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Chad Ochocinco has nine catches, 136 receiving yards and no touchdowns in six games this season. These numbers are far and away the worst they’ve ever been for Ochocinco, who averaged five catches and 74 yards per game in his first 10 seasons. Ochocinco has given the Patriots virtually nothing as he takes his sweet time learning their offense.
I could not care less. I have absolutely no problem with Ochocinco, and I’m getting increasingly tired of all the Chad-bashing.
Every team has a receiver who contributes less than the others. There has to be a fifth receiver. In years past, a tight end usually filled that role. Tom Brady knew this, so he either lived along the sidelines or used slot receivers to cover the middle of the field.
Now, with the the Patriots’ Dynamic Duo of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, Brady has two huge targets to throw to in the flat. Gronkowski is too big and strong, and Hernandez is too quick. No defense has figured out how to shut one down without springing the other, and Hernandez’s speed let’s him double as a deep-threat.
Ochocinco doesn’t need to run the flat routes that older Patriots’ wide receivers had to because the Patriots’ tight ends match up better against opposing linebackers than Ochocinco ever could. Just remember: Hernandez is as tall as Ochocinco with 50 extra pounds of muscle; Gronkowski is five inches taller and 70 pounds stronger.
And even when the tight ends can’t get it done, the Patriots have the best wide receiver in the NFL in Wes Welker (740 receiving yards – 131 more than second-place Steve Smith). Welker was already one of the best slot-receivers in New England history before this season, but he’s added a sideline presence that’s made him almost un-coverable.
Does anyone actually want to see Ochocinco taking passing plays away from Welker? Even at his best, Ochocinco couldn’t do what Welker does (Welker’s averaged 7.2 receptions and 81.2 yards per game with Patriots).
Ochocinco hasn’t produced much because the Patriots don’t want him to produce much. Perhaps Ochocinco could duke it out with Deion Branch for the final starting job, but Branch had a 54-game head start entering this season. Branch knows Brady inside and out, making him the far smarter fourth-option for the Patriots. Ochocinco in the past showed more flash than Branch, but Ochocinco will only be able to show that once he learns the system.
When Randy Moss half-assed his way through the 2010 season despite a contract worth about $5 million (part of a three-year, $27-million deal), Patriots fans rightly chewed him out. And because of Ochocinco’s on-field antics (most of which I’ve found harmless and hilarious, by the way), many see Ochocinco as the heir-apparent to Moss, both as the deep threat and a “problem athlete.”
The physical differences between the two players aside, Patriots fans must understand that Moss’ contract isn’t Ochocinco’s. The Patriots gave up just a fifth- and sixth-round draft pick for Ochocinco, then restructured the deal so that he would make $1 million in base pay with a $4.5-million signing bonus. The idea that Ochocinco isn’t living up to some giant contract is just plan misguided.
Ochocinco was a cheap pickup for the Patriots. Everyone needs to lower their demands on a player who is a) coming to a completely different team, b) didn’t break the bank, and c) isn’t doing anything in the clubhouse to damage chemistry.
The Patriots have just two more wide receivers on their roster: Second-year Taylor Price, and fourth-year Matthew Slater. Price has exactly three career catches under his belt, and Slater is primarily a special teams player. So which receiver exactly can replace Ochocinco? Neither has done anything to show he can be better than Ochocinco, and Ochocinco’s upside when he finally does learn the system is far greater.
When Ochocinco syncs with Brady, the two will combine for more yardage than Brady could with either Price or Slater. Until that happens, the Patriots seem content to bring Ochocinco along slowly, getting the not-overpaid receiver a couple of passes each game without hindering their far superior tight ends and starting wideouts.
So far, the strategy’s worked out fine. And if the Patriots are o.k. with Ochocinco’s developmental pace, so am I.