New England Patriots' Most Disappointing Players Through 5 Games
The New England Patriots have weathered some early-season storms but remain in tact with a 3-2 record. Yet while some Patriots have taken a step forward, others have taken a step back.
Due to varying issues such as playing time, production and miscues, certain players have struggled out of the gate.
Here are six notable underachievers for New England through Week 5.
Shane Vereen, Halfback
Last year's second-round pick Shane Vereen has yet to break out of his shell.
The California running back was inactive for the first three regular-season games due to a foot injury, per Rotoworld.com. And when Vereen finally suited up against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 30, he found himself at the bottom of the rushing carousel.
Thus far, Vereen has been outplayed by fellow second-year runner Stevan Ridley, third-down back Danny Woodhead and even undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden.
Seeing sparse work in two games, Vereen has recorded two rushes for one yard, one catch for five yards and one total touchdown. Despite an impressive preseason, he remains the fourth wheel in the backfield operation.
Stephen Gostkowski, Kicker
Versus the Buffalo Bills in Week 4, the Memphis product finished the game just 1-for-3. Gostkowski missed the uprights back-to-back, from 49 and 42 yards respectively.
Without question, Gostkowski is a tremendous kicker and has still converted on 11-of-14 attempts this year. Although confidence will be key for the 2008 All-Pro from here on out.
"Steve, again, had some real good plays yesterday," Belichick said at his Monday news conference. "Again, that's an operation that involves more than one guy. It's not a pitcher taking the ball on the mound, or a golfer teeing the ball up, it's a snap, a hold, a kick, the whole process. So we'll keep working hard at it. I have a lot of confidence in those players -- Danny, Zoltan, Steve."
Odds are, a couple rough outings is nothing that won't pass for Gostkowski. But it's still a concern when any kicker struggles.
Zoltan Mesko, Punter
Winning the battle of field position is closely linked with winning games. That is why standout punters are invaluable to a team's success.
Zoltan Mesko is a gifted punter. Last year, the Michigan Wolverine collected a 46.5-yard average and a 41.5-yard net average on 57 punts.
But unfortunately, his performance this season hasn't supported that sentiment.
Through five games, Mesko has posted a punting average of 39.3 yards and a net average of 36—both career lows. In addition, Mesko saw one of his punts blocked for the first time in his career—that can be blamed on the protection.
It's not all about average, though. With just one more touchback, Mesko will have met his total from 2011 with three. He can certainly improve upon his slow start, but it's definitely a facet of the game to keep an eye on.
Ras-I Dowling, Cornerback
Ras-I Dowling was touted as a big and physical cornerback when the Patriots selected him with pick No. 33 of the 2011 NFL draft. But for one reason or another, his talent has yet to flourish.
In his rookie year, Dowling started his first two NFL contests before a hip injury sent him to injured reserve.
Flash-forward a year, and Dowling's responsibilities have been reduced. The 6'1", 210-pound defensive back has played primarily as a reserve.
ESPNBoston.com's Mike Rodak tweeted about the cornerback depth on Sept. 30:
Sterling Moore the 3rd cornerback for a 3rd straight game. Ras-I Dowling remains active, but not part of defensive scheme— Mike Rodak (@mikerodak) September 30, 2012
ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss assessed Dowling's drop-off during a Patriots chat on Oct. 4:
Was nickelback in season opener, played 36 snaps, had pass interference penalty, and coaches must not have liked what they saw on film. He's been replaced since by Sterling Moore. So he's headed in the wrong direction. I think we can point to that season opener and/or what happened in practice the next week as the reason why.
Against the Denver Broncos in Week 5, Dowling was finally in a defined role, but it could have been due to the absence of safety Steve Gregory. Reiss tweeted about his duties versus Denver:
Personnel note: CB Ras-I Dowling serving as the dime back today, in LB-type role.
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) October 7, 2012
Dowling has the tools, yet evidently the coaching staff has more confidence in the squad's other corners. Even rookie Alfonzo Dennard leapfrogged him in playing time this past week.
Steve Gregory, Safety
The Patriots signed veteran Steve Gregory this offseason to deepen the safety position. To his credit, Gregory provides special-teams ability and starting experience. To his demise, Gregory has struggled in coverage.
Against the Buffalo Bills, Gregory and fellow safety Patrick Chung failed to stop Bills' wideout Donald Jones from scoring on a 68-yard touchdown.
Chung took a bad angle to the ball, and Gregory couldn't stay in front of Jones to make the tackle. Soon after, Gregory was replaced by second-round pick Tavon Wilson.
Greg A. Bedard of the Boston Globe found meaning in the faltered play:
It appeared like Gregory only played in the dime package after that. Wilson played 34 of 69 snaps while Gregory had 49. Not sure if Gregory had an injury that had to be managed – he had a quad issue in the preseason – but in my opinion, the coaches have been looking for an excuse to play Wilson more. He could be headed for a starters’ role.
According to the Boston Herald, Gregory's injury was not to his quad but to his hip. That injury kept him sidelined and open the door for Wilson to emerge against the Broncos. Wilson, who has two interceptions and two fumble recoveries on the year, played well in lieu of Gregory, totaling 10 tackles.
It's probably unfair to say Gregory has let the Patriots down, because he wasn't expected to be a savior, either. It's more so a matter of talent, and a ball hawk like Wilson is hard to keep off the field.
Sterling Moore, Cornerback
Sterling Moore turned some heads as an undrafted practice-squad pickup last year.
In six regular season games as a rookie, Moore intercepted two passes and returned one for a touchdown. But his biggest play came in the AFC Championship game when he knocked a touchdown catch out of the hands of then-Baltimore Ravens' wideout Lee Evans.
The 2012 season hasn't been as kind to Moore. Most recently, the SMU product was challenged and outmatched by the Denver Broncos' receivers on Oct. 7. On multiple occasions, Moore allowed deep-play target Demaryius Thomas to, well, go deep.
ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss detailed what he saw from a personnel standpoint versus the Broncos:
The other change came in the nickel package (5 defensive backs), with Sterling Moore opening the game as the fifth defensive back before being replaced by rookie Alfonzo Dennard late in the second quarter.
Dennard did not allow a catch and logged just five less defensive snaps than Moore in his first NFL game, per Reiss. That position battle will be something to watch moving forward.