Patriots: 3 Games that Explain Brady & Belichick’s 7 Year Super Bowl Drought

All the finger pointing at the Patriots' defense is misguided. Photo by Keith Allison.

The Patriots-Steelers game was horrible.

One of the worst games in recent memory. If it weren’t for Twitter, I probably would have smashed my TV or coffee table or something valuable.  It’s an issue I am working through.

I’ve put a sample of my Twitter feed from Sunday afternoon at the bottom of this post.  There were a number of things I’d take back now that I’ve had a few days to cool off.

First of all, my “Puss in Pads” comment was uncalled for.  The Pats’ defense showed fight in this game. They were bringing a lot of energy all game and were inches away from a number of plays. They had a bad day and in addition to giving up long 3rd down plays, they did not tackle well. The Steelers offense had a great day.

It is one game.  One game that is getting much more credence from the media than the previous two games of solid defense versus the Jets and Cowboys. After the Patriots went in to Pittsburgh last year and equally dominated the Steelers defense, did everyone decide that Pittsburgh just could not play defense and condemn the team?

I know.  I’m an apologist, and the Patriots are 32nd in the league in pass defense by yards allowed. My main problem with the analysis of the Patriots as a whole is that it completely ignores how much of a problem the offense is in these losses.

Why does the Patriots offense get a free pass for failures, while the defense gets slaughtered?

First off, let’s talk defense. Pass yards allowed is not a meaningful stat by itself.  We need a stat that takes into account the effect the offense has on the defense. Out of laziness or efficiency, part of me simply wants to say “ok, this defense is terrible” because that is easy and then if you’re the typical Boston sports radio host you can move on to ripping Bill Belichick for failing to hire a defensive coordinator.

But, if we really want to discuss this at a meaningful level, we need to dig deeper.

Here’s a stat that supports my contention that the Patriots defense is not as bad as you think:

Patriots defense is allowing 22.9 points per game–better than half of NFL teams.

You want to throw around misleading stats, then I’ll throw back the stat that matters most aside from wins — Points. In 2010, only seven defenses allowed less points than the Patriots. Yes, the much-maligned Pats defense was 8th in the NFL in points allowed last year.

Another factor working against the defense this year is penalty yards against — tied for 3rd most in the league at 482.  So, the referees have handed over almost a game’s worth of yardage to offenses.  My point is that this is a somewhat fluky statistic that should level out as the season goes along and take some points off the board. Another factor that greatly contributed towards the loss to the Steelers was the:

Completely ineffective Patriots Offense.

They went 3 and out on their first two possessions and only scored after the defense gave them the ball at the Steelers’ 8 yard line.  So, credit the defense for the Pats 1st TD. The offense did not score another touchdown until there were under three minutes left in the game.

Take away the safety that Brady gave the Steelers on the last possession and the Pats defense gave up a net of 16 points.  16 POINTS!!! How does this team not win given that fact?  I’ll tell you how — the offense was horrible.

Yes, the defense could not get off the field last Sunday and overall the performance was very bad.  But, aren’t the Pats 5-2? And 19-4 over the last 23 regular season games?

Ok, so if you looked at win-loss alone, you’d assume this team must have an adequate enough defense to give them a chance to win 82.6% of their games.

So let’s look at the games they have not won.  In their last 3 playoff games, they are 0-3, but look at these games.  The main reason they lost is the offense’s failure to adjust and score points.

In three playoff losses since 2007, the Patriots offense has scored an average of 16.3 points.

Here’s the Pats offensive output in the 1st half of the 2010 divisional round playoff loss to the Jets:

1st series: 8 plays, Interception, Jets got the ball at the Patriots 12 yard line after a TD-saving tackle by Alge Crumpler

(I miss Crumpler. He seemed like a good character guy/leader for this team. Watch the replay of this it was an amazing hustle play akin to that of Ben Watson’s versus the Broncos in 2005 after Brady was picked off at the 1 yard line by Champ Bailey) (The defense allowed 0 points after this turnover to the Jets)

2nd series: 11plays, Field Goal

3rd series: 3 and out, Punt

4th series: 3 and out, Punt

5th series: 6 plays, Fake Punt fumbled, Jets recover

6th series: 2 plays, kneel down to end half – Jets 14 Patriots 3

In the creative words of a former co-worker, that is HOROCIOUS (not a real word but perhaps it should be — thanks Eddie Munchkins).

