After watching the Patriots get beat down the field time after time tonight, I'm not sure how successful this team would be even if they had Brady as their signal caller this season.
Simply put, the secondary doesn't look like it can compete with quality opponents. Even last week they were lucky they faced the Mike Martz-led, turnover-happy 49ers. They won but it wasn't a victory that sat well with me because of the way the defense was manhandled at times by J.T. O'Sullivan.
The problems in the Pats' secondary start with Deltha O'Neil. O'Neil was released by the Bengals, a team clearly starving for defense, but I thought he had some solid ball-hawking abilities. Any of those skills are diminished by the way he can be fooled easily on double moves by receivers. He gets beat off the line consistently and at 5-10 he needs to gain position on bigger receivers.
Ellis Hobbs hasn't been great thus far but at the same time he hasn't progressed to where I thought he would. After Asante Samuel left, the Pats needed him to step up this season. He seems to be out of position more often than not and he should be the leader of the cornerbacks but is just another face in the crowd these days.
I'm not expecting someone like Rodney Harrison to cover receivers or even a tight end. Both his and James Sanders' responsibilities lie mainly with the running game, which the Pats did a decent job of tonight. A guy like Brandon Meriweather is improving but again, he's not exactly standing out in coverage.
Some of these issues could be alleviated by good ol' fashioned QB pressure. Problem is, there was literally none to speak of tonight. The Patriot pass rushers (Adalius Thomas and Mike Vrabel) didn't even get close to Rivers all night and the down linemen were pancaked on more than a few occasions. In games like this where it's obvious the other team is going to exploit you deep there needs to be some sort of wrinkle in the defense to at least partially cover up its deficiencies. I'm not sure something like bringing a safety over the top more often would have helped all that much but after seeing Vincent Jackson abuse O'Neal, what other alternatives are there?
This is a flawed team, not even bringing the offense into account. Is age finally catching up to what has been the premiere defense in the NFL since 2003? The next few weeks will be very telling.
One last thing...
After the San Diego fans booed the officials for correctly calling a non-interception I started thinking about the things that they really should have booed over the years:
-Nate Kaeding missing an easy field goal that could have beat the Jets in their 2004
opening round playoff game.
-Marlon Mcree being stripped by Troy Brown to change the course of the game and help jump start the Pats to a 24-21 win.
-Philip Rivers and LT crying after Ellis Hobbs did the "Lights Out" dance on the Chargers symbol after that game. They claimed it was disrespectful. Wasn't aware doing a dance to mock your opponents was at all respectful.
-Their defense for letting the Pats offense run out the clock with 9:13 left in last year's AFC Title Game.
Note to fans: Your team beat an extremely beatable Pats team and your quarterback has yet to prove he can win a big game. (If you don't recall, it was Billy Volek and not Rivers who beat the Colts last year).