Wednesday, October 17, 2012

New England Patriots: Why the Team Won't be Hoisting Another Silver Trophy This Year

          If you were to pick one word to describe the New England Patriots this season, the term “inconsistent” might fit perfectly.  The same offense that hung 52 points on the Bills took more than 57 minutes to find the end zone against the Cardinals.  The same defense that had more yards on a fumble return-touchdown in Week 1(6) than Chris Johnson had running the ball for the Titans (4) gave up 101 yards to Ray Rice in Week 3. And the same team that beat the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos let the low-scoring Seahawks have their second-highest offensive output of the season with 24 points.

            New England Patriots fans, it is time to face the music.  This 3-3-0 team that has taken the region on a roller coaster ride for the first six weeks isn’t the real deal.  There are too many inconsistencies in the formerly well-oiled machine that is the New England Patriots to say they are going to be the team everyone predicted they’d be coming into this season.

            Now take a look at the offensive output of the Pats.  They scored like nobody’s business when they went to Orchard Park, New York, but the number of touchdowns they scored in the fourth quarter against the Bills (4) outnumbered the total number of TDs they managed against Arizona and Seattle (3). The reason the Patriots lost to the Cards and ‘Hawks wasn’t because they couldn’t move the ball.  It was because they couldn’t find the end zone against good defenses.  Unless you have a defense full of absolute studs, which the Patriots do not, you have to get the ball across the goal line, not just through the uprights, to win football games.  New England hasn’t shown they can score touchdowns against tougher defensive teams.  

            And it’s not only the Patriots overall offense that’s taking on a Jekyll & Hyde persona this season, but the New England running game seems to come in ebbs and flows as well.  The Patriots have been held to under 100 yards rushing as a team in each of their three losses, but have gone for at least 162 yards on the ground in every win. 

            Even worse for the Patriots: the performance of the run game is a bit of a head scratcher statistically.  They netted 87 yards rushing against a Seattle defense that’s given up the second-fewest yards rushing per game this season at 70.0. Understandable. But three weeks earlier they had only 77 yards on the ground against Baltimore, currently ranked 26th in the NFL in yards rushing allowed per game with 136.5.  What will Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead, and Brandon Bolden do this weekend?  They could go for 300 yards, but they might get held under the century mark too.  They’re just too unpredictable to be able to know what they’re going to do against the Jets and their defense that’s 28th in the NFL in yards rushing allowed per game (150.5).  When you’re relying on your ground game to help carry the offense to the extent the Patriots have been, the fact that the rushing attack only performs in certain seemingly random games is problematic for attempting to guarantee success.
Then there’s that nasty little injury bug that the Patriots seem to have been bitten by this season.  They lost Aaron Hernandez for three games (four really when you consider that he only made it through three plays of the game against the Cardinals).  Everybody from Tom Brady to Dont’a Hightower has been listed on someone’s injury report at one time or another.  And currently says ten active players are “questionable for Sunday’s game against the NY Jets.” 

Having so many guys nicked up can’t be a recipe for success in the NFL. Take a look at the injury reports of some of the best teams in the league.  The 6-0-0 Atlanta Falcons have just three members of their active roster who are questionable for their next game (October 28 against the Eagles).  Ditto for the 5-1-0 Baltimore Ravens.  And the Houston Texans are in even better position: One member of their active roster is doubtful for the team’s game this weekend, one is described as "out indefinitely," and one is going to be placed injured reserve.  Everyone else is either probable, or not injured.

So New England, prepare for yet another year without a Super Bowl victory.  The Patriots will win enough games to make the playoffs, but will eventually be defeated by a better, more consistent opponent, making it yet another that the New England area will have to suffer through a Lombardi-less offseason.

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