I think the question we should all be asking is:

Why Does the Patriots Offense Disappear in Big Games?

The Steelers game is just a symptom of a much bigger problem. It was yet another game in which the offense got punched in the mouth early on and never adjusted. It reminded me of last year’s playoff game versus the Jets.  It reminded me of the previous year’s playoff game versus the Ravens.  It reminded me of Super Bowl XLII versus the fucking, deal-with-the-devil Giants.

Much like the loss to the Bills earlier this year, the Pats’ defense was put in bad situations by the offense.  In the Buffalo game, it was four interceptions by Tom Brady.  This offense is so good  most of the time that we ignore it’s contributions to losses and just pin it all on the defense.

This is a troubling trend.  Why doesn’t the offense adjust?  Why doesn’t a promising rookie running back in Stevan Ridley see the field? Why is Danny Woodhead a non-factor this year? Why is Tom Brady so bad at throwing the deep ball (unless he has Randy Moss on the other side Brady is not even close to connecting with receivers down field – see the Taylor Price play versus Steelers)? There are so many questions.

Is Belichick trying things out and not worrying about losing one lowly regular season game? Does he remember last year when the Pats smoked the Jets only to have the favor returned in a much bigger game and realize that regular season games are fuel for the playoffs?

The Patriots completely dismantled the Steelers a year ago in Pittsburgh.  Brady spiked the ball at the end zone crowd and taunted them, which I very much enjoyed. So, maybe this is just one of those swings of the competitive and/or karma pendulum.

We all know that this defense is not overpowering.  Last season they made clutch plays down the stretch and the offense was so good that it didn’t matter.  This year the offense is still very good and has a running game that has looked dominant at times.

Why do the Patriots refuse to use the running game?

Why is old and recently injured Kevin Faulk in this game?  Belichick has never been one to let the past dictate the present when it came to on-field decisions.  I was convinced this was a golden parachute year for Faulk. He’s earned it a la Troy Brown a few years back. Keep him on the PUP and let him collect a paycheck for another year.

I would prefer to see Woodhead or Ridley getting those touches. It is entirely possible that there are things at work here that I don’t know about.  Maybe Ridley had a bad week of practice.  Maybe certain guys are banged up.  Maybe Belichick is saving the big guns and great gameplans for the games that matter most.

Or maybe he has taken on too much.  Remember when we had coordinators?

The days of Charlie Weiss and Romeo Crennel are long gone.

Belichick seems to have been burned one too many times by the poaching of his staff by other NFL teams. Perhaps this is why he doesn’t formally name coordinators anymore, although I suppose Bill O’Brien has risen to this role.  Was Belichick at his best as the overseer and game situation manager?

The Pats two losses were both partially at the hands of decisions that Belichick made — like the decision not to challenge the Gronkowski non-TD call that would have saved two crucial minutes of game clock.

Just a quick aside, if the NFL is reviewing all scoring plays automatically, then shouldn’t they also be reviewing all potential scores? Points are at stake either way and it seems illogical and under-inclusive to only review a play that was called a touchdown and not one that was mistakenly not called a touchdown. Under that approach, you are only potentially taking points off the board and I know the NFL hates that.

The biggest issue facing this team is not the defense.  Come December, the defense will be serviceable as it is nearly every year in Belichick’s tenure.

The biggest issue for the Patriots is the offense’s inability to score in big games.

Ultimately, we are talking about 3 games — those 3 playoff losses starting with the Super Bowl loss to the Giants.  That is not a huge sample size.  I would even consider throwing out the 2009 playoff loss to the Ravens because the offense had lost half it’s heart and soul with the Wes Welker injury the prior week.

Regardless, we do not have enough evidence to draw a valid conclusion.  All we can reasonably say is that the offense has not come up big when it mattered most in recent years.

Is it lack of a running game?  Lack of play calling creativity? Infatuation with Tom Brady’s gorgeous passes?  This is the definitive issue for this team.  Will the offense show up in the playoffs? Will Belichick and Brady return to form as the big game guys?

The Patriots have not won a playoff game in their last three attempts. Let’s hope the 4th time is the charm.

