Patriots Report Card: Running Game Gets Low Marks

The Patriots offense can't just rely on Brady. They need to establish a running game to keep defenses honest.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus
Quarterback Tom Brady completed 22-of-34 passes for 228 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions while being sacked twice and spreading the ball around to eight different receivers. Tight end Daniel Graham led the charge with a 27-yard touchdown reception to open the game and a 30-yarder down the middle that split the safeties among his five grabs for 69 yards.

Wideout David Givens made a tremendous 32-yard, leaping catch to set up a field goal and Troy Brown returned to catch four passes for 43 yards and a touchdown. Brady completed a third-and-14 and a third-and-20 on the team's second scoring drive with passes for 18 yards and 23 yards to Givens and Brown, respectively. But the Patriots seemed to leave some plays on the field. Brady missed a couple of open targets and fullback Larry Centers dropped an easy touchdown pass. The protection was excellent with one sack coming on the last play of the half as Brady held the ball waiting for something to open up.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D
The Patriots cannot run the football. Other than an occasion squirt into the secondary that catches the opponent off guard, the Patriots get no production from the running game with either Antowain Smith or Kevin Faulk running it. Smith carried 17 times for 39 yards, but did fight his way through for a 1-yard touchdown with a strong second effort and had a 14-yard run that boosted his average to 2.3 yards per carry.

Faulk carried 11 times for 34 yards. Because the Patriots have stayed in games, they've been able to continue calling run plays despite the lack of success. Sunday, they ran 32 times and passed 34, which is obviously good play-calling balance. Now if they could get just an inkling of production from the running game, the offense might offer a consistent threat. But 15 weeks into the season, that's highly unlikely.

PASS DEFENSE: B-minus
Early on, Jacksonville rookie quarterback Byron Leftwich had his way throwing the ball. He opened the game with a 12-yard pass to an uncovered Jimmy Smith, who then raced another 55 yards for a 67-yard gain to the Patriots 9-yard line to set up a field goal. Then on Jacksonville's second possession, Leftwich completed passes for 21 yards, 15 yards and 9 yards on a third-and-eight. He would have finished the drive off with a 5-yard touchdown pass but running back Fred Taylor dropped it. He also completed a 28-yarder before the half to set up a field goal try that Seth Marler missed from 34 yards. At halftime, Leftwich was 9-of-13 for 163 yards.

But the second half was a different story. He completed just 12-of-27 passes for 125 yards in the second half while tossing a pair of fourth quarter interceptions, both to Tyrone Poole, that New England converted into 14 points to turn a 13-6 game into a 27-6 rout. The Patriots did have their four-game streak without allowing a touchdown at home snapped with 3:22 left when Leftwich threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Johnson with rookie Asante Samuel in coverage. The Patriots had just one sack in the game, but they definitely turned up the heat in the second half.

RUSH DEFENSE: B
Fred Taylor showed early why he is one of the league's best runners when he used his elusiveness and power to find running room. But the Patriots buckled down when they had to. On Jacksonville's second field goal drive, Taylor ran three times for 19 yards between the 20s, but once inside the Patriots red area, he was limited to three carries for 2 yards. He finished with 16 carries for 57 yards and 3.6 yards per rush.

The Patriots will take that any day of the week, especially with Taylor coming of a 163-yard effort a week earlier. The score certainly helped keep Taylor's production down and neutralized the impressive runner. Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi combined for 21 tackles while Richard Seymour added seven tackles in just more than a half of action.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A
What else can they get when they re-sign struggling punter Ken Walter and he steps in and punts wonderfully. He punted so well and the coverage was so strong that his net average (40.5 yards) was actually better than his gross average (40.3 yards). He had three of his four punts downed inside the 20-yard line. Troy Brown was solid returning punts in the wintry conditions and Adam Vinatieri connected on both of his field goal tries with his holder, Walter, back. Sean McDermott stepped in to long snap in Lonie Paxton's place. He nearly had an errant snap on a field goal, but Walter was able to pull the high snap down.

COACHING: B
Bill Belichick was unhappy with his team's focus and told it so after the game, but whatever the defensive coaches said or did at halftime worked wonders as the defense returned to form after a shaky first half. The Patriots continued to work the conditions to their advantage. Knowing the weather forecast and the impending snow that was to come, the Patriots tried to throw early to move the football and put up some quick points before the conditions deteriorated. They did just that, scoring 10 points on their first two possessions, including a touchdown on the opening drive that included a fourth-and-two conversion from the Jaguars 30 one play before Brady hit Graham for a 27-yard touchdown.

The Patriots did a solid job of keeping Byron Leftwich from finding a groove in the second half by constantly changing the coverages. But New England had some discipline problems, picking up three 15-yard personal foul penalties among their four infractions and also nearly losing a touchdown when Tyrone Poole was caught from behind inside the 5-yard line as he began a premature celebration. The late garbage-time touchdown allowed was disappointing, but unimportant to Belichick with two division games upcoming to finish the season. Belichick deserves some credit, whether or not it was the right move, for making the difficult decision to bench Richard Seymour for the first quarter-plus.

Seymour left Foxborough this week to attend his grandfather's funeral, but apparently missed too much practice time for the coach's liking, although Belichick referred to the move only as "a coaching decision." But it's not easy to put your best player on the bench with an explosive back like Fred Taylor on the field. It was a message to his team that no one is above team rules. We'll see if that ends up being a positive.


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