Patriots Preview - quoth the Ravens, nevermore?
Friday, September 21, 2012
Pardon me, Mr. Poe...but the Patriots could do well to take your famous line to heart this week.
As in "nevermore should we be caught as unprepared as we were last week against Arizona." Patriot players talked about it after the fact - last week was a lousy week of practice leading up to the home loss against the Cardinals. Nevermore. Perhaps they didn't take those same Cardinals as seriously as they should have? Nevermore. And to not have a suitable game plan ready to go in case a key piece of the puzzle is broken away (like Aaron Hernandez' injury)?
Through two weeks, it still appears the Patriots have the right pieces in place to make an assault on the NFL record book on offense...but it's also clear that there is an adjustment period that is playing itself out with the players and new (old) offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. That the Pats were as unprepared as they were to adjust on the fly last week speaks to that very problem. But how best to go forward? The decision has been made to continue with the two tight end sets, by bringing in former Pro Bowler Kellen Winslow, Jr. to see what he can do. Winslow caught 75 passes last season in Tampa Bay, and at age 29, still appears he's capable of providing at least some of what the offense might miss with Hernandez on the shelf.
So, stay the course. Not a bad choice. But the ability to change gears has suffered, and the team struggled to switch back to what they may know best - three and four WR's, empty backfield, spread-it-out and dare the defense to crowd you at the line. Does Baltimore make the Patriots try to beat them over the top? I'd think about that. Sure, New England's running game may be better than previously thought behind Stevan Ridley...but if I'm the Ravens' defensive coordinator Dean Pees (who used to be the Patriots' DC)...I want to know what's coming at me. A one-dimensional offense should be nothing for the Ravens' "D" to fear.
Get Up To Speed
Somehow, the Patriots have to integrate Winslow into the Hernandez mix, to make the offense a true multi-dimensional run/pass threat. Deion Branch's return this week should not be understated either, as that provides more confidence for Tom Brady. The Wes Welker saga could also go up in smoke with a big week, and the guess is here Welker will find himself targeted quite a bit. If the offense can keep the ageless wonder Ray Lewis and ageless wonder II Ed Reed on the field and occupied, as crazy as it sounds...that helps New England.
In Week One, the Ravens went all up-tempo on Cincinnati and blistered the Bengals. In Week Two, they hardly used the wide open offense at all, and lost on the road at Philadelphia. Which Baltimore team will show itself Sunday? For the Patriots to have a chance to assume control of the AFC at this early stage, and send a message to the rest of the NFL, putting pressure on Joe Flacco and forcing him into early decisions will be key. TE Dennis Pitta has out-Gronked Rob Gronkowski with 13 catches in the first two games, and will be a primary target to watch. Oh, and a RB named Ray Rice, too.
Circle The Wagons
Mentally, more than anything else, the Patriots need to regain focus. Perhaps some of the perceived lack of focus comes from a younger roster overall, where players are just learning how to play the game at this level. Perhaps another part could be the lack of leadership from the few veterans who remain. The Pats have never been "rah-rah," so it's becoming clear that someone needs to show them what the "Patriot Way" really means. Do Your Job. Focus. Defend. Be Smart. It's early in the season, but it's also been 12 years since the team has been under .500 this deep into a schedule...which is what they could be (1-2) with a loss. It wouldn't be an embarrassment, because the Ravens are very good and thought to be a prime Super Bowl contender themselves. But a win sends a message.