Patriots

LeBeau finally gets the better of Brady

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LeBeau finally gets the better of Brady

PITTSBURGH -- There was a lot of talk leading into Week 8 about Dick LeBeau's defense.

In the football world, the term rolls off the tongue with gravitas: Dick LeBeau's Defense. The product of a Hall of Famer. The brainchild of a defensive innovator.

And the plaything of quarterback Tom Brady.

Brady's dominance over the Steelers became a focus of the matchup. Would it continue? Would he add to his 6-1 career record against the Steelers? It was his numbers in those wins -- 14 touchdown passes and one pick -- that made the feat so stunning.

But Dick LeBeau is a genius!

The coordinator is once again a winner as of Sunday. Brady completed 24 of 35 pass attempts for 198 yards and two touchdowns in New England's 25-17 loss. His 101.8 passer rating is deceptive; the Patriots never established consistent offense and was downright bad compared to Pittsburgh.

And the numbers grew lopsided early.

Total yards through the first half: Patriots 83, Steelers 261

Time of possession through the first half: Patriots 8:47, Steelers 21:13

Brady's offense had 19 total first downs to Ben Roethlisberger's 29.

The Patriots went 3-fior-10 (30-percent) on third down. Pittsburgh went 10-for-16 (63-percent).

When it was all over, Brady walked through the tunnel to the locker room alone. It took him longer than usual to take the podium. He arrived in a three-piece suit, the eye-black and scowl washed away.

"Well, we just didn't execute very well on offense," he said. "We didn't compliment our defense well. In the first quarter we had an opportunity to go answer their score and we go three-and-out. There was too many three-and-outs. Just a poor level of execution all the way around. We need to look in the mirror and figure out what we need to do better, try to go out and play better next week.

"We never really played with the lead, we never really played on our terms. I think they played very well defensively. They have a lot of great players over there, great scheme, great coaching. We give them, certainly, a lot of credit and we understand that if we play like that we're not going to beat many people at all."

Brady lamented their lack of adjustment. LeBeau set his secondary in man coverage, at times using six defensive backs. And they blitzed, blitzed, blitzed -- a trademark of his 'D', even though not in zone. Three times Brady was sacked (twice by LaMarr Woodley) and the last was the worst: New England was down six with 19 seconds to play. First-and-10. Brady comes out of shotgun and gets pulled down by Steelers lineman Brett Keisel for a loss of three. Fumble! Keisel touches it at the New England 15 before the ball bounces into the end zone and out of bounds.

Safety.

"They blitz 50 percent of the time anyway as a defense, and certainly a lot more than that on third down. It's a lot of pressure," Brady said. "You've got to be able to stand up to the pressure. You've got to be able to complete tight throws and we just didn't do that.

"I think they played more man coverage then they've showed all year. And the way you beat man is you make plays against it and get them out of it. And we didn't do enough of that."

Not having a clear downfield threat is a problem. Chad Ochocinco was on the field for less than 10 snaps and got his feet tangled with a defender on the one deep post route he was targeted on. Brady only looked at Taylor Price once (incomplete). The longest ball caught by any Patriot was tight end Rob Gronkowski's 23-yard reception.

The offense did finally string a second touchdown drive together in the fourth quarter. It was exactly what the team needed: 10 plays, 67-yards and two Pittsburgh penalties in three minutes and 28 seconds. Brady fired his gun quickly, accurately, finding all his favorite targets: Welker for eight, Branch for 16, Gronkowski for 19, Faulk for 18. They were battling. In those minutes, the Steelers looked soft and the Patriots had purpose.

It just wasn't enough.

Pittsburgh failed on its ensuing drive, but so did New England. And it all ended with that fumble.

"It's a good football team. We played them on the road. There's not much margain for error when you play a good team on the road. We certainly made plenty of errors," Brady said.

Just as Dick LeBeau designed it.

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.

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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.

Have the offseason changes negatively affected the Patriots locker room?

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Have the offseason changes negatively affected the Patriots locker room?

The Patriots improve their record to 4-2 with a win over the Jets, but there are still a lot of concerning factors for New England. Mike Giardi and Dan Koppen talk about something the team isn't used to - close games.

Giardi also dives into whether there is a major problem with the locker room dynamic, and whether all the moves they made in the offseason were blown way out of proportion by the media and fans of the talent added, but didn't factor in the personalities they lost.

Koppen and Giardi also look at how the offensive line play has fallen off, despite the same personnel as last year. Finally, discussing the late scratch of Stephon Gilmore due to a concussion. Anything to read into the timing?