Patriots

Postcards from Camp: Day 2

828737.jpg

Postcards from Camp: Day 2

Day 2 of Patriots Training Camp. Practice didn't kick in until around 2 p.m., although most players were on the field between 1:30 and 1:50. Tom Brady didn't pull on his jersey until nearly 2 causing a ripple of concern (at least with me) that he was elsewhere.

WEATHER
Overcast for the most part at the start of practice with some breaks of sun later. It was muggy again, temperatures again in the mid-80s. There were a few sprinkles at one point but no rain.

WHAT THEY WORE
They wore Nike practice jerseys - white for the offense, blue for the defense. Again. Same as yesterday. No full pads yet, although teams are allowed to go full pads once a day and also have a walkthrough with no contact.

WHAT THEY DID
Started off with some light stuff at 1:30 until everyone dribbed and drabbed out there. Why doesn't everyone come out at once? My suspicion is that there are meetings, high-level X-ing and O-ing going on, checking release points and hand placement. I would be very disappointed to find that Tom Brady was in the locker room trying to send out a hit on those photographers who got the latest picture of him cavorting near water. Once everyone was out there, the corners and wideouts worked on jams and releases respectively. The DBs were being shown how to funnel their men to help with their jams. The receivers did some catching drills in which a towel was thrown into their line of vision as the ball arrived. There was a lot of special teams punt work done. Most of it stressed coverage. There was also 7-on-7, 5-on-5 using half the field and 11-on-11 followed by field goals at the end. And full field sprints.

WHO'S HOT
Tom Brady went 25 for 28 on Friday after going 26 for 29 on Thursday. (editors note: Paoletti's in charge of Brady stat-keeping and she made a weird face that said, "I might have missed one..." There will be consequences). Julian Edelman looked outstanding in some of his 1-on-1 drills. He usually does. Aaron Hernandez also had a solid day. And Jerod Mayo has been on the field almost non-stop for the defense through the first two days.

WHO'S NOT
Free agent fullback Spencer Larsen didn't look good. A few drops offensively. And the reporter who asked Rob Gronkowski whether Gronk's ankle felt OK FOUR FREAKING DIFFERENT WAYS at the start of the group interview, basically ruining the easily spooked Gronk for the rest of the interview. That guy wasn't so hot either.

WHAT WE SAW
Tom Brady was wearing Under Armour cleats with big red laces. Again. Robert Kraft came out to the field and backslapped. Again. This time with Hernandez and Deion Branch. Kraft was wearing what appeared to be skinny jeans and a black polo with his collar popped. Hey, don't shoot the messenger, here.

WHAT THEY SAID
"What difference does it make? Do we have any football questions here?" - Bill Belichick when asked if he saw pictures of Tom Brady cliff diving.

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

quickslantspodcast_clean.jpg

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.