Check out the Drunken Sportsmen on Facebook for more glorious Patriots analysis

Photo by Keith Allison

Twitter Feed From Sunday:

The DrunkenSportsmen
@DrunknSportsmen:
@sportsguy33 New movie coming out about the Patriots: “Puss in Pads” – inspired by today’s game vs Steelers. #NFL #NFLFilms
 DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen
Twitter saves lives & HDTVs. If it weren’t for tweet therapy I might’ve gotten angry there. #patriots #fuck
DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen
FIFA 12 therapy time. Bye Patriots. Please play football next weekend. #NFL
DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen
This is also in top 10 worst Patriots regular season games in my life. Excruciating. Brady should tar & feather himself in postgame presser
DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen
Nantz is almost as bad as Brady. #CBS #NFL He wants to make out with Polamalu.
DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen
Perfect end to that horrible game. Worst game of Brady’s career. I don’t care what the numbers say. Awful. #NFL  #patriots
DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen
This would be only the 2nd post bye week loss since 2001 for the Patriots.
DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen
Pats have all 3 timeouts so this will be especially painful
DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen
The fact that the Pats are even within 6 is astonishing. So bad. You should boo steelers fans. And angrily wave your little yellow rags.
DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen
Ryan Clark is such a fucking douchebag #patriots #Steelers
DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen
Brady sucks and that was pass interference
DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen
Don’t let the patriots suck u back in here. It will hurt more. #NFL
DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen

@
@gorskic Pats must’ve enjoyed the week long circle jerk by the media over their offense. #NFL #pathetic
DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen

@
@gorskic That sucks. You ain’t missing much. It’s getting embarrassing. Brady looks like a chicken with its head & balls cut off. #patriots
DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen
Wow! Brady is probably the worst deep ball qb in the NFL #patriots #FUCK
DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen

@
@gx5 @erikfrenz @mattymesn coaching. Need to hire a d coordinator. I don’t think they have one. #onlykindakidding
iEatLames I’M FAMOUS

 RT by DrunknSportsmen

I wasnt born with enuff middle fingers to show you how i REALLy feel.
DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen

@
@gimmeabudlight roethlisberger was just a rookie then with dreams of someday being successful enough to get away with bathroom sex assaults
AJ Эми
gimmeabudlight AJ Эми

 by DrunknSportsmen
Well the last time we lost to the Steelers around Halloween, they went on and won the Super Bowl #SilverLining #Patriots
Erik Frenz
ErikFrenz Erik Frenz

 by DrunknSportsmen
Anyone who points to Chung as a “success story” among the #Patriots draft failures in the secondary is delusional. Such a mixed bag with him
Tony Russo
T_Roos Tony Russo

 by DrunknSportsmen
Did the #patriots agree not to cover Heath Miller before the game? Wide open all day
The DrunkenSportsmen
DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen

@
@ErikFrenz me too buddy
The DrunkenSportsmen
DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen
Well at least this game will be a wake up call for the offense. Even though the defense sucks they are showing fight unlike offense #pats
The DrunkenSportsmen
DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen
thanks! Appreciate it. The rage comes from the heart. “@Dgarrison6@DrunknSportsmen Man I am loving your tweets today”
The DrunkenSportsmen
DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen
Wow Brady is really bad right now. #patriots. fuck this game. Horrible on so many fronts. Gostkowski off the upright for 0 pts
The DrunkenSportsmen
DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen
Matt light trying to kill the momentum
DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen
Steelers are cheap shot artists / whores. Ryan Clark is the worst asshole of em all.
AJ Эми
gimmeabudlight AJ Эми

 by DrunknSportsmen
SIT YO ASS DOWN BATHROOM BEN THAT WAS NOT A FLAG #Patriots
The DrunkenSportsmen
DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen
Tommy B, please get your head out yo’ ass. Time to take Woodhead off kickoff return. #patriots
The DrunkenSportsmen
DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen
Hey Berger stfu! #Steelers
DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen
So much for coming out of the bye week fresh and focused. Pats offense must’ve bought into the media’s hype. Surprising given cowboys game
DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen
Pats kickoff coverage is suspect. Something to look out for. #patriots
DrunknSportsmen The DrunkenSportsmen
Jim Nantz is horrible. #NFL #cbs #cbssucks