The New England Patriots dropped their second home game of the young season, as they fell to the visiting Carolina Panthers, 33-30, Sunday afternoon. Let’s take a look at the initial three up, three down for the Patriots, without the benefit of film review.
Up #3: EDGE Trey Flowers
Trey Flowers is the only player on the defense that has earned a solid grade thus far in the season. He has been the Patriots most consistent pass rusher, as well as making timely plays for them.
This week, Flowers perfectly punched the ball out of Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart’s possession on the Panthers opening drive of the second half. They gained 66 yards on six plays thus far in the drive, and Flowers provided the Patriots with a timely turnover.
He also had four quarterback pressures, including two registered quarterback hits, by my count, as he was, and has been, the Patriots most consistent pass rusher this season, and it’s not even close.
Down #3: The Coaching Staff
As Bill Belichick has said before, “players win football games, coaches lose them.” Well, this was especially the case Sunday.
Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia all had down days, especially Patricia, who was seen yelling at his players as the first half ended.
The defense is on a historically atrocious pace through four games, and there are no signs of any improvement. When the Patriots faced the Chiefs in the season opener, I excused the defensive miscommunications, since it was only the first week of the season.
This is now back to back weeks where the defense is running around like chickens who just had their heads chopped off. It is painful to watch.
Belichick deserves blame as well, since we praise him whenever the defense is performing well, Bill needs to be held accountable whenever the defense is struggling.
At this point, I think it would be easier if Belichick decided to ditch his ‘we’re going to do a lot of different stuff so we are harder to game plan against’ and just stick to simple two man under concepts, as well as easy zone coverages that let the players make plays. What’s going on defensively right now will cost them if they can not improve.
Up #2: TE Rob Gronkowski
Gronk still, in my opinion, does not look like the dominant Gronk we are accustomed to seeing. Gronkowski hauled in four catches for 80 yards, as well as drawing a 33 yard pass interference early in the second quarter.
That being said, Gronk still is playing really well this season. He has been reliable over the middle, and has shown up late in games. His blocking was good against a tough Panthers front seven.
Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly owned him at times, both in coverage and in the run game, but Gronk won his fair share of battles as well. It’s always fun to watch those two go at it.
Down #2: LB Kyle Van Noy
It is clear to me now that Kyle Van Noy can never become the three down linebacker Belichick and Patricia desperately want him to be.
His strength is rushing the passer on passing downs, and he is decent in coverage.
Against the run? It is brutal to watch. He can not disengage from blockers, not in time at least. He is an alright tackler, but he does not have the instincts a middle linebacker requires.
The simple solution is to let Hightower man the middle, once he is fully healthy, and allow Van Noy to focus solely on passing downs.
Up #1: QB Tom Brady
Brady was obviously the Patriots best player Sunday, as he has been all season long. He led his team on a mission in the fourth quarter, being down 14 with less than nine minutes to play, and tied the game with three minutes left on fourth and goal.
He was not under siege like last week, as the offensive line played well for the situation they were put in.
Now to the bad. The Patriots offense averaged 5.5 yards per play, their worst total since week one. The Patriots went through about 35 minutes of game play where they did not reach the end zone, only mustering two field goals.
It’s been a constant theme with the Patriots offense, where they get off to a good start, and hibernate for the middle of the game, only to find themselves down when the fourth quarter arrives, and they start to score again.
That is no way to live. Especially with the defense struggling as bad as they are.
Every defense plays better with the lead. It put the pressure on the opposing offense, and sometimes forces the offense into pass-only situations, allowing the defensive line to tee off and get after the quarterback.
The peripheral stats for Brady this season are fantastic and all, but the inability to score in the middle of games is hurting the team’s chances to win.
Down #1: Patriots secondary
I only have one word to describe the Patriots secondary play through four weeks: yuck. It has been beyond discouraging to watch a Belichick-coached defense run around with so little structure.
It is more discouraging when it is essentially the same group that won them the Super Bowl last year. The only difference being the main culprit: cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
Let’s focus on Gilmore for a bit, since he has been absolutely awful since donning the Patriots uniform. There were five plays that Gilmore was involved in that made me question how smart he is as a football player.
The first play was the Panthers first touchdown of the game, where Gilmore, along with McCourty, decided to vacate a third of the field, and allow Fozzy Whittaker to march into the end zone untouched.
Cam Newton actually made the wrong throw on the play, as he had Dickson down the field on the same sideline with no defender within 15 feet of him.
The second play was on 3rd and nine with about a minute left in the first half, and Kelvin Benjamin was wide open for a 43 yard play down the field.
There seemed to be a miscommunication between Eric Rowe and Gilmore, but Gilmore has been in the center of almost every secondary breakdown, so you can’t give Gilmore the benefit of the doubt.
The third play was two plays after the aforementioned play, when Funchess was wide open for a 10 yard touchdown. Devin McCourty pointed to Gilmore saying he has Funchess, and then words were exchanged between Gilmore and Rowe. Again, Gilmore was in the middle of this breakdown.
There were then two hands to the face penalties that costed the Patriots big time, both on third downs, both completely unnecessary and both drives ended with scores.
The first was on third and eight, and three plays later, the Panthers scored a touchdown to go up seven. The second was on the game winning drive on third and seven, when it seemed Brady was going to be able to pull it out, and Gilmore essentially cost them the game.
Let’s not forget about McCourty and Rowe. McCourty was in the middle of most of the miscommunications on the back end as well, and Rowe missed a tackle on Funchess on third down that would have forced a third down.
This is flat out unacceptable. The Patriots defense is on pace to be one of the worst defenses, of all time. It starts with the secondary, and they need to get it figured out quickly if they hope to stop an explosive Buccaneers offense on their home turf, on a short week.