Patriots Grade Well On One Side, Patience Needed On Other

The Tuesday report cards are out, and as you might imagine, the Patriots offense scored quite well, while their defensive teammates were handed flunking grades for the most part – which they deserve for their performance.

However, a problem I do have with this type of assessment involves expectations. What are the expectations for this defense? For many people it apparently is Super Bowl- caliber, which simply isn’t realistic. This is a young group that is just learning to play in the NFL, let alone function together as a cohesive unit. They’re being graded on a scale of whether they are an elite defense. They’re not at that level. They have a long way to go to just be good.

This, along with leadership takes time to develop. It’s not in fashion for the media to point this out, as they seem ultra-focused on the week-to-week view of things. An Albert Breer blog post yesterday is a perfect example. He starts out by basically insisting that after three weeks, this defense should be so much more developed by now. Three weeks! He moans that “roughly one-fifth of the season” is gone now. That’s 18.75% of the season! That’s ridiculous.

Does anyone remember the 1999 and 2000 Patriots? 8-8 and 5-11 records? Who was on that defense? Ty Law, Tedy Bruschi, Ted Johnson, Willie McGinest, Lawyer Milloy…all guys who would become stalwarts on Super Bowl winners. At that point however, what was the view of those guys? Underachievers? For the most part, yes. Were they viewed as potential team leaders on a Super Bowl winner? I certainly don’t recall that being the case, even though most of them had been to a Super Bowl under Bill Parcells just a few seasons prior. Johnson and McGinest were perpetually injured and making big bucks, and many people questioned whether Bruschi was an every-down linebacker.

By the time 2001 came around, most of these guys had been playing together for five or more seasons. I am NOT suggesting that the talent level of the current Patriots defense is on the level of those guys, but there is talent here. It’s going to need time to come together. Expectations need to be lowered. This is not a Super Bowl caliber defense, or even a good defense right now. No one is suggesting that, least of all me. So rather that fully focusing on the stats (like Breer does) perhaps its time to look at little closer at individual performance to guage whether improvement is being made.

An example to me is the game on Sunday and the interceptions made by the defense in the fourth quarter. I saw and heard multiple times yesterday those interceptions being dismissed as “easy interceptions” and “poor throws” by Fitzpatrick. However, ESPN Boston’s Mike Rodak made more thorough examination of the Pat Chung interception and breaks it down this way:

Patriots safety Patrick Chung’s end-zone interception to start the fourth quarter was set up when OLB Jermaine Cunningham met blocking RB C.J. Spiller in the backfield with a blow to the chest, pushing Spiller aside and hitting QB Ryan Fitzpatrick as he threw. The pass sailed well over his intended receiver and was snagged out of the air by Chung.

So Rodak, after examining the play in detail, comes away with a more encouraging view of the play. Rookie linebacker Jermaine Cunningham generated a pass rush on the Bills QB, actually getting to him and forcing the poor throw from Fitzpatrick.

While others just dismissed the play as a poor throw, Rodak puts the work it to determine that the poor throw was actually forced, and this play shouldn’t just be dismissed as “lucky” as some have described it.

I’m looking for more of that type of analysis. When you have a team that’s being built before your eyes, you need to see the small things before the big results are going to follow. Trotting out stats that show that after three games this defense has given up the most of any team in the Bill Belichick era is way too simplistic.

So ideally, I’d like to rachet down the expectations for this defense, and take a more pragmatic look at their progress. Some are saying there are no signs of progress. I disagree.

OK. Rant over. Here are the links, starting with the report cards:

Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily | Ron Borges, Boston Herald | Kirk Minihane, WEEI.com | Mike Felger, CSNNE.com

Without Mankins and Kaczur, Patriots line has held its ground - Christopher Price has the Patriots once again successfully plugging holes in the offensive line.

It may be early, but next Monday’s Patriots-Dolphins game is crucial - Tom E Curran explains why the fourth game of the season in 2010 is so important.

Patriots journal: Key pick helps Meriweather bounce back - Robert Lee has the safety getting back to basics in practice last week, and seeing it pay off.

O’Neal inspired to be with C’s - Scott Souza has the big fella on a mission this year.

Livin’ large with Shaquille O’Neal – Steve Bulpett has more from the legend.

Hollywood comes to Boston - Michael Muldoon notes that this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill media day for the Celtics.

Five things we learned from Celtics media day - Paul Flannery has some things to take away from yesterday.

West may be going in a new direction - Gary Washburn has Delonte West putting forth a new lease on life, and not taking the bait on a question from Rich Shertenlieb of 98.5 FM about LeBron James’ mom.

Celtics journal: Garnett good to go after ‘painful’ summer - Kevin McNamara has KG feeling good physically, but still recovering from the wound of game 7.

