Forget Chad Ochocinco.
There’s a lot more to be concerned with regarding the Patriots offense than just one first-year player in the system who hasn’t gotten enough targets and hasn’t adapted quickly enough.
The bigger issue -- as Bill Belichick loves to remind everyone -- is scoring more points than the other team and scoring as many points as possible in 60 minutes.
Before Oct. 16 at Gillette, the Patriots had scored 30 or more points in 13 straight games, the second-longest streak in NFL history.
But since then, they have scored 20, 17 and 20. More alarming is the growing sense that opposing teams can just bully the Patriots' pass-happy offense around the field. Starting with the Cowboys on Oct. 16 and continuing with the Steelers on Oct. 30 and the Giants last Sunday, that’s all opposing defenses have done.
So, how do you go about changing that?
“I think it’s collection of a lot of things,” Deion Branch said Friday morning in answering questions about the Patriots offense. “I’m trying to figure out what all of you are saying has been effective. What are we ranked in offense? What are we ranked in passing? I think we’re still up there. Our job is just to go out there and execute the plays, when we don’t do what we’re supposed to do.”
Yes, Deion, the Patriots are second in overall yards per game at 437.2, just behind the Saints. And yes, the Patriots are still tops in passing yards at 325.6. Everyone says this is a passing league but as Belichick pointed out Friday, this is still a league where coaches want to run the ball when they’re ahead.
“We’re 5-3,” Branch noted. “You know what I’m saying? It’s not like we’re 0-8. Hey, expectation around here is very high, and it should be. But at the same time, we’re tied for first place. We’re all in the same boat. It’s not like we’re in a terrible position right now. I think a lot of stuff can spin off this one game.”
The Patriots have dropped to 16th in rushing at 893 yards and 24th in attempts with 199.
Look, no one is saying Tom Brady isn’t the best offensive player on the Patriots. Obviously, he is. And yes, you want the ball in the hands of your best player. But if teams know this from the get go and gang up on him, you better be able to run the ball.
The Patriots have lost that desire. Will they find that this week? Will Stevan Ridley be the answer?
Ridley is a rookie who has had the perspective of coming into Foxboro with his eyes open, ears alert and his nose to the grindstone.
Here’s what he’s seen.
“It’s leaders everywhere. From the coaches, all the way down to every position. We have leaders and guys that have been there," said Ridley. "We have guys that know what it takes, they know the secrets, the small things in the game and really, as a rookie, I’m just trying to learn those things and fall into that role where I can go out there and be one of those good players and great players and be vocal for the next rookie that comes in behind me.
“It’s a system, and it’s a system they’ve had for a while. If I don’t know it, it’s one of these veterans that knows the answer and if they don’t know it, I can go to the head coach and I know he knows it for sure.”
But it’s a system that’s very hard to figure. Like, when are the Patriots going to dedicate themselves to the run and when are they going to throw it around? Since rushing 10 times for 97 yards and a touchdown against Oakland, Ridley has seen his carries fall to seven, three, zero and three in his next four games.
“Around here, you never know,” he said. “That’s not my job to try and figure it out. I just know that when they call No. 22 on the field, I’m just going to try and do the best that I can. [The reps] have been up and down but that’s part of football, that’s part of growing, part of maturing. I just have to go out and be a team player and if I go out and do that, that’ll be the quickest way to get all the reps that I want.”
Always on the lookout for fresh ideas, we go to the Trags Bag for suggestions, posing the following question: If you were Bill Belichick for a day, what would you do to freshen up and kick-start the offense?
From @Arquimedezpozo: Honestly, if Taylor Price is healthy, insert him into the lineup as the No. 1 [receiver]. Move [Deion] Branch to No. 3 and throw one ball per quarter over 20 yards
From @BsMittS93: GET PRICE IN THE GAME
From @JMarginson: Fire myself as GM.
From @gswoboda12: Not sure why you would change anything...The defense needs the attention. Maybe mix in a [few] more screen plays.
From @drjefflo: Time to turn on the Bat Signal and summon Batman to Gillette - it is time for Randy Moss to save the season for the Patriots.
From @TonyRBranco: Get Stevan Ridley more involved in the offense. He's averaging 6.1 yards per carry. Get back to more screen passes to keep D honest.
From @L1telsN0w: Try [Matthew] Slater to top off the D
From @Trags: Open it up. Branch is a No. 3 receiver. Treat [Aaron] Hernandez like he's a No. 1. Teams with single safety coverage don't respect the deep ball.
UPON FURTHER REFLECTION: THE PENN STATE TRAGEDY
I am just one of thousands of journalists who has penned his thoughts and feelings this week on what’s happened in State College.
We are fortunate -- if that’s even the right sentiment to feel in this horrific case -- to be able to write down our thoughts and have a voice. One reason many of us feel the need to do so is because we want to speak for those alleged victims and their families who -- by the nature of the crimes or by choice years later -- simply cannot do so themselves.
I took the opportunity on Wednesday morning to write what I felt and that is that there needs to be contrition and remorse from Penn State. I still feel that with all of my heart.
Cancel the season, I said.
I still feel that way since playing a game at Beaver Stadium Saturday is like trying to light a match next to a leaking propane tank. You may get away with it but you’re really asking for an explosion that could be avoided by just stepping away from the tank altogether.
But more to the point, this is once again about stepping away from sports and taking into the account the human tragedy at Penn State.
If you think that’s overstating it, go ask the people in that community whose lives will never be the same.
The reaction was predictably and understandably volatile and emotional. Here’s just a sample.
@JoeyMelt: That's a shame. It's not the players' or the students' fault that all this is going down. Leadership failed.
@DJJoeyC: @Trags wants Penn State to punish the entire student body for the sins of a few? #cmon
@Brooksie024: If you want another reason I hate EEI, add@trags (whoever that is) to the list for his Penn State article. Cancel the season? #Joke
But then to his credit, @Brooksie024 revised his feelings after Thursday’s potential bombshell – a rumor that Mark Madden told Dennis & Callahan that Jerry Sandusky and his organization Second Mile might be “pimping out” boys for sex to adults and rich executives.
@Brooksie024: If you're waiting for the Second Mile rumors to be verified, don't bother, because if that's true then I'd agree to cancel the season.
From the feedback section of the column:
From VS: This opinion is absolute garbage. The university taking steps to respect these victims has nothing to do with the current student athletes. It would prove that PSU is only football if the season was cancelled. And this is not about Joe Paterno. Absurd, Mike, simply absurd.
From Jen: You are a moron! The fact that they are getting rid of JoePa is bad enough, but to cancel the whole season would be dumb...they are already hurting and it is best to bring together the community to be strong again instead of ripping out the most important part of the university because of one person. They need to heal and to do that they need to show their support and finish out the season strong to prove one person can't bring them down. No need to punish the team or the school, they deserve to have a strong finish to a sad year.
There were those who agreed:
From Tim: Completely agree, Mike. Canceling the season is a bare minimum step in the right direction. Letting it go on will be a mistake they will regret for a long time to come, and one that will look worse in the coming days and weeks when inevitably more victims and villains will emerge.
From Pgovoni (before Paterno was fired, obviously): At a minimum, Paterno should not be allowed to coach the rest of the season, this letting him retire at the end of the season is BS. He should have no chance to go out on his own terms, which is the same chance he gave all of the victims.
AND ONE MORE THING...
So, how about that release of Albert Haynesworth? Did he wind up on going to the better team or just the better situation?
There’s an argument to be made for both.
What do you think?
We’ll probably have a better idea after this weekend.