Patriots Have Problems Everywhere

The display of inept play by the New England Patriots on Sunday can only be summarized by casting blame on every unit with the possible exception of the return game. The San Diego Chargers humbled the Patriots at home, by handing them the first loss in over two years at Gillette Stadium. Line play on both sides of the ball was sorely lacking by the Patriots. There are so many areas in need of attention, some experts are questioning the team's ability to be a postseason contender.

PHOTO: New England Patriots' Tedy Bruschi, center, sits on the bench during the second quarter against the San Diego Chargers in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Oct. 2, 2005. Bruschi is sitting out the season after suffering a stroke earlier in the year. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Patriots Have Problems Everywhere
By Michael Reardon

After the enormous number of injuries sustained by the Patriots defense this season, most experts agree that in order for New England to make the postseason, the offense will have to perform carry the team. The loss of Matt Light has a relatively minor impact on the team when compared to the losses of Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, Ted Johnson, and a number of injured veterans in the secondary who continue to be held out from games on a week-to-week basis. The offense still possesses its essential components in Tom Brady, Corey Dillon, a healthy wide receiver group, and two talented tight ends. These are the players who will have to step up, to hold on to the ball for as long as possible, move the chains, and score points in order to keep the Patriots defensive weaknesses from being exploited. In their first game after the loss of one of the leaders on defense in Rodney Harrison, the Patriots offensive group showed that they are simply not ready for this responsibility.

While certainly both the offense and defense share the blame for the 41 - 17 shellacking the Pats took courtesy of the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, one must wonder how differently the game would've gone if the offense could have mustered more than one first down in the second half. If Tom Brady had passed for more than 16 yards in the second half, would that have helped the defense? If the Patriots had managed to keep the defense from having to play over 20 minutes in the second half, could they maybe have prevented a couple of the Chargers' scoring drives? A good example of how it could have worked better is the first half of this very game. In the first half, when the Patriots were busy amassing 243 yards of total offense, the Chargers managed just 73 yards on the ground. In the second half when the Patriots offense was on life support, the Chargers rushed for 110.

These numbers are not a coincidence, and are even more disturbing when put into context of the entire season up to this point. Currently, the Patriots are averaging 24.75 points per game; a number that is short of the 26.25 of last year after the same number of games. Beyond a simple average of points scored, there are certain statistics that are a good way to check the "vital signs" of a team's offense and a comparison of those statistics to last year's, there is an apparent and disturbingly consistent drop in production. In 2005, after four games played in the first season without Charlie Weis, the Patriots have gotten worse in points scored, 3rd down conversion rates, touchdowns, time of possession, and virtually every rushing statistic used to measure a teams offensive capability. The play calling distribution has changed dramatically as the Patriots currently call a pass play 63% of the time. Through the first four games last year, the Patriots were calling pass plays 49% of the time, exhibiting a more balanced approach on offense.

Opposing defenses are obviously aware of this trend with the Chargers San Diego defense playing the pass unconcerned about being beaten by Corey Dillon and the Patriots rushing attack. The Chargers game plan of stopping Brady first and then worrying about the ground game second worked well. Dillon's 4.5 yards per carry, his best of the season, was not indicative of an en effective running game. If you subtract the 29 yard run that Dillon broke early in the first quarter, Dillon's remaining production gives him a 2.6 yards per carry average; a number that is much closer to the amount of respect the Chargers defense needed to pay to New England's running game.

As a result of the defense's inability to slow down the Chargers, it was up to Brady to produce an entire game's production single-handedly. Unlike last week, Brady was unable lead the offense to a heroic second half comeback with the offense sputtering miserably where it mattered - on the scoreboard. Brady threw for over 200 yards in the first half and was then held for an appallingly low 16 total passing yards in the second half. After converting 43% of third downs in the first half, the Patriots could convert only a single third down in the second. In the first half, the Patriots ran 36 plays, in the second only 18. They held the ball for just under 15 minutes in the first two quarters and just 9 in the latter two. In the fourth quarter, the time when Brady is most known for his heroics, the Patriots possessed the ball for just over three minutes.

This incredible display of offensive ineffectiveness exposed the New England defense to the high octane San Diego offense powered by a hard running Ladainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates. Tomlinson, who averaged over 5 yards per carry on the game, got almost half of his 134 total rushing yards in the second half against a Patriot defense that played on its heels. Patriots' tacklers were dragged for yards after contact by Tomlinson or Michael Turner, a chance of pace back, who chipped in 44 yards on 11 carries. Brees was unhindered by the sporadic Patriots pass rush. The Pro Bowl quarterback turned in an efficient performance, completing 79% of his passes for 248 yards and 2 TDs. His most prominent receiver of the day was Antonio Gates who caught 6 passes for over 100 yards. Gates was always open when the Chargers really needed a completion to move the chains.

The Chargers offense should be credited with a well-played game. Much of their offensive success was the result of breakdowns in every aspect of the Patriots defense's game. The Patriots counted on their defensive line to exert pressure on Brees by itself; it couldn't. They dropped back into coverage and expected their secondary to make it difficult for Brees to find open receivers; they didn't. They relied on the New England linebacking group to be able to at least slow town Tomlinson; they couldn't manage even that. They planned on bumping Antonio Gates at the line and making it difficult for him to get open; they failed. Of the Chargers last 7 possessions of the game, 5 ended in touchdowns and another with a FG. The Patriot defense forced only one punt, and it was with just 4:30 left in the fourth quarter when the game was far out of reach. They produced no turnovers and allowed the Chargers to convert six of eight third down conversions, while possessing the ball for over 20 minutes in the second half.

The Patriots showed a complete inability to adjust to halftime changes made by their opponent. This fact points to a disturbing possibility that the departures of Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel may have been too much for this team to bear. The Chargers playmakers had a great game, but the Patriots would've lost to most of the teams in the NFL playing like they did. In order for New England to have a shot at winning against the Falcons, another team with a very powerful running game anchored by Michael Vick, Warrick Dunn, and T.J. Duckett, the Patriots will have to show drastic improvement on both sides of the ball.

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