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Questionable Play Calling in Sunday's Debacle has Pats in Unfamiliar Territory

via Sports Illustrated
There is so much to pick apart from Sunday's debacle in Detroit, I'm not even sure where to start. For the second consecutive week, the New England Patriots were thoroughly outplayed on both sides of the ball. This game was eerily similar to the Monday Night Massacre in Kansas City a few years ago, as the Patriots were embarrassed on national television.

The thing that I found most frustrating was the offensive play-calling. It was clear early on that the Patriots wanted to establish the run against this defense; which made sense. Through the first two weeks of the season, Detroit had allowed 359 rushing yards. However, it was also clear early on in this game that the run game wasn't working. Yet, despite the ineffectiveness, and an increasing deficit, the team stayed committed to the run. So much so, that they chose to run the ball three consecutive times on one possession in the fourth quarter, despite facing a double digit deficit, and time dwindling.


That leads me to a guy who I think is the source of a lot of fans' unwarranted frustration at the moment, Sony Michel. Pats fans, I get it. Watching Sunday's game, I found myself becoming irrationally angry at Michel. The team's determination to constantly feed him the ball was puzzling to me and that puzzlement turned to anger pretty quick. However, I urge fans to cut the guy a break. It's not his fault. It's not like Michel is calling for the ball. He's simply doing what the team is asking of him.
If you want to be angry at somebody, pick Josh McDaniels. I know Michel was an explosive player at Georgia, but the Pats are currently forcing something that just isn't there yet. Michel has had a few nice spurts, but overall he's been underwhelming. That's to be expected from a rookie who missed the entire preseason. I understand the desire to get him reps, trying to make up for lost time, but the time for that is not when your down by two scores in the fourth quarter. 
Michel is getting the ball almost every single time he's on the field. Not only is it making the Patriots predictable, it's also making them ineffective. I understand trying to keep the defense honest, especially when that particular defense struggles against the run. At some point though, you have to realize that it's not working. I'm not asking for them to abandon the run altogether, but your best offensive player is your quarterback; the ball needs to be in his hands more often than not.
As an aside, if the Patriots run off tackle on another third and short I will lose my mind. You are one of the few teams that still employs, and utilizes, a traditional fullback in James Develin. Try using him once in a while.
The Pats also need to find a way to get James White more involved. He is the Patriots second-best pass catcher, after Rob Gronkowski. He currently leads the team in catches and targets, but it felt like he wasn't on the field enough on Sunday. He played two more snaps than Michel, but a handful of those came on that final, meaningless drive at the end of the game.
I'm not saying it would've made a difference, because the Pats had enough trouble passing the ball too. With the defense taking away Gronkowski for the second straight week, the Patriots other receivers failed to step up, again. Nobody seems to be able to get open consistently. Chris Hogan continues to struggle. Phillip Dorsett had a bad night. Even Tom Brady made some poor throws, and decisions. The interception he threw was as bad as they come.

Reinforcements are thankfully on the way in Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon. Their mere presence on the field will help, but it may take some time for them to get up to speed as well.
Detroit deserves a lot of credit though. They executed their offensive game plan perfectly. It was clear that their primary goal was ball control. They wanted to keep Brady on the sidelines, which they did. They controlled the line of scrimmage, and ran all over the Patriots. When they needed to convert on a 3rd down, Stanford would find an open receiver. In between plays, they consistently let the play clock run down to 1 or 2 seconds, bleeding as much time off the game clock as possible.
All of this has culminated in the Patriots finding themselves in unfamiliar territory this Sunday against the Miami Dolphins -- facing a must-win situation so early in the season. A loss on Sunday not only puts New England at 1-3 with a quarter of the season complete, it would also push them three games behind the Dolphins in the division. Miami would also own the tiebreaker at that point, so it would effectively be a four game lead. 
Now, we've seen this story before with the Patriots. A sluggish September, that becomes meaningless because of the way they finish the season. Is this year different? Ask me again next week. Sunday's performance against the Dolphins will be a good indication of where this team is headed.

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