It might be time to call an occologist because after three weeks, it looks to me like the New England Patriots have some cancers in their defensive backfield. The initial diagnosis at Free Safety is Hodgkins as Brandon Meriweather has all the making of a “good cancer.” It’s still cancer and it SUCKS to have, but because Meriweather shows occasional flashes of competence, he may be treatable. I’m not so sure that is the case with cornerback Darius Butler,the younger and lesser of the two. It’s early, but his sickness looks like a bitch and I’m not sure he’s going to make it. People, it is going to take a lot of patience to watch these two go through treatment this season.
Yesterday was simply another mess for the Pats pass defense. None other than Harvard grad Ryan Fitzpatrick hung an efficient 247 yards on the Pats and without a couple of fourth quarter interceptions, the Pats defense would have needed the offense to bail them out. Now the defense gets a little credit for forcing those turnovers but that credit hardly offsets the fact that the lowly Bills generated 370 yards of offense on just fifty-three plays. That is a cause for celebration against Indy or Green Bay. And quite frankly, I think I would sign up for that against Pittsburgh or San Diego. But Buffalo? Sorry, that just isn’t good enough.
And that takes us to Meriweather and Butler. Let’s start with the Free Safety. Forget all that pro-bowl garbage. After all, Pro Bowl invites are given out like gold gloves …. carelessly and with prejudice. So the fact that Meriweather snuck his way into last year’s game is meaningless in these parts. What isn’t meaningless is how poorly Meriweather has played this season. He is constantly getting tied up in traffic and he seems to have a knack for being in the wrong place most of the time. But more importantly, as Drew Brees proved a year ago, our boy Hodge can be steered easily around the field with fakes and glances. Yes, Meriweather is capable of making a play, as he did on an interception yesterday, but given all the plays he gives up, his good stuff seems to come more from good guesses than good reads.
Meanwhile, Butler seems ready to fall apart. To be quite honest, I didn’t think he played very well last season, particularly down in Miami where he took South Florida’s worst beating since Aaron Pryor destroyed Alexis Arguello. But he was a freshman and some of that stuff can be written off to inexperience, I told myself. This year, I am not willing to be so generous. I didn’t like what I saw out of Butler in week one and I was horrified by week two. Yesterday, Butler started the game on the bench but he still saw enough action in the second half to creep me out further, giving up a number of receptions to Roscoe Parrish. It’s still too early to call Darius an outright bust, but the second-year returns are reason for concern.
And what I find most confusing about Butler is Belichick went nuts over this guy after seeing him at the UCONN Pro Day. BB rarely shows much enthusiasm when discussing picks but I recall him glowing when he was asked about Butler two April’s ago. Great speed. Great quickness. Tremendous athleticism. These were the descriptions, I heard. And if BB is a buyer, then it seemed safe to go along for the ride. Well, to date, it hasn’t been safe. Butler may be quick and he may be fast, but he is small and he hasn’t shown very much ability to suffocate a route and take a receiver out of a play. Instead, QB’s are pushin his cushion and the net result is batches of catches.
With Butler struggling and “Hodge” still sitting in traffic, I concede I am worried about the Pats pass defense. Now it may help to get Wheatley back as he has shown some coverage skills in the past, particularly before he was injured his rookie season. And getting him back may take some pressure of Butler. But putting one’s chips behind Wheatley is hardly comforting. And with Miami ahead this Monday and Brandon Marshall coming off a big night, I am worried that the Pats may get lit up in South Beach. It happened last year and there is no reason why it can’t happen again.
Other Thoughts on yesterday’s game …..
* The offense, as expected, was very solid yesterday. A nice day upfront for the line, some good things in the running game from BenJarvus, Brady was nearly perfect, the ball was spread around, and the white shoe law firm of Welker, Edelman and Woodhead was on the case. Yes, the opponent was lowly Buffalo and yes, Tate had a bad fumble, but the offense showed good form yesterday. This team will score points. But the bigger question is can it put games away when the defense is not up to the task?
* How in the world did Aaron Hernandez last until the fourth round? He is a YAC machine. And I’ll offer this premature prediction right now …. At one point in the next five years, Hernandez will be named first or second team All-Pro.
* OLB Rob Ninkovich stinks. That is all I have to say on that matter.
* The pass rush had a pretty good couple of weeks but yesterday, it was all quiet on the Western Front. One sack and just a handful of QB hits is not enough when you are covering for Hodge and Non-Hodge. And coming up with a doughnut yesterday has got to be a disappointment for TBC who racked up half of his ten sacks against Buffalo a year ago. I am now pretty confident saying this … Banta-Cain will not hit double digits this season.
* I have been entirely underwhelmed by this new punter. Zoltan Mesko has not come as advertised.