The New England Patriots have gotten off to a rough start, barely eeking out a win against Buffalo in Week One and then scoring only nine points and failing to take advantage of a rookie quarterback in a loss at the Jets.
Here are five reasons for the rough start.
1. The offensive line (namely, the offensive tackles)
At the hands of two of their division rivals, the Patriots' offensive line has been manhandled for two straight games. Speed edge rushers give offensive tackles Matt Light and Nick Kaczur fits.
You'd think they would have learned their lesson in the Super Bowl?
What about last season, when Matt Cassel was sacked a ridiculous 42 times?
The Patriots have continually failed to pick up offensive linemen in the draft in any round that matters, and they feature the same group of starters that got beaten like a red-headed stepchild in Super Bowl XLII and all of last season.
I honestly thought the free agent/trade moves that brought in tight ends Chris Baker and Alex Smith would help the blocking schemes.
When the Patriots chose to get rid of Alex Smith, who is a great hybrid tight end, and to keep Benjamin Watson, who has been more of a receiving tight end in the past, I began to scratch my head in wonder, but continually trusted Bill Belichick to make the right call.
Needless to say, the offensive line will have to step things up and protect Brady with a greater sense of urgency if they're going to get the ball moving through the air once again.
John Abraham is another speedy and agile edge rusher, though, and could give Matt Light fits all afternoon. It will be up to him to help keep Tom Brady off his back.
2. A complete lack of commitment to the running game
The problem on Sunday versus the Jets wasn’t a lack of production from the running backs; it was a lack of trusting them. Brady threw 47 times despite never finding a rhythm. He has thrown 100 passes in two games, versus 43 rushing plays called in that span.
Come on, really? Robert Kraft inked a check in Fred Taylor’s name for $2.3 million, and he’s only carried the ball 17 times? Laurence Maroney only 16? As a team, the Patriots are only averaging 3.6 yards a carry, but Fred Taylor is averaging 4.2.
The Patriots have gone back to their 2007 formula: pass heavily to set up the spread formation runs. The only problem is that opposing defenses have caught on and blitz on every down. If the defensive linemen don't get to the quarterback, the linebackers are usually in position to clog up the holes in the running game.
One would think that draw plays would be the solution here, but the Patriots have tried everything from shotgun hand-offs to putting tight ends in the backfield as blockers.
They simply need to call more effective run plays.
Take a second look at the offensive line; the linemen who have been the best at their jobs this season are Logan Mankins and Stephen Neal. They continually hold their own against defensive tackles. The Patriots need to run the ball up the gut more often.
At the beginning of the season, I would have never imagined myself saying this, but it seems that every time they hand off to Maroney and he runs up the middle, he gains solid yards. Even though his average is a paltry 3.4, I see a lot of his usual tap dancing on outside runs, which could be detrimental to his average.
Belichick needs to take a second look at his running game and figure out the best way to get the ground game off the... ground.
3. The defense isn't getting a pass rush
We can thank the late-preseason departure of Richard Seymour for this one, folks.
Yes, the trade that I was calling a good look into the future seems to have completely overlooked the present. Regardless of the value of that 2011 first-round draft pick from the Raiders, it pays no return right now.
Seymour's ability to soak up blockers on the right side allowed outside linebackers more freedom to reach the quarterback.
The effect of Seymour is felt all the way through the defense. Without those holes being clogged, opposing offenses seem to abuse the once-unstoppable defensive line in the running game.
Without the push from the right, allowing linebackers to break the pocket, quarterbacks have forever to throw. Mark Sanchez was hardly even touched on Sunday, and was only sacked on a play where he surrendered.
The Patriots defense was fortunate to face a very young offensive line in Week One, when the Bills started three linemen who had never started a game.
The sad thing is the next four games (vs. Falcons, vs. Ravens, at Broncos, vs. Titans) are against highly-regarded offensive lines, especially Denver and Tennessee. All of the above could potentially feature more than one All-Pro.
All this means is that Belichick will have to find ways to utilize his personnel in the most effective way to pressure the quarterback.
4. The offense's lack of familiarity/chemistry/communication
This sounds so general, but let me explain:
Under a new offensive coordinator, after a full year off, Tom Brady has a lot of new targets (Joey Galloway, Chris Baker, Fred Taylor, Julian Edelman) with whom he has yet to build any level of comfort or rapport.
Not to mention, Wes Welker was out of action on Sunday (an absence which is much more important than anyone is letting on).
There are obviously going to be changes (in terms of personnel) over the course of any offseason, but Brady is dealing with a bit more here. Even when Peyton Manning had his injury and surgery last season, he still had pretty much the same cast of characters in terms of his weapons with very few minor changes, and he still had offensive masterminds Tom Moore and Howard Mudd there with him every step of the way.
Granted, Brady still has Belichick, but in terms of the offense specifically, it appears the Patriots miss the wizardry of Josh McDaniels.
Give them a few games to gel and to get used to one another, and they'll be fine. The scary thing is, with how the Jets are performing recently, by the time the Patriots get the ball moving, it may be too little, too late.
5. Tom Brady still isn't 100 percent comfortable
Tom Brady has yet to get back in a groove and still doesn't show the level of comfort in his knee that any of us would like to see. Wouldn't you be a little worried about stepping into throws after getting a busted ACL and MCL for that exact reason?
He still doesn't show the willingness to step into his throws and unload a rope. In the face of a heavy pass rush, he is still timid.
It will be a couple of weeks before the situation is fully remedied, but against a paper tiger Atlanta Falcons defense, I can see Brady having a bit more time in the pocket and becoming more comfortable. Although the Falcons' defense ranks fifth in points allowed this season so far, they rank in the bottom half of the league in nearly every other statistical category.
As mentioned earlier, John Abraham could be chasing Brady all over the field, but it will take more than just his pressure to phase Brady. The Falcons will have to continually overload with the blitz, and Chris Houston simply isn't a good enough cornerback to be left on an island against Randy Moss. If that's the matchup, you can expect Brady to find his favorite target for more than a few hook-ups.
There's a lot that needs to be done before the Patriots will get back to their dominant ways of old. I could really use an escape tactic and boil it down to simply players stepping up and Belichick working his magic, but it will take more than that.
The offense needs to gel.
They need to regroup and find their identity, both offensively and defensively.
They need to prove why they are the dominant team of the decade by winning the battles in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
They need time to do this, but unfortunately, time is of the essence when there are only 16 games in the season, and where every game counts as much as the one before it and after it.