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:
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.