Why this Patriots loss to the Jets should not have been a surprise.
When Ty Warren and Leigh Bodden went down early, most objective fans realized this was going to be a rebuilding year. The best case scenario was that Brady would help grind out a playoff appearance just to get this extremely young roster some experience.
He did more than that, and 14-2 was a huge overachievement for this team, and it should be proud of its regular season. Too many people are pointing out the gaffes in coaching and execution. While all valid points, they aren’t the biggest reason we lost this game. You can get by in the regular season with a mediocre front seven, but in the playoffs it will always be exposed, and that’s what happened on Sunday.
The Patriots won three Super Bowls in large part because of their strong front seven.
-In 2001, there was Richard Seymour, Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Ted Johnson, Bobby Hamilton and Anthony Pleasant, all drafted in the first three rounds, and Bryan Cox. They were sixth in the NFL in points allowed.
-In 2003 they had the top-ranked defense, led by Hamilton, Ted Washington, Seymour, McGinest, Bruschi, and Vrabel, plus a fourth-rounder, Jarvis Green.
-In 2004 they had the second-ranked defense, led by Vince Wilfork, Seymour, McGinest, Johnson, Bruschi, Vrabel and Keith Traylor, and we had the promising rookie, Ty Warren, coming off the bench. Four first-round talents, a second and two thirds.
What did they roll out there to start the 2010 Playoffs?
This defensive front seven was not nearly as good as any of the Super Bowl teams, but more importantly, it wasn't even the same defense that started against the Jets in the Romp in Foxboro.
Ron Brace, who played a large role in that game, was out this time around. The undrafted rookie, Kyle Love, started at nose tackle, with 10-year veteran, perennially-average Gerard Warren to his left, and possibly the team’s defensive MVP, Vince Wilfork, on his right.
As a result, the Jets were able to get themselves into manageable third downs of three-to-five yards by avoiding Vince and knocking Love backwards at the snap. That means that the very inefficient Sanchez only had to complete quick, three-step passes to keep drives alive and at least change field position.
They ended up converting 6-of-13 third downs, and averaged their own 45 to start, the Patriots their own 28. With a stronger defensive line, they could have turned some of those into third-and-8 or 9 yards, which would force him to take a few five-step drops, where he is not as good and we could put some pressure on him.
At linebacker they started Rob Ninkovich, a fifth-round castoff from the Saints in 2005; Eric Moore, a fifth-round castoff of the Giants in 2005; the undrafted Gary Guyton; Tully Banta-Cain, a seventh-round pick, and Jerod Mayo, who they drafted in the first round of the 2008 draft.
Two second-round rookies with upside, Jermaine Cunningham and Brandon Spikes, combined for two tackles. Cunningham was limited by a hamstring injury, and Spikes missed four weeks due to a suspension and then was ineffective in his first game back.
In the first game, the Jets handled the Pats, and the big difference in the second game was that the Pats took an early lead, which they could have in this game as well, but didn’t.
With the lead, this defense was really good, because teams didn’t attempt to expose it in the run game. Sunday, when the Patriots fell behind, it put the pressure on our front seven to stop their ball control game plan, and they couldn't because they just simply were not talented enough.
It was the same story against Cleveland and Green Bay. The offense bailed the defense out in Green Bay, but it couldn’t this time.
Part of the reason they fielded such a weak front seven was the injuries to Ty Warren and Ron Brace, which put a first- and second-round talent on the bench. Not addressing it enough in past drafts is also to blame.
So the adage that Bill can take anyone and “coach ‘em up” is actually true in many cases, but he can’t consistently coach seventh-round and undrafted talent in first- and second-round ability.
The majority of the front seven has to be made up of truly gifted athletes, and since they won’t pay for a guy like Julius Peppers, they have to build through the draft. That means Bill has to be right more often than not.
The great news is that he drafted well the last two years, and has a bevy of high picks in 2011. With a healthy Ty Warren and Ron Brace in that mix, they could be building another Super Bowl caliber defense. The bitter experience of this loss will only help that process along.
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