Sunday, October 21, 2012
Pats' secondary not getting better
By Mike Rodak
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Game after game, this space normally would be filled with quotes from members of the New England Patriots' secondary on why they need to improve. Correct their mistakes. Fix their errors. Get better. Keep working.
At some point, enough is enough.
The New York Jets came into Sunday's game with a bottom-dwelling pass offense, a much-maligned quarterback, and more spare parts than valuable assets at their skill positions. Former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer left "by mutual decision" after last season, but it's hard to say things have gotten any better.
And how did Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez fare against this Patriots secondary? He completed 68 percent of his passes for 328 yards and came close to beating the Patriots in a game that few thought the Jets could win.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Patriots entered Week 7 allowing the most completions in the AFC on throws of at least 15 yards. They didn't do anything to improve that Sunday, allowing Sanchez to set a new career high with nine completions on passes traveling at least 15 yards downfield, the worst performance by New England in the past five years.
Clearly, they've reached a new low.
Yes, the Patriots did not have their two starting safeties for this game, with Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory both sidelined by injuries. But after the game, coach Bill Belichick said he thought "the deep part of the field was more secure than it's been," so let's not kid ourselves by thinking not having Chung and Gregory made all the difference.
Before going any further, let's provide the rundown of the breakdowns for those players who did see the field on Sunday:
-- 1st quarter (13:00) -- 2nd and 6 from NYJ 28 -- Sanchez completes 24-yard pass to Jeremy Kerley
-- 1st quarter (11:29) -- 3rd and 7 from NE 45 -- Sanchez completes 26-yard pass to Kerley
-- 1st quarter (10:25) -- 3rd and 8 from NE 17 -- Ras-I Dowling commits defensive holding penalty (results in first down)
-- 2nd quarter (10:00) -- 1st and 10 from NYJ 29 -- Sanchez completes 22-yard pass to Kerley
-- 3rd quarter (11:34) -- 1st and 10 from NE 34 -- Sanchez completes 23-yard pass to Dustin Keller
-- 4th quarter (12:42) -- 1st and 14 from NYJ 4 -- Sanchez completes 21-yard pass to Stephen Hill
-- 4th quarter (10:56) -- 3rd and 3 from NYJ 32 -- Sanchez completes 19-yard pass to Kerley (Dowling commits defensive holding penalty; declined)
-- 4th quarter (4:19) -- 1st and 10 from NYJ 35 -- Sanchez completes 21-yard pass to Keller
-- Overtime (9:33) -- 3rd and 5 from NYJ 20 -- Alfonzo Dennard commits defensive holding penalty (results in first down)
-- Overtime (8:47) -- 2nd and 12 from NYJ 23 -- Sanchez completes 17-yard pass to Kerley
There's something to be said about staying even, trying to focus on each game as an independent unit. Every other position group on the Patriots has the luxury of doing that. They are credible when they say they need to get better and correct their mistakes, because they often do.
But the secondary doesn't have that credibility. When there's a systemic problem, it needs to be recognized and fixed.
If the Jets' offense didn't act like the Jets' offense on the two notable plays where it did -- Sanchez's second-quarter interception on an awful pass, and Hill's critical drop late in the game -- the result of this contest is probably different, and the Patriots are saddled with a 3-4 record.
Can the players get better? Of course. Could the Patriots turn things around and still make a deep playoff run with this secondary? Probably.
But if you're consistently underperforming at your job, and you keep telling your boss that all you need to do is look at the film and get better, would he or she let you off the hook?
So when will there be more of a sense of urgency in the Patriots' secondary? There's no silver bullet to stopping NFL passing offenses, and ultimately winning is all that matters. But this has been a problem for the Patriots since the failed Duane Starks experiment in 2005, and since has taken various twists and turns, draft busts and inexcusable penalties.
When is enough just simply enough?