Back to Basics
Having abandoned the offense that brought them success, the slumping Patriots need to reestablish the run
Three weeks ago, when their offense was strafing the league for 38 points a game, everything the Patriots did was cutting edge. Tom Brady passed on 68% of the downs in an opening-night win over Pittsburgh. Two weeks later New England threw 70% of the time in a 41-38 shootout victory over Kansas City. At the time offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said, "This isn't old school, where you say, 'This is what we do. Come and stop us.' Now, we figure a game plan depending on who we're playing. If it's not working, we don't wait till half-time. We'll adjust after a couple of series."
But what happens when the adjustments aren't effective? In their last three games the Patriots have scored 14 points or fewer, five touchdowns in all. Most shocking is what transpired during a 28-10 loss to the Packers in Foxboro on Sunday. Against a Green Bay defense playing without five injured starters, New England was totally out of sync. Now, nothing's working on offense for the defending Super Bowl champs, and coach Bill Belichick, speaking in measured but adamant tones after the game, said, "We are going to start all over."
With a bye week to get retooled for a tough upcoming stretch, the Patriots might want to consider these changes.
?Stop making the games passathons. Brady wouldn't have lasted until the sixth round of the 2000 draft if he'd been the most talented and strongest-armed passer. He was drafted because of his ability to manage a game, which is exactly what he did down the stretch last season. The linemen, plodders for the most part, aren't suited to pass-block 45 times a game. And when about 15 of the passes go deep, trouble hits: In the last 10 quarters Brady has thrown seven interceptions.
?Make Antowain Smith a go-to guy again. Last season the Patriots ran on 49% of their snaps. This year they're running only 35% of the time, even though Smith is averaging 4.5 yards a carry. "When you know [the pass] is coming," Packers cornerback Bryant Westbrook says, "you can put yourself in position to upset the passing game." That's why the Patriots will almost certainly turn to the run more in their last 10 games. Like most backs, Smith needs work—and that means getting more than the 14 carries a game he's averaging this season.
After their bye week the schedule is a killer. Denver is up at home, followed by a brutal three-game road trip, to Buffalo, Chicago and Oakland. The Patriots had better get things straightened out. Otherwise they'll be playing meaningless games after Thanksgiving.
Eddie George Back in Stride
Remember The Titan?
Something had been bugging four-time Pro Bowl running back Eddie George, but he says it wasn't his health. (He's fit after turf toe limited him to a disappointing 939 yards rushing last year.) Nor was it the absence of All-Pro lineman Bruce Matthews, who retired in the off-season. Rather, it was the Titans' offensive approach that bothered George. On its way to a 1-4 start Tennessee fell behind early in games and then abandoned the run. When George did get the ball, there were no holes to run through. "I'm hearing, 'Is he done?' " George said on Sunday about rumors of his demise.
So last week the 29-year-old George looked at game tapes from the 1999 and 2000 seasons, during which he rushed for more than 2,800 yards total. He put together a video of about 20 of his classic power runs, and he called his linemen and fullbacks together last Friday after practice. As the tape played, George told his teammates, "Let's believe in what we do. This is our essence! We dominate the line! Don't believe the hype that you're a bad line because Bruce is gone."