Patriots Climb Atop the BCS Rankings but For How Long?

I’ll save you the trouble of looking this up. Since the BCS was birthed in 1998, the 2010 New England Patriots are the worst team to sit atop the NFL’s mythical BCS rankings after eight weeks of football. Such is the state of the NFL. And such is the state of a Patriots team whose many flaws are being obscured by unsustainable results. To that end, it stands to reason that you can make some money “shorting” the Patriots at these lofty prices.

My intention is not to slander the Patriots and minimize their win yesterday. If anything, I thought the team did a nice job grinding out a victory against a desperate opponent. And on a positive note, this team, unlike last year’s squad, is winning pivotal turning points and finding ways to put checks in the win column.

But the warts are still there. First and foremost, the defense yesterday allowed a forty-one year old gimp to slice them up between the twenties and it’s hard to imagine this club throwing down a second-half gauntlet when they are ranked 31st in passing yardage allowed. If Favre can register more than eight yards per pass attempt (259 yards in total), so can others and that is hardly a recipe for success.  That Devin McCourty has emerged as an excellent corner brightens the picture but he alone can’t stem the tide and right now, it is just way too easy to attack the underbelly of New England’s pass defense.

Meanwhile, despite ringing up 362 yards in total offense and 28 points, the Pats still seem like a team searching for rhythm. In the first half yesterday, the Pats had two “three-and-outs” and managed just one score, helped in large part by a 30 yard pass play that probably should have been picked off. The second half was better, and the offense did a nice job closing the door with a late touchdown. But take away a broken play that went for sixty-five yards and the Pats were more sputter than splendor.

Now I don’t mean to imply that yesterday was devoid of encouraging signs. After all, the defense held Adrian Peterson in check, Brady managed to make some big completions when he had to, Danny Woodhead made a terrific play to convert a crucial third down, Benjarvus tore Minny up late, and the pass rush did manage to get some pressure on Favre, particularly in the second half. Throw in a great goal line stand to turn the momentum at the end of the first half, and the Pats have no reason to hang their head in shame.

But they need to do better – a lot better- if they are going to justify and defend their BCS ranking. Most importantly, I think this means the coaching staff has to get more aggressive on defense. By taking away big plays, this team is simply making it too easy to grind out first downs. That has to stop. I realize Belichick doesn’t want to see receivers catching balls behind Kyle Arrington and Jonathan Wilhite and Darius Butler but when the alternative is giving up easy fifteen yarders in front of Brandon Meriweather, something has to change. And on offense, this club needs to find some more “v” for their vertical passing game. Not a ton. But more. Because as it stands, things are pretty crowded underneath and guys like Welker and Hernandez need more room to operate.

With the season’s midway point just a week away, the Pats record is clearly above plan. But the results are misleading. And while they will probably finish the first-half with seven wins, a difficult second half lurks. With that in mind, the Pats need to step it up with some improved play or a trying period of reconciliation awaits.

Extra Points:

* Maybe it was the throwbacks, but the Pats looked slow yesterday. Slow in their reactions. Slow to defend Minnesota’s screens. And even slow on special teams.

* Deion Branch might as well have played yesterday with a handicap patch sewed on his right sleeve. Given his bad wheel, wasn’t yesterday the right place to give Taylor Price a shot? Or is he really a “break glass only in emergency” guy?

* The thought coming out of the Randy Moss trade was the emergence of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski made Moss somewhat expendable.  I admit I bought some of that stock. Well, that stock is now trading down by about 20 percent. Hernandez is an excellent first player but he needs more room.   

* Meriweather had another nightmare game although in his defense, some of it seemed by design. First off, who is he guarding 30 yards off the line of scrimmage? Second, when the coaches finally rolled him closer on the biggest play of the game, he bit on a Moss fake and ended up drawing a game extending PI penalty.  

* I am not one to usually bitch about penalties but at home, the Pats deserved better. If yesterday was required to get New England even for San Diego (forward lateral?), consider the bill paid in full.    

* With the Raiders winning yesterday and moving to 4-4, the Pats may have to take a charge against earnings as the value of that Raiders “number one” pick continues to lose value. Thankfully, a quick glance at the Raiders second half schedule reveals plenty of difficulty, making a 6-10 finish still possible. That should be good for a pick around number 12.

* Watched plenty of that Jets-Packers game yesterday and Clay Mathews was an animal. Remember, the Pats could have taken him in the 2009 draft, but they traded their pick (#26) to Green Bay instead. The Pats wound up with Darius Butler, Brandon Tate and a number two in the 2010 draft that turned out to be Rob Gronkowski. The Pats may get back into this fight if Butler shakes off his early problems but so far, I’d rather have Mathews.   

* Whoever advises Brad Childress on challenges should be replaced this week. The Vikes had a better chance of winning the Mass Lotto then getting Brandon Tate’s first-half reception overturned.

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