Clint's Corner Archive
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The source for back issues of Clint's Corner. Forget a trade? Were Clint's predictions correct? Here's every edition, verbatim.
It’s... no good...
For the 6th time in 7 weeks, Patriots fans were forced to hold their breath inside the two-minute warning. Although the team as a whole played much better this week than in their loss to Miami, the only difference between a one-point loss and a one-point win was a simple play or two by the defense on their last stand. After 58:35 worth of football, Jason Elam’s 59-yard field goal attempt fell less than 10 yards shy. Ten yards is all that separated 5-2 from 4-3 and a three game losing streak. One more pass, one more run would have done it. When you’re up 24-13 at home with just over 8 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, it should not come down to that. "It should not have come down to that" has got to be the most overused saying in Foxboro.
So far this season the Pats have played with fire six times, and have only been burned twice. While it’s true that New England is a missed 32-yard field goal and a simple 1st down away from being 7-0, you could easily make an argument that the Pats should be 2-5. They have certainly played like a 2-5 team more often than 5-2 teams normally do. The bottom line, however, is winning and as I mentioned a few weeks ago, you will never see me complain about an ugly win. If one point was good enough last week to give the Dolphins a big victory, then it’s certainly good enough this week to get the Pats back on track before they head to Arizona to face the struggling 2-4 Cardinals.
In last week’s loss to the Miami Dolphins, most of the blame, including my own worthless two cents, was pointed at the offensive line. While the coaching staff only called 14 running plays, the line never showed why there should have even been a 15th considered.
When you look at the personnel on the Pats line, it’s puzzling why they have struggled to run the ball. Damien Woody is already a better run-blocker than Dave Wohlabaugh was. The line is anchored by two veteran tackles in Moss and Armstrong who are both in their best physical shape in years. Heath Irwin is an exceptional athlete for his size; a prototype for the Denver offensive line regarded as one of the best in the league.
The real puzzler is Rucci. With his big contract, fairly or unfairly he is most often singled out for the Pats running woes. When you see a lineman listed at 300 lbs., you picture the Nate Newtonesque belly hanging over the football pants. Not Rucci. This guy is 300 lbs. of pure muscle. His jaw alone probably weighs 10 to 12 lbs. While Rucci does not possess the muscular definition of a Ted Johnson, you would be hard pressed to find a 300-lb. man with less body fat than #71 outside the WWF. It’s hard to see the difference with all the pads on, but having been to a few training camps and a Patriots dinner function here and there, Rucci stands out from the rest when he sheds the game gear. Why this man is not able to dominate the line of scrimmage is as much a question in my mind as life on other planets. Despite his obvious physical tools, Rucci has never turned any heads. In fact, the expansion Browns could have had him for free and passed.
Give ‘em a chance...
While the Pats entered the Denver game with the 27th ranked rushing offense in the league, you’d have a very hard time convincing me that 26 NFL teams have a more talented group of offensive lineman. No way. Drew Bledsoe is perhaps the best thing to happen to the Patriots in their 40-year history, but his arrival in 1993 is also the reason the Patriots are not able to run the ball consistently. Trade Bledsoe to the Bucs for Trent Dilfer, and I’m sure you’d see the league’s #1 rushing offense drop way down in the rankings while the Pats would likely finish in the top 10 running the ball and in last place in the AFC East. Necessity is the mother of invention, and with Bledsoe, the need to run the ball is not as strong as it is with other teams.
While it’s true and justifiable that the Pats should primarily be a passing offense, their inability to run the ball the few times they have had to have directly led to their only two losses of the season. Against Denver, the Pats ran two running plays from the one-yard line. Following both of those runs, the Pats offensive line was standing in the endzone and Terry Allen was there with them holding the ball. You can’t ask for any better than that. The Pats line does have the talent to get it done, but the coaching staff is still content to leave it all up to Drew, and defenses know it.
In the Pats final two possessions of the game (not counting the three kneel downs), the Pats offense needed to run the clock to protect leads of 4 and 1 point(s). Each of those possessions ended when the Patriots faced their first third down of the drive. On the first possession, consecutive Terry Allen runs had gained 8 yards, setting up a 3rd and 2 at the Patriots 47. Despite the dominance the offensive line had shown earlier in the game at the goal line, a pass play was called. Denver knew this was coming and sent 8 guys after Drew Bledsoe. A 5-yard sack followed and New England had to punt away with a four-point lead and 4:25 left in the game.
After Denver added a field goal, the Pats offense was back on the field this time nursing a one-point lead. The next time the Pats faced third down was following consecutive Faulk runs totaling 6 yards. It was 3rd and 4 at the Denver 38. There were just under 4 minutes to play. Another first down would put New England in field goal range and would also allow them to burn more precious seconds off the clock. Despite what had happened on the previous third down, another pass play was called and Drew was immediately buried again for a 7-yard sack. Denver knew a pass was coming. It was New England’s 10th third down of the game, and the previous 9 had all been pass attempts with just two resulting in 1st downs. The Pats punted once again and Denver took over with 3:15 to play.
The Pats average yardage to gain on 3rd down throughout the game was 6. (3rd and 12 kneel down on 11th third down not being counted). Apparently, this is 5 yards more than what Ernie Zampese and Pete Carroll consider running distance on 3rd down. This is despite Terry Allen averaging 6.2 yards per carry on the day. Sure he had one run go for 39 yards, but if you’re going to take that one away, you must also take away the two 1-yard TD runs. (It’s hard to gain better than 1 yard from the 1). That leaves Allen with 14 carries for 65 yards, a still very healthy 4.6 average.
Yes it’s hard to run for 5 yards on 3rd and 5, but when you pass on every single 3rd down throughout the game, you play right into the hands of the defense. The Pats converted two of their first three 3rd downs of the game, but went 0-7 after that with three sacks and two incomplete passes. You can’t do any worse than that running the ball. Even if a few runs on 3rd down come up short, you at least establish that you are willing to run the ball on 3rd down. That threat, no matter how slight, would certainly have made Greg Robinson think twice before blitzing 8 players on 3rd and 2 and 3rd and 4 on decisive third downs late in the game.
While this game was again almost lost because the offense could not protect the lead with sustained drives, this time I point the finger at the coaches. The line did their job when they were asked to for the entire game, and with the game on the line, Carroll and Zampese had no faith that the running game could pick up even two yards. You can’t expect the offensive line to run block when you are calling passing plays. I don’t care if you have the greatest passing game the NFL has ever seen, you don’t throw the ball every damn time the down marker reads "3."
Next Sunday the Pats will kick off at 4:00 p.m. ET, about 90 minutes or so before little Goblins and Witches on the East Coast will begin going door-to-door. The NFL could save Patriots fans a lot of anxiety, and allow us parents some more quality time with our trick-or-treaters with one simple solution that is not likely to have any effect on the outcome of the game if weeks 1 through 7 were any indication.
Put two minutes on the clock and have the Pats kick off to the Cardinals. If Dave Brown can drive his offense down for a touchdown or a field goal, Arizona wins the game, if not, the Pats are 6-2. The NFL of course won’t do this, but I think all they’re doing is adding 58 minutes to the game.
See you next week...