?t capable backs. Though Taylor has miles on the meter, he needs more touches. The veteran even hinted at it in the locker room on Monday.
And a visit from the Atlanta Falcons (19th in rushing defense) offers the opportune time to feed the ground game. Where the Jets and Bills each allowed less than 70 yards rushing per game, Falcons opponents are averaging 120 yards on the ground.
Balance is key, even for the best passing offense in the game. Tom Brady threw 53 times against the Bills and 47 times against the Jets, while the Patriots rushed just 20 and 23 times, respectively. In that record setting 2007 season — the one many felt this year would be a sequel to — Pats backs averaged 28 carries per game, while Brady logged roughly 36 attempts per week.
Even in what is obviously a transition period, this Patriots team is capable of reaching the Super Bowl. They just need to hurry up and find the right formula.
Four Downs: Falcons (2-0) at Patriots (1-1), 1:00 p.m.
1st: Let there no longer be any doubting how important Wes Welker is to the Patriots offense (not that anyone was). While rookie Julian Edelman impressed doing his best Welker impersonation against the Jets, Welker was missed for the little things like timing and positioning in the offense. He missed good portions of practice this week, though I expect him to play this Sunday.
2nd: The Patriots need more out of their secondary this week, or Matt Ryan will go to town at Gillette. The Boston College product has looked sharp two games into his second NFL season (5 TDs to 1 INT) thanks in large part to the addition of tight end Tony Gonzalez. Bill Belichick spoke earlier in the season about just how difficult a matchup Gonzalez is for a defense, since he?s still too fast for a linebacker, but too strong for a defensive back. Good luck with that.
3rd: With Tom Brady struggling to find his form early on, the Patriots rank 26th in Red Zone offense and have failed to produce touchdowns on 19 of 21 offensive possessions. Given the way the Jets played, the book is clearly out on Brady in defensive meeting rooms around the NFL: apply pressure. Lot of pressure.
4th: Paging Joey Galloway?Joey Galloway to the same page in the playbook as your quarterback, please.
Adrian Peterson: Has it occurred to anyone that we?re watching the next great NFL running back?
Antwan Odom: The big Bengals defensive end has seven sacks in two games, including a team-record five sacks of Aaron Rodgers last week.
Mark Sanchez: The rookie quarterback is impressing, and it?s not just because the he plays in New York. Forget that Sanchez?s numbers haven?t been eye-popping; his confidence and decision making have been.
Down and Out
Tony Romo: The Cowboys quarterback turned in a clunker against the rival Giants on national TV with three interceptions last Sunday night, prompting Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett to wonder out loud why Romo is considered a superstar. Sounds like Romo needs another trip to Cabo. You know, to get away from it all.
Terrell Owens: Gotta hand it to the guy, he?s not even three games into his Bills career and it appears he?s already at odds in Buffalo. Let?s just say Jeff Garcia, Donovan McNabb and Tony Romo all told you so.
Brady Quinn: He gets a vote of confidence from his head coach, even though the cries for Derek Anderson have already started in Cleveland. Looking at the rest of the Browns so-called offense, if I?m Anderson, I?m just fine holding the clipboard, thank you very much.
Let me be clear here?start Frank Gore. Each week. Every week. Why not even the bye week? I say this, not because Frank Gore is single-handedly carrying my NESN fantasy football team right now, but because he may also be single-handedly carrying the 49?ers, too. Granted, he?s up against a solid Vikings run defense this week. But again, after a 207-yard performance last week, just start Gore.
I fall off my chair laughing every time I watch a blindfolded Braylon Edwards — who led the NFL in drops last year — talk about the art of catching a football. Browns fans throw up a little in their mouths whenever they see this classic commercial. I do love irony.
I said I wasn?t going to do it? but I can?t resist the urge to pick. Give me?
Patriots over the Falcons (Not at Gillette, Matty Ice)
Lions over the Redskins (I?m buying a Detroit upset)
Raiders over the Broncos (Not buying 2-0 Broncos)
Bears over Seahawks (Cutler puts it together)
Ravens over Browns (duh)
Packers over Rams (Believe in Aaron Rodgers)
Vikings over 49?ers (Gore vs. Peterson = must see)
Titans over Jets (Tennessee needs it)
Eagles over Chiefs (Michael Vick in Wildcat!)
Giants over Bucs (Mario Manningham can fly)
Texans over Jaguars (Matt Schaub = underrated)
Saints over Bills (Drew Brees has nine touchdowns in two games)
Steelers over Bengals (barely, actually)
Chargers over Dolphins (I think)
Colts over Cards (just not feeling Arizona)
Cowboys over Panthers (how disappointing is Carolina?)