Making pitch for Saltalamacchia’s future - Amalie Benjamin’s notebook looks at the future with the Red Sox for the catcher, who will have thumb surgery today.

More from Ken Burns - Adam Smartschan of the Metro has the director talking about the newest installation of Baseball, premiering tonight on PBS. I’m looking forward to it, though like Charles P. Pierce I’m dreading the notion that Mike Barnicle was selected to represent the voice of the Red Sox fan.

Bruins have decisions to make before leaving for Europe - Mike Loftus has the Bruins with some things to sort out before heading to Europe.

After covering the Celtics for the last two seasons at WEEI.com, Jessica Camerato is taking her talents to CSNNE.com to cover the team for that outlet. WEEI.com has hired Ben Rohrbach and added him to the Celtics beat.

  • oldskool138

    So you're bringing up Pete Carrol's last year and BB first to buttress your argument? I don't really buy that. PC time here was frustrating at best and BB's first year here was spent installing his system. No wonder stalwarts from the Pats SB years underperformed.

    • Bruce

      Well then, really all the late-90′s teams. Did we have the sense that those players would be the foundation pieces for a team that won three of four Super Bowls in the next decade? Did anyone think that?

      Basically what I’m saying is that it took years (and a new system) for those players to fully develop.

  • Brian

    I agree with your assessment, Bruce. We should've anticipated that this defense was going to be up-and-down in a big way this year; however, I think the more alarming observation for me is I would be ok with inconsistency if there were so flashes of great plays being made, which there aren't.
    The issue for me is our defensive struggles seems to be part of a larger narrative that goes back to 2006. The more I watch other defenses around the league, the more I'm starting to believe that the 3-4 read-react defense that BB runs is simply obsolete and doesn't work within the framework of the new rules geared towards offense. The best defenses in this league are pressure-based and we continue to try and go with this passive, keep-everything-in-front-of-you approach, which at least to the untrained eye, doesn't really allow big plays to be made. Sometimes I wonder if you put Dom Capers, Rex Ryan, Gregg Williams, etc. in charge of the same personnel whether they would be better…without being a coach and knowing whether BB is putting them in position and they're just not doing it, I guess I can't say, but starting to wonder about the scheme itself.

  • Curtis

    The following taken from a post that ran yesterday: "Three games into the season, it looks as though the Patriots' offense will have to score 30 points a game to win. Statistics don't lie in this case. The Patriots are giving up 27 points per game and 379 yards per game. Bill Belichick has to be sick in his Gillette Stadium office right now." Was that written by Felger? Borges? Breer? No, it came from Tedy Bruschi. A guy who knows a little bit about defense. Does he get ripped for being unrealistic? For being a contrarian trying to get attention? And you mentioned expectations, no one in their right mind came into this season expecting this defense to stop Peyton Manning, Packers or Chargers but Mark Sanchez or the Bills that were averagine 8.5 pts a game coming in and were only made to punt once? The expectation was that they could be slowed down even by this young defense. I think thats why this is a story and a major concern, if this team cant stop the Bills or Sanchez coming off his week 1 game then what will the elite QBs do?

    • Jon

      "Sanchez coming off his week 1 game" You do realize that the Jest and Sanchez beat the Dolphins on Monday night? And you would be hard pressed to argue that the Dolphins don't have a better defense than the Pats. These things happen.

      • Curtis

        Expectations Jon. Coming off his preseason and how he played in Week 1, the expectation was that Sanchez wouldnt be able to shred this defense…and then he went out and outplayed Brady especially in the second half. No one expected that and it showed this defense had major issues and last week vs Buffalo only magnified those. Maybe by December we'll look back and say getting ripped apart by Sanchez was not suprising if he continues to play like this but no one here or in the media expected him to look that good in Week 2. That was my point.

    • deej

      I think you already know the answer what elite QBs are going to do. Not sure why this is a major surprise. Patriots are defintley rebuilding on defense, no question about it. Some good talent there with those young guys, but very little experience. I did not think any different after the Cincinnati game, there will be a few games that might be better than others but those young kids are going to have to find their way and its going to be painful process. So lets get real here, Brady and company are going to have to put up a ton of points to win games this year. Will it be enough to get us into the playoffs, I don't think so but its going to be fun watching them try.
      go pats

    • Angry Old Bastard

      ……First off, don't have a problem with what Bruschi said (a pretty basic statement)……but I don't give it alot of weight either……Why should I?…..just because he's a former player?…..LOL….please…..Look at some of these former players turned "anaylsts"…..Michael Irvin, Warren Sapp, Steve Young, Shannon Sharpe (can anybody understand a word he's saying?)……….These guys join the media because it's EASY MONEY for them……I don't think Tedy broke down any film for that statement. He just looked up some basic stats…..not very "in depth coverage"

      • Tony

        Not to mention that it was all the former player "analysts" who got all up in arms over the Spygate nonsense (I'm looking at you, Collinsworth and Schlereth), while every single former coach asked about it pretty much laughed it off, said it was no big deal, and said they did the same, or at least similar things when they were coaching. Quote Jimmy Johnson: "Please, these players don't even know what their own coaches are doing." The ex-players, some of them anyway, are fine breaking down film and showing the audience why certain plays work and why they don't, but beyond that they don't add much. Bruschi's comments were honest, sure, but remember, he also works for ESPN now, where hyperbole rules over all else.

