Jon Scott: That game was a complete breakdown, from coaching to communication and execution. You saw the Patriots hang with the Saints in the first half until they had three specific breakdowns. 1) Tom Brady's interception; 2) Blown coverage on Devery Henderson's 75-yard TD; and 3) Horrible coverage – tackling on another catch which turned into Marques Colston 68 yard catch-and-run allowing the Saints to extend their 24-17 lead.
Patriots corner Jonathan Wilhite was exposed as just an average cornerback, though Wilhite (a 2008 4th-round pick) had taken playing time away from (2008 2nd-round pick) Terrence Wheatley. With Wilhite's last gaffe, another TD for the Saints in the first half, the Patriots moved rookie Darius Butler (2009, 2nd round) into the lineup and Wilhite back to nickel. The Saints still scored 14 more points, but the blown coverages were limited at that point. Tool little too late.
Q: Is Junior Seau making any kind of impact whatsoever?
JS: Seau has been inactive the past few weeks because of the numbers game. Although he's not on the field, he's still an invaluable addition to the Patriots roster. The one thing Seau brings above all else is an amazing commitment to the game and his team. He's in the facility working out before the other players, he's studying film right alongside them, helping the younger players see things on the field that they normally wouldn't see. Having him on the roster has been big for New England. Plus, as much as I wasn't a fan of Seau when he was in Miami for production reasons, he's been an amazing asset to the Patriots. He's a huge fan favorite. I'm glad I get to see him play. You know you're around a Hall of Fame player when you see him, from his time in San Diego, to the Dolphins and now in New England. He's been a great player to watch. Hopefully we'll see more of him down the road.
Q: Nose tackle Vince Wilfork lined up at end on several plays in the first meeting between the Dolphins and Patriots; how unusual was that, and what was the reason?
JS: The line shuffling was a surprise with Wilfork on the end, but one thing New England likes to do is to create mismatches. Vince is nearly impossible to block one-on-one when he has a head of steam rolling. By moving him outside, it allowed the Patriots to put together a much tougher front to run against than the standard 3-4 alignment which relies on New England's linebackers. Wilfork is on a tackle and a tight end and creates a perfect edge setter. Then having Ty Warren on the other side, or letting Jarvis Green and Mike Wright move to end, the Patriots have a better edge to contain the Wildcat. Then the Patriots put more beef in the middle with a combination of Green, Wright, Myron Pryor and even Ron Brace.
Q: Is linebacker Jerod Mayo having the same kind of year he had as a rookie?
JS: The short answer is no. Mayo was hurt early and it seems like he's still trying to come back from that injury though he's not been on the injury report. He missed four weeks, starting with the loss to the Jets at the Meadowlands and he returned in sub packages against the Broncos – another loss. So when he's not at full strength, the team has issues stopping the run. We've already seen the other problems against the pass. You could call Mayo's season a sophomore slump, but that may be overstating the problem. I really think it's related to the injuries on this roster, and Mayo's only physical condition.
Q: It seems the Patriots special teams have been mediocre this season; what has been the reason?
JS: They haven't been that special, though Wes Welker's 46-yard punt return against the Saints last week was pretty good. The team lost their kick returners in Ellis Hobbs from 2008, then 2009 rookie Brandon Tate showed promise before landing on IR after his first few games back. Rookie WR Julian Edelman also showed promise in the beginning of the season but has a broken bone in his arm and is working his way back. Terrence Nunn, the other returner, was signed off the practice squad and Laurence Maroney – who had a 52-yarder earlier in the season, is now the Patriots' top RB, so he's off the specials teams unit.
2008 draft pick Matt Slater has yet to get it done returning kicks. A great kid, but his stats are not impressive in the return game. He was lit up in the Saints game on a late return. You can see he's trying hard, but the impact of injuries on the roster has affected special teams. Slater is averaging 27 yards per return, to lead the team, slightly better than Tate's 26.5.
The flip side has been the Patriots have not allowed a punt return longer than 16 yards or a kick return longer than 44. In the field goal game, the Patriots have a new long snapper, Jake Ingram, after years of seeing Lonie Paxton at center. Ingram has done well enough, but there has been some adjustment by the unit. Stephen Gostkowski is 21 of 26 and continues to fall off his team record for accuracy. He was the most accurate kicker in Patriots history, but his recent misses are pushing him down that list.
The final point on Special Teams is that the Patriots have a new position coach, Scott O'Brien, who hails from Belichick's Cleveland days. Brad Seely moved on with Paxton to join Josh McDaniels in Denver. That change also seems to be impacting the team negatively.