Patriots

Cannon, Solder struggle again

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Cannon, Solder struggle again

FOXBORO - There's no reason to sugarcoat it. Marcus Cannon and Nate Solder played badly last week against the Saints and - after 10 days off and a rigorous week of practice - the second year tackles came out and played badly again against the Eagles.

Doesn't matter who else was out there next to them, across from them or behind them. Doesn't matter that it was just the second preseason game. After the Saints game, their lack of discipline and fundamental soundness was a flashpoint. They simply needed to play better and show improvement to quell the angst.

They did not.

The offensive line as a whole wasn't good - 2.1 yards on 29 carries; 15 for 37 passing with two sacks allowed and another wiped out by penalty - but the return of Brian Waters and Logan Mankins should settle three-fifths of the line. The other two-fifths - the tackle spots - were probably the biggest problem and Cannon and Solder were expected to be competent there. They haven't been.

On the second snap of the game, Cannon got called for a hold. On a screen in the first quarter, Solder got beat by Trent Cole which caused a screen pass to get messed up. Cannon allowed a strip sack. Solder got steamrolled by Cole later in the first. Solder allowed a sack by Cole that got wiped out by penalty.

Concern?

"The Eagles are a good team so we're concerned about everything," said Belichick when asked about the protection issues. "Just go out there and play. We had over 50 plays in the first half and we had a lot of snaps so we got a chance to evaluate a lot of things against the Eagles."

Eagles linebacker Brandon Graham was asked about his matchups with both players.

"I was getting up and under him a lot and that is probably the best thing," Graham said of Solder. "The challenges are that he is a big, long guy and you have to get his hands off of you. He is real strong and you have to stay on your game when you're playing him."

Cole was on his game in terms of bringing pressure.

Asked about Cannon, Graham said, "I feel like we should have gone at him a little more."

Solder, the 17th overall pick last year, was unfailingly polite (as he always is) when asked if he was concerned about the protection breakdowns.

"That's our job," he said. "I'm going to continue to improve my game. That's my focus. I don't know the specifics (of what he needs to work on). It will be what (offensive line coach Dante) Scarnecchia's telling me and all the coaches are telling me. I haven't been around long enough to know but I'll continue to work and do the best I can."

The look on Solder's face seemed to signal that he's as uncomfortable with how things have looked as anyone watching is. Probably more.

The phrases "try to get better", "look to improve" and "continue to work" are his verbal crutches. But he must feel in real time and he'll certainly see on tape that he's too often tentative and playing well below his physical capabilities.

His affable predecessor Matt Light brought an air of nasty to the position that helped him. Solder's going to need to tap that because he's a beacon of insecurity on Tom Brady's blindside right now and defensive ends and outside linebackers will prey on that when they see the film.

The conversation was loud after the first preseason game. After this one - regardless of how long the Eagles played their starters and the fact the Patriots barely played theirs - the noise will grow louder still.

"My focus is getting better and it's gonna be within these walls that we're gonna focus and get better," Solder declared.

There's reason to believe he will. Maybe both he and Cannon will. But time is running out.

QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

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QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

3:00 Why has Bill Belichick been so surprisingly positive of his team’s performance in tight wins?

6:30 Phil Perry breaks down what grades he gave the Patriots on his report card following the win over the Jets

15:00 Reaction to the Austin-Seferian Jenkins overturned touchdown, and what changes need to be made in the NFL replay system. 

23:00 Why was Patriots offensive line much more effective against Jets?

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

25:00 Patriots-Falcons preview, how did Falcons blow a 17 point lead to the Dolphins?

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

FOXBORO - We’re not quite at the point of fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, or 40 years of darkness, or even dogs and cats living together, but this Patriots season isn’t headed down the right path, despite a 4-2 record and the top spot in the AFC East. 

There are several elements that appear missing at this juncture - chief among them a defense that actually has a clue. Please don’t celebrate holding the Jets to 17 points - I’m looking at you, Dont’a Hightower. Josh McCown threw for just 194 yards against the Cleveland freakin’ Browns for goodness sake, but he got you for 354 and two scores?! Even the 2009 Patriots defense is offended by that.

MORE

We’d be foolish to think the Pats can’t get this leaky unit fixed for reasons so obvious I won’t state them in this space so as not to waste my time or yours. We also know - long before Bill Belichick’s 6 1/2-minute explanation on the Monday conference call - that it's not supposed to be perfect right now. Actually, it’ll never be perfect. That’s not how this game works. 

Yet week after week, we see uncommon breakdowns and one defender looking at the next as if to say, “I thought you had him?” or more to the point, “what the hell were you doing?” It started Sunday at MetLife on the third play of the game. Malcolm Butler, playing 10 yards off Robby Anderson, looking as if he’s never played the position before, inexplicably turning his back on Anderson even though the wide receiver makes no real move to the post. That results in just about the easiest completion of McCown’s life, a 23-yarder on third-and-10. 

On the same series, on another third-and-long, the Pats rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. Defensive end Cassius Marsh continued his season-long trend of rushing so far upfield he ended up in Hoboken. With Deatrich Wise ridden outside on the opposite edge, McCown wisely stepped up and found prime real estate with New York City views. He wanted to throw and could have when the Pats fouled up a crossing route from the backside of the play. But with that much room to roam, McCown took off, scooting for a quick 16 yards and another first down.

Fittingly, that drive ended with a Jets touchdown on yet another dumb play, this one courtesy of Mr. Hit or Miss, Elandon Roberts. Channeling his inner Brandon Spikes, the second-year pro blew off his key and responsibility on third-and-goal from the 1, charging hard to the line. This, despite one of the most feeble play-action fakes you’ll see. In fact, I’m not even sure it was a real play-action fake. Anyway, score it as a touchdown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and an indictment on David Harris, who apparently can’t vault past the erratic Roberts on the depth chart.

Similar to the week prior in Tampa, the Pats found better footing after that. They forced three straight three-and-outs in the second quarter and then helped turn the game when Butler intercepted an ill-advised throw by McCown just prior to the half. They got another turnover to start the third, with Butler coming off the edge on fourth-and-1 and forcing McCown into panic mode. The veteran QB fired an off-target throw to - get this - a wide open receiver who went uncovered on a drag route and Devin McCourty was gifted an interception.

But this group frowns on prosperity. It took a little-seen rule to prevent a Seferian-Jenkins touchdown in the fourth, and on the game’s final drive, the Pats allowed a 32-yard completion on fourth-and-12. Then, on what turned out to be the Jets final play, the Pats let Tavaris Cadet leak out of the backfield and run unchecked 20 yards down the field. Had McCown not soiled himself again, Gang Green would have had a first down and at least one crack at the end zone. Then, who knows what the heck happens?

It was just a season ago that the Patriots led the entire NFL in scoring defense. If you’ll recall, we spent a better part of the year wondering if that defense was championship quality. Turns out they were. Right now, we’re wondering once again if this defense is of that ilk, but through an entirely different prism. It’s on the players and staff to change the current outlook, or those cats and dogs will have to figure out their shared space.