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It’s halfway through the 2008 season and it’s flown by, at least for this fan/blogger. For this week’s 2-Point Conversion column I’ll be taking a look at the two glaring inconsistencies which could keep the Patriots from making a deep run in the playoffs.
There were many different reactions and opinions when the Patriots decided not to show Asante Samuel the money and allowed their shutdown corner to take his act to Philadelphia. I’ve said in the past that I supported that decision but was cautious on what kind of secondary Bill Belichick would throw out in ’08. Eight weeks into the season we haven’t seen much more than we expected. Free agent signee Tank Williams and Rodney Harrison have both suffered season ending injuries and some of the veterans brought in to stabilize the corps haven’t worked out (though Jason Webster is now back in a Patriots uniform), the rookies cannot be expected to significantly contribute, and Ellis Hobbs is not a number one corner.
Hobbs has garnered a lot of flack in the last few years and even more this year now that he’s supposed to be ‘the man.’ Surely I’ve been critical of him, mostly because he loves to showboat but doesn’t back up the talk all the time. But it’s important that we take a step back and take a look around the league and see where the shutdown corners are coming from. Almost in every case, a dominant cornerback was drafted in the first round because of freak athletic ability and room for growth. We were spoiled with Asante Samuel because he was drafted later in the draft and became a stop-gap corner. Hobbs is small and was drafted in the third round of the 2005 draft. He hasn’t been a bust at the position, we just have to realize that shutdown corners almost always come from the first round and Hobbs will never become what Asante Samuel meant to the defense.
All that said, the secondary has to improve. No one is expecting great things but on the off chance the front seven can’t get quarterback pressure, more plays have to be made down the field. Deltha O’Neal has had moments of very good and very bad, Brandon Meriweather seems to be gelling more and more with the defense and Hobbs has done reasonably well against No. 1 receivers. I’d like to see a lot more out of James Sanders, who raised the hopes of Patriots fans that he is the heir apparent to Rodney Harrison at the safety position. Safety cover over the top was a big problem against the Chargers and it will be in the coming weeks.
With most of the running backs on the DL (by that I do NOT mean the down-low) we all have seen what the running game can bring. Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk, when healthy, can provide a formidable running attack which can churn up the clock and keep the opposing defense on the field. Much has been made of the growth of Matt Cassel after he was thrown into a very tough situation. He is most definitely getting better, but the status quo will not get the job done late in the season and in the playoffs.
Pass protection has been an issue for the offensive line but a lot has to be blamed on the lack of Cassel’s internal clock. We’ve been spoiled to see Tom Brady effortlessly distribute the ball time after time when he was about to get drilled (and I think we all know we were spoiled) and it was alarming to see a Patriots quarterback hold on to the ball too long and take a sack – for a second it looks like Cassel’s 16 turns into an 11 on that jersey. He has improved in that aspect and seems to have a grasp on the short and intermediate offense which we saw a lot of back in 2001.
To make the next step Cassel will have to develop the long ball, or at least show the capacity to complete a few when necessary. No one is asking him to throw 49 touchdowns or heave a perfect 50 yard pass down the field to Randy Moss every other possession, but defenses have already started creeping up on him and until he shows the ability to go deep, the Patriots will have to win a lot of games with defense and it’s tough to see how this year’s defense could possibly compare to that of 2001.
Now at 5-3, I think the Patriots will go on a nice little run in the division here and will end the season 10-6 and claim the AFC East crown. I see those predictions coming through even if both the secondary and quarterback play don’t improve, however I don’t see a deep playoff run if improvements aren’t made. In a season where the AFC (and the entire NFL for that matter) is the most wide open it’s been in years, the Patriots could enter the playoffs in a position where if they get the right match ups we could see them yet again in the Super Bowl.
Tags: 2-Point Conversion