    • SteveFromYellowstone

      Please don't bring up this "one punt" thing, as you're leaving out (maybe purposely) two turnovers the defense forced in the second half. Thanks.

  • ZippityDooDah

    Bro – doesn't this Rodak cat realize that thoughtful analysis won't lead to widescale overexposure?

    If I'm gonna be expected to break down film, I'm not gonna have time to call into every show on 98.5 the sports hub – never mind drive up to Comcast NE studios for a little face time.

    Seriously Bro, if Adam Scheffter hasn't tweeted it, it can't be true.

    It's all about the planes and the porps. Go BUCKS! I love you Jack Tatum, wherever you are.

  • Tom

    I had low expectations going into the season, but Buffalo scored 7 and 10 points in the first 2 weeks and have the 31st ranked passing offense in the league. there was nothing encouraging about that performance.

    • monkeysarefunny

      The Bills the first two weeks were piloted by a QB who is no longer with the team. Clearly the Bills offense performed like a group charged by change in QB. You have to throw weeks 1 and 2 for the Bills out the window.

      • Tom

        Their QB change was to Ryan Fitzpatrick who stinks so that excuse doesn't work

  • mallen

    It seems like a big chunk of Rappaport's stuff is quoting WEEI Interviews. In turn, it seems like the radio guys use the papers as a way to structure their topics for the day. At what point does the original thought begin?

  • Rick

    Bruce, 1999 doesn't really support your argument. The Pats D was pretty good that year. In 1998, didn't McGinest go apeshit after the playoff loss because the offense was so pathetic?

    • Bruce

      I’m not calling it a perfect anology. All I’m saying is that in the late 90′s, if you had been told that that group would be the foundation for a 3 Super Bowl championships, would you have believed it?

  • monkeysarefunny

    Mike,

    A voice of reason and sanity!! No one in their right mind thought this defense was championship caliber. In fact this defense almost feels like a "bridge" to next years draft when they can pick up an impact pash rusher and top end RB to chew up some clock and keep the D off the field.

  • Classless

    Fair points, Bruce, but you fail to mention that Jerod Mayo (Top 10 pick) is in year 3 and has been invisible. Comparable players like David Harris, John Beason, Patrick Willis, have all performed better than him in the same time.

    Brandon Meriweather (Top 25 pick) is in year 4 and is currently a platoon player with maddening bad habits. Comparable players like Michael Griffin, Donte Whitner, Kerry Rhodes, Leron Landry, Melvin Bullit have all played better than him.

    Vince Wilfork just signed a huge contract and has been the anchor of that D-Line. The Pats currently have been gashed on the ground for the 1st 3 games. Wilfork is not making a difference right now in my eyes. He can't rush the passer, so what good is he right now?

    I'll give the CB's a pass for now as they are still green (Butler, Wilhite, McCourty, Wheatley) or hurt.

    My main point is the key players have been here for a few years, with the luxury of sitting behind the old guard before being thrusted into starting roles. So far, the results have been bad.

    • Bruce

      Actually, that makes my point better. McGinest is probably the best example. He could’ve been labeled a disappointment, perhaps even a “bust” – drafted fourth overall in 1994, yet it took him until the Super Bowl years before he became universally recognized as a powerful leader in the Patriots locker room, and a huge piece of the puzzle on the field. Similarly, Ted Johnson had early success in his career, and then was injured for a few years, and could’ve been labeled a bust as well. Some accused Ty Law of diverting from the game plan and going for interceptions instead. (Freelancing?) People wondered if Tedy Bruschi could ever be more than just a situational pass rusher.

      It took time for these guys to fully mature.

      I happen to think that guys like Chung, Mayo, Brace, McCourty, and even Meriweather can mature and develop into players on a very good defense.

  • cakes_are_cooking

    Barnicle, sheesh!! Will we have to hear from Mario Cuomo and Doris Kearns Plagiarist again, too?

  • Bob

    What does it say about many of the local writers when a COLLEGE SOPHOMORE (Rodak) provides more insightful analysis than they do??

    • Bob

      No idea why 1/2 the word got replaced with ***** in my comment. But my point was that Rodak is in his second year of college, isn't even a journalism major, and yet provides better in-depth analysis than many of the "professionals"