To the average New England Patriots football fan, the game against Tampa Bay signified outright disaster and despair. For them, I prescribe the standard two aspirins and check back on Sept. 7th at exactly one o'clock and you will see all is fine in Patriot-land.
As I have written elsewhere, Bill Belichick has become more astute in conserving energy in pre-season when it comes to his veterans.
The Defense was not only playing straight up conservative defense, they were in cruise control for the most part. I can guarantee you that Belichick did not chew out their asses in the locker room afterwards.
The Patriots are not inclined to show their hands in the preseason (see '07 0-4 effort). On top of that, their uninspired performance confirms my assessment that the Patriots defense has undergone a fundamental shift in philosophy and strategy, and will come out with a new look during the regular season.
The biggest surprise of the Patriot's 2008-09 season will be their defense, and they do not want to give that game away too soon.
Also, no need to worry about the running game. Again, just putting in the reps.
Unlike the Patriots, Tampa DID have a game plan (Jon Gruden gets up at 3 a.m. for a reason), and that definitely contributed to making things look bad for the New England folks.
The only thing I can surmise is that since Gruden is particularly prone to collecting quarterbacks, he has quite a task of sorting out who makes final cut and who doesn't, and, consequently, he tests them in the preseason, and whoever doesn't stick to his game plan can look forward to cleaning out their lockers.
However there are a few gems to look at: the emergence of Mayo which is pretty obvious, but also the play of Wheatley and Crable, both of who are solidifying themselves as the #3 option, Wheatley at CB, and Crable at OLB, behind Vrabel and Thomas. He may have skinny calves, but he knows how to shed blockers and has an instinct for where the play is going to develop.
Also Slater continues to show his versatility and raw talent all over the field. Look for him to be a shutdown CB (Capers is favoring him there). Wheatley, Wilhite, and Slater all have great speed, and more importantly, fantastic transitional speed (from backpedal).
Now as for the performance of Curly, Larry, and Moe—Brady's backups.. To me it is pretty obvious that Matt Cassel's ticket has already been punched and that the team knows he is pretty much a cut from the final roster.
Case in point: On his second drive, he made a read on the defense, then changed play on the fly, at the line of scrimmage, but since the players didn't really seem to respond quickly enough, he couldn't get all 10 players on the same page before the play-clock began to run out, and the end result was Kaczur made a premature jump (false start penalty). If you read between the lines here, you will understand that Kaczur's jump indicated his lack of trust in Cassel to manage the play-clock like a pro.
To have all 10 players on their toes, the quarterback has to command some kind of respect. It is, in the final analysis, his job to be the general on the field.
Perhaps Gutierrez's one saving grace is that he did not play, and ostensibly this was because he had missed practice time with that bruise he incurred.
However, O'Connell continued to show flashes of how good of a pick he was. Aside from trying to fit the proverbial camel through the eye of a needle, a pickoff intended for Jackson, buried in a crowd near the sidelines, O'Connell showed great field vision, poise, and talent.
I do know that it has been said repeatedly that he is playing against second and third string, but you can see the extra pop the OL and offense has when he is at the controls. That, to me, is far more significant. Watch for him to emerge as the No. 2 option.
Also watch for Guyton and Redd to make final roster with Stupar headed for the practice squad. I am still praying for Green-Ellis to somehow make roster, because I fear that if he ends up on the practice squad, some team will claim him, since players on the practice squad cannot be protected.
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