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Monday, 26 September 2011

Dissecting the Defeat

And the crowd went wild

Drayton Florence might have said afterwards that the Bills locker room had expected a victory on Sunday, but that confidence must have waivered as the Patriots amassed a 21-0 lead mid-way through the 2nd quarter. But a tipped pass here and bad coverage there and it was 21-10 at the half.

Confidence restored, half time adjustments made and Buffalo pulled off a turnaround few could have seen coming.

It was a comeback build mainly on good offense, bad Patriot smarts and a piece of luck. Let’s go through it, starting where it all began:

NE 24 – 17 BUF; 4th Q, 10:43
Buffalo ball, 1st & 10, NE 32

Ryan Fitzpatrick gets flushed from the pocket, rolls right, points to a receiver down field and throws up an ugly ball the gets easily picked off by safety Josh Barrett in the endzone. But behind Barrett is fellow safety Sergio Brown, covering the Bills wide receiver David Nelson. Nelson has reached the back of the endzone and turns to come back towards the ball, that is heading about 7 yards away from where he is. Brown is a half-second late looking back, but he has the position, Nelson has to go around him.

Rather than do that Nelson tries to go through him. Brown, worried about getting a Defensive Pass Interference flag, throws his arms up in a clear “I’m not doing anything, look” gesture. ERROR. The referee reads it as an attempt to grab Nelson (who is himself grabbing Brown) and throws the flag. Whipping out the interception and giving Buffalo a reprieve and a 1st & goal at the 1.
Sergio Brown (white) raises his arms in innocence
It’s the kind of flag that really grates with me. The defender has every right to the piece of turf he’s standing on, the receiver is obliged to go AROUND him. But in the act of trying to show his innocence Brown makes it look like he’s preventing Nelson get back to the ball illegally. It was a complete momentum changer. Fred Jackson took it in to tie the game on the next play and the stadium, that had a moment ago been deflated, erupted.

NE 24 – 24 BUF; 4th Q, 10:24
New England Ball, 1st & 10, NE 27

The 1st play after the kick off, Brady drops back and is untroubled by the Buffalo rush. He tries to hit Julian Edelman on a crossing pattern when Marcell Dareus jumps up and the ball hits the top of his helmet. It flies up in the air and into the arms of Drayton Florence who takes it to the house. 31-24 home team. Even bigger eruption.

Brady's tipped pass heads straight for Florence's arms
That was the kind of tipped ball that dropped incomplete last year during Brady’s incredible interception-less streak in 2010, but on Sunday fell to a defender, like the 1st INT that was batted by Danny Woodhead. Call it karma or simple regression to the mean, that sort of thing happens. But in this situation it was an absolute killer.

Brady didn’t have one the outstanding games we’re all accustomed to seeing, but it was far from bad. 2 tipped interceptions and a bad route from Chad Ochocinco leading to another one makes the numbers look bad, but the performance wasn’t. Sure, he got a little greedy in the red zone and went to the Gronkowski seam once too often, but that’s nothing to complain about when the 2nd year Tight End was making a mockery of coverages for the rest of the game.

NE 31 – 31 BUF; 4th Q, 2:00
Buffalo ball, 1st & 10, NE 39

If Jackson is allowed to score Brady gets the ball with
2 minutes & 2 timeouts left. 
Fred Jackson is split wide and runs a simple slant. He sits down in open space, catches the ball and accelerates his way around stricken defenders before being contacted by Devin McCourty and bought down, after review, with the ball all of 6 inches from New England’s goal line.

Bill Belichick has been the champion of “situational football” for a long, long time now. And this was exactly the situation where you allow Jackson to go in unchallenged. New England had 2 timeouts remaining, Jackson was already inside the 10 when McCourty got into range to make a tackle. Bringing him down in bounds here only results in a loss. It’s bad football IQ to tackle him. But McCourty doesn’t think. If at the two minute warning the coaches huddled the D together and said “look, if anyone gets inside the 20 and looks like scoring, let them!” then he forgot it. And if the coaches didn’t do that then they bloody should have.

It’s a classic scenario known to every Madden player in the world. Blocking a field goal is a long shot, you need the ball back with enough time. LET THEM SCORE THE TOUCHDOWN.

The tackle from McCourty meant New England would be returning the kick with about 13 seconds left on the clock. All the silly business that followed, as the defense tried in vain to force a fumble on Fitzpatrick’s kneel downs didn’t really matter. It was terrible situational football and I can guarantee you Mr. Belichick would have given them all an ear full afterwards.

The Aftermath

If Belichick can't solve the defensive problems soon
New England can kiss another Super Bowl goodbye
Bill Belichick has been known as a defensive guru for a long, LONG time. And it’s been with good reason. But New England haven’t had and above-average, consistent defense for a long time now. They’ve spent two 1st round and four 2nd round picks on defensive backs since 2007, but of those only Ras-I Dowling (2011 2nd round), Devin McCourty (2010 1st round) and Pat Chung (2009 2nd round) are still on the roster, the other three having been cut this off season.

The problem is that with the Patriots abysmal pass rush these young defensive backs are getting hung out to dry, having to cover receivers longer than is realistic and losing confidence quickly (this was especially the case with Darius Butler). Had one of those picks been spent on the likes of LaMarr Woodley or Clay Matthews I have little doubt that the England defense would have been better for it.

For someone who coached Lawrence Taylor to 2 Super Bowl victories you’d have thought Bill Belichick would know the value of a good pass rush, such as the one that kept the Manning-less Colts in their game last night against the Steelers right up until the end.

The record for yards allowed by a defense was set by the ’81 Baltimore Colts at 6,793. New England are currently on pace to allow a staggering 7,499. Something needs to be fixed, and soon.

-          Toby Durant (@TDonSport)
-          The Pulling Linemen

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