Scott: There's a lot of inconsistency with Brady and the New England receivers. Part of that is the schemes the team has run and a lot of it is in the adjustments. Brady, like Manning and other veteran signal callers, sees a lot of what the defense is trying to do to slow down the Patriots passing game. When Brady tries to check out of the play, sometimes the experience of his receivers becomes an obstacle because they fail to make the proper adjustment.
The thing to remember is aside from the Colts game, which should be considered an anomaly due to the unusual game plan, the Patriots quarterback has been getting more production out of the receivers. Doug Gabriel appears to be "getting it," and Reche Caldwell had his two best games as a Patriot. Jabar Gaffney was only in his third week as a Patriot against Indy, and the rookie Chad Jackson had a lot of work to get familiar with a pro system like New England's so there's still a lot o upside for the unit, but it will take time.
Leberfeld: How is Steven Gostkowski doing replacing Adam Vinatieri?
Scott: Stephen Gostkowski has been a decent replacement for Adam Vinatieri. As you may or may not have noticed, both kickers missed field goals last week, with Gostkowski pushing the ball wide right on a 36-yarder while Vinatieri missed field goals of 37 and 46 yards. Gostkowski basically won the head-to-head matchup by having better kickoffs and nailing the game long 49-yarder.
As for consistency, there's no question New England would love to have Vinatieri back in the fold rather than breaking in a new kicker. Vinatieri was perfect on PATs and FGs before coming to Foxboro, while Gostkowski missed some manageable kicks that weren't game-changers, but show why he still has work to do to become more consistent.
One thing about Gostkowski is that he has a stronger leg than Vinatieri and has shown why the Patriots drafted him over the other kickers they looked at like Ohio State's Josh Huston and Virginia's Connor Hughes. New England liked Gostkowski's leg strength so much they went with him over veteran Martin Gramatica who looked more consistent during camp, but struggled to get the ball into the end zone on kickoffs.
Leberfeld: How much does the injury to safety Rodney Harrison hurt this defense?
Scott: The loss of Harrison is big. He was the glue that held the secondary together and helped get guys into position. It's not that other guys are unable to communicate, it's more about Harrison being the unquestioned leader in the secondary, and now there's none. Harrison also seems to be in the right place at the right time to bat the ball away or to make the big hit and set the tone on defense. Chad Scott has done well to mimic Harrison's style of play, but the absence of Rodney is a big deal and shouldn't be minimalized.
Leberfeld: Would it be fair to say the Patriots are average at cornerback, and the Jets should be able do some damage against them?
Scott: The Patriots have struggled with coverage in their secondary, and a lot of that has to do with the cornerbacks. You can say that they are average, but like most defensive backs, they have their moments, or games where they come up big. The thing about the New England corners is that they can be burned, and they have been burned. It's almost as much an issue of the group as a whole vs the two starting corners.
If the front seven doesn't get pressure on the quarterback, the Patriots defense loses a lot of it's teeth. New York showed they can pass the ball, although a lot of their yardage in the last game against the Patriots came on a few big plays. Barring mistackles, the Patriots should give the Jets receivers a tough time, although I think they will still get their yards. That's just the way the scheme works. They play to prevent scores, not yards.
Leberfeld: Has the Patriots home field advantage slipped a little this year? The crowd seemed a little dead during the Colts game.
Scott: That's a great debate in New England. Many fans, and even some players feel that the crowd is missing. I've been to games where the middle (Club) section is missing. It's strange to look out at the crowd and see a host of empty seats in the middle tier. A lot of it has to do with the culture the NFL is catering to. They are raising ticket prices and pushing to increase revenue. While they're successful at that, the crowd they're drawing in, are not the same die hard, blue collar, scream for 3 hours types… they're the type that head into the club lounge when it rains, or when the team is down.
Richard Seymour called out the fans for not being loud enough, and quite frankly, he was right. He wasn't insulting them, he was just saying, it's not normal to have a crowd that quiet.
The Krafts have done an excellent job building a well-run, moneymaking operation, but they may have overestimated their audience's infatuation with the team. They'll still sell out the stadium at some of the highest prices in the NFL because of the team's success, but it won't be to the same loud, fanatical crowds in the past. One season ticket holder told me he felt that the it's turning into San Francisco with the wine and cheese crowd snapping up the seats that Joe Budweiser can't afford anymore.
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