Patriots vs. Seahawks: Why Is New England Struggling to Close?
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A pattern is developing.
The New England Patriots are struggling to close out games.
That is a very superficial statement on its own, but there are some trends behind their late-game struggles.
These are just a few that jump off the page.
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This year especially, Brady has struggled in close, late-game situations.
The Patriots' struggles in closing out games are certainly not entirely his own, but when games are within seven points in the fourth quarter, Brady is 10-of-28 passing for 109 yards and one touchdown, and he has been sacked three times.
His worst plays may not have even been when the game was within seven points, though; he had a pair of costly interceptions in the second half, one in the end zone.
Those are just the numbers, and there's certainly enough blame to go around after a tough loss such as what the Patriots endured on Sunday, but even Tom Terrific isn't perfect.
Of course, it's hard to be perfect when you throw 58 passes (more on that later).
Tom Brady threw two interceptions in the second half. This follows Stevan Ridley's fumble last week, which gave the Broncos an opportunity to move within three points.
Although they weren't turnovers, the Patriots' inability to convert third downs in the fourth quarter against the Ravens gave them a few extra opportunities to pick up the comeback.
The offense is making crucial mistakes at some of the worst possible times.
The Patriots have allowed 33 pass plays of 20 or more yards, by far the most in the NFL through six games.
A large portion of the blame should fall on the safeties, who have gotten lost in coverage at times. That happened to them again this week, with three plays of over 40 yards where there wasn't a safety within 10 yards of the play.
That's precisely what happened on the go-ahead touchdown pass to Seahawks wide receiver Sidney Rice, with safety Tavon Wilson admitting he blew the assignment in a simple Cover 2, allowing Rice to get behind him for the wide open score.
The cornerbacks aren't free of blame, though. Kyle Arrington was put on the bench in the first half, having already given up two big completions to Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, one of which was for a touchdown.
For a unit in which the Patriots have invested so many resources over the past few years, the secondary continues to be a trouble spot.
Their problems closing out games trace back to this deficiency, as well. The Ravens came back from an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit largely by exposing the Patriots with deep passing plays. The Broncos almost pulled off an even bigger comeback last week.
This week, the Patriots allowed a total of six pass plays of over 20 yards, and two of them came in the fourth quarter.
The decision to go for a touchdown before the end of the second quarter wasn't as nefarious as it's being passed off; the play didn't work out, but you want to give one of the best quarterbacks in the league a shot at the end zone if it's possible.
The Patriots were guilty of poor clock management at the end of the game and a few miscues which led them to use all three of their timeouts before even getting the ball back for the final drive.
From the point the Patriots went up 20-10 in the third quarter, they threw the ball 20 times and ran the ball 14 times.
Beyond just the fourth quarter, the Patriots' imbalance on the day was startling, with Brady attempting a career-high 58 passes and the offense running the ball just 26 times by comparison.
For a team that had done such a magnificent job of staying balanced for weeks, and despite a Seahawks run defense that hadn't yielded much on the ground, with a two-score lead, milking clock would have been preferential to giving the Seahawks more time with incompletions and more possessions with interceptions.
The problems in coaching go beyond just this week, and beyond just the decisions on Sundays.
According to Greg Bedard of The Boston Globe, part of the Patriots' struggles in coverage may be traced back to the coaching staff:
Half the problem Patriots CBs have is these asinine coverage techniques the Patriots make them play. I'll never get that.— Greg A. Bedard (@GregABedard) September 26, 2012
Patriots do this in the red zone too. I've tried to get the players to explain the rationale, and they can't. They know it's bad.— Greg A. Bedard (@GregABedard) September 26, 2012
Whatever the case, and whoever is to blame, it may be irrelevant. Through six games, this Patriots team is nothing like we expected it to be at this point. It has to get back to work quickly to fix whatever problems have been exposed over the past few weeks, because the Jets are coming back to town and they are quite confident coming off a win over the Indianapolis Colts.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.
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