posted at 12/1/2009 12:17 AM EST
The Saints are a good team, but the Patriots fell apart under pressure. In the process, a lot of problems were exposed. Here's what I saw:
Can this defense step up? They missed a lot of tackles and blew a lot of coverage assignments (Merriweather got fooled into biting on a lot of underneath routes, which is how the Saints were able to pass the ball deep). For the past few years, they've been trying to learn how to play in big games. I'm hoping this is an ongoing process of improvement, but they need to work really hard in order to overcome their current problems in the clutch. Maybe they'll adapt to playing under pressure as they gain more experience doing so... (Kevin Garnett was once considered to be a choke artist in basketball, but after 4 or 5 playoff runs with the Timberwolves he got used to playing in that environment).
What happened to our defense? Why can't we play like that? Watching the Saints' defense today was like staring at the mirror image of everything the Patriots used to be. They used to win with cornerbacks signed off the streets. They used to prevent big plays and force other teams to execute. They used to never miss tackles and never allow extra yardage while making timely big hits. They used to mix things up and keep opposing QB's confused. They used to have excellent game plans that stopped prolific offenses in their tracks. And yes, this is nostalgia. Remember when? I hope it comes back again.
Who's to blame for the defensive breakdown? The players for blowing assignments? Or the coaches (particularly Dean Pees) for being underprepared for the Saints' offense? Based on what I saw, I thought the coaches put the players in position to succeed and that they missed tackles and blew coverages, but who knows? Does this mean that the Pats should consider bringing back Crennel if he's willing? I know this much: the Patriots no longer have an elite defense. They can't hold up against the best when it counts the most (see 2007, 2006 as well).
Can they win on the road?
As of right now, no, and it's looking like their only playoff win might be the home game they might get by default for winning the AFC East (which could be a huge problem if they choke in Miami next week - this is a very real possibility given their track record this year).
Is this the blueprint to stopping the Patriots' offense? The Saints ran timely blitzes, changed defenses frequently to make life difficult for Brady, and got pressure on Brady frequently even when only sending 3 or 4 rushers. They bracketed Welker with a safety shadowing him over the top to prevent yards after the catch and played Randy close enough at the line of scrimmage to keep big plays from developing. They also jammed Faulk and grabbed him to keep him from being a safety valve for Brady.
Which leads to the next question: How limited is this offense by its lack of a #3 receiver? It was clear that once the Saints found a way to stop Moss, Welker, and Faulk, the Pats had nobody dynamic enough to make plays. I would have liked Watson to step up and get open more often against the single coverage he frequently saw, but I think he'll never be more than a supporting player on a better team.
Can they overcome their inability to score in the red zone? It wasn't much of a problem today (in part because they only got there four times), but I think this could be an issue moving forward. The offense is spotty and inconsistent enough already - but they somehow get even worse in the red area. As the Pats found out today, they might need a LOT of touchdowns to win games for the rest of the year.
Does this only heighten the need to bring Charlie Weis back? Steve Young pointed out that nothing worked out of the huddle for the Pats, which leads me to believe that the offense was under-prepared for what they faced.
How much did the cobbled-together offensive line affect today's game? Light played every snap coming off of an injury. Levoir started at right tackle, and I doubt anyone outside of New England knows who Levoir even is. I credit the Saints defenders for doing a great job, but there's no way 3 & 4 guys should be getting to Brady. As a consolation prize of sorts, I thought the running game looked decent.
Is this a rebuilding year? No, THIS IS NOT AN EXCUSE. LOSSES ARE LOSSES. But it's clear that they're a team in transition. The announcers frequently pointed out that the defense fielded six new starters this year. I think tonight's the first night that I truly missed the height and versatility of Richard Seymour because he could collapse the pocket and bat passes away AND hold up against the run.
I think at the very least this team has a lot of learning to do on the fly, and their ability or inability to learn as they go will determine just how far they go this season.