It’s happening again, and it’s not good. After being plowed in the trenches by Miami’s brand new offensive line and watching Cameron Wake prove once again that he is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, Bill Belichick and the rest of the coaching staff need to figure out some way to “execute” more effectively. Sunday marked the third straight year in which New England has come out of the gates looking like it got shot in the leg.
In 2012, the Pats rolled over a soft Tennessee team in Week 1, but then suffered a painstaking home loss to Arizona before losing at Baltimore in Week 3. Last season, the Patriots started 4-0, but had great difficulty in doing so. Facing a rookie quarterback during Week 1 in Buffalo, Tom Brady had to lead a 4th quarter comeback that led to a last second Gostkowski field goal. The next Thursday resulted in an atrociously played game by both the Jets and Patriots, in which, frankly, neither team deserved to win. The Pats managed to hold on to a 13-10 lead despite not scoring in the second half.
Now, going into the second week of the 2014 season, Belichick and Brady are facing the same problems again. Brady seems out of sync with almost all of his receivers. Belichick did nothing about the embarrassingly bad play calling from offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. The defense got flagged for unnecessary penalties. On and on goes the list of recurring mistakes that seem to happen every year. Even the almighty Gronk couldn’t help. It seems strange that, for a coach so adept at capitalizing on other teams’ mistakes, Belichick can’t fix his own.
Sunday brings a visit to Minnesota to take on Adrian Peterson’s Vikings. I expect the Patriots to come out with one of two game plans: either let AP run or attempt to shut him down. The choice isn’t as obvious as it may seem, as each strategy focuses on making Minnesota one-dimensional. The first option is to sit back and lock down the Vikings subpar receiving core, while allowing Adrian Peterson to more or less do as he pleases. If and when Minnesota gets to the red zone, the Pats would lock down the running game and force a bunch of field goal tries in what could potentially be frigid conditions (it snowed in Montana this Wednesday).
Option two would be crowding the box in an effort to try to contain AP in the running game. If New England stuffed Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, and others into the running lanes, it seems inconceivable that a normal human could find any room. Unfortunately, Peterson is not normal. He will always get his yards, no matter how you defend him. The key in shutting down this offense will be limiting Cordarelle Patterson’s space and making former friend Matt Cassel uncomfortable when he’s forced to throw downfield.
No matter what Belichick decides to do, I (and all other Patriots’ fans should) have the utmost confidence in him. Sure, his teams haven’t always had explosive starts to the season, but almost every year it seems like the Pats get going and start a winning streak around Week 3 or 4. That would be perfect timing this season, as Minnesota and Oakland the next two games should be two of the easiest all year. After that, the schedule starts to stiffen.
One final thing I’d like to discuss is the Logan Mankins trade. Many fans have been bashing Belichick for this move, and they have valid reasoning. Why, seemingly out of the blue, would a Super Bowl contender trade an offensive captain and the third-longest tenured player on the team? There’s a pretty simple answer: it’s about the future. With Mankins’ salary off the books, the Patriots will have room to resign pro bowlers Devin McCourty and Darrelle Revis. These two can each give the team 5-10 more years of elite play in a position group that’s becoming vitally important in the pass-happy NFL.
The return for Mankins wasn’t too shabby either, depending on your impression of Tim Wright. He’s a guy that was unheralded in Tampa Bay because, well, he played in Tampa Bay. Now, though, he’ll be catching lots of passes from a Hall of Fame quarterback in a dynamic offensive system. Being a Rutgers guy (because who isn’t nowadays?), Wright should transition just fine even though he only caught three passes in Miami. Once he earns Brady’s trust, I see him catching 60-70 passes, and even more if Gronk goes down.
Don’t fret, Patriots fans, the team had a bad week. It happens to everybody. Expect them to go out and make a statement against Minnesota on Sunday.