logoby Britt Schramm

It was certainly bad news to lose Rodney Harrison late in the game last week.  His play was a key component of two New England Super Bowl teams after he came over from the Bolts and inherited the Pats’ defensive backfield when Brady’s pal Lawyer was shown the door back in ’03.  But with this year going the way it is, maybe Harrison’s injury will turn out being the best thing that could have happened to the Patriots defense.

Now, before you start hitting the comment button to begin questioning my heritage and that of my family, please step away from the keyboard and hear (or read) me out.

This isn’t the same rip job that I gave the now oft-injured LMo last week.  As I stated above, Harrison was vital to the success of the Patriots.  But ever since his season-ending injury three games into the 2005 season, he hasn’t been the same player and the stats are once again on my side.

In 2003 and 2004, Harrison averaged 16 games played, 132 total tackles (93 solo), 3 sacks, 7 passes defensed, 2.5 INTs and 2 forced fumbles.  These stats alone prove that the washed up label Harrison had coming from San Diego was erroneous to say the least.  Unfortunately, those numbers wouldn’t last after tearing his ACL, MCL and PCL knee ligaments at the Ketchup Stand. 

In 2006 and 2007, Harrison averaged 11 games played, 58 tackles (44 solo), 1.5 sacks, 4.5 passes defensed, 1 pick and 1 forced fumble.  Granted, the general rule of thumb when concerning knee reconstruction is that the recovery time takes at least one year after the surgery before a player has adjusted back to real game speed.  But even after accounting for that, Harrison was on a slippery slope going down.

And I know that I’m not the only one telling secrets out of class.  Moans of “Rodney’s lost more than a step – I thought that Belichick was more about ability rather than loyalty” and “With Harrison being used as a friggin’ extra LB, we’re getting smoked downfield like an audience at the Cheech and Chong Reunion Tour” were starting after the whole SoCal debacle two weeks ago. The time has come for an on-field, regular season evaluation of the SS position in particular and the defensive backfield as a whole.

Again, let me emphasize that I would’ve rather have Harrison end his career by playing out the rest of this season than suffer an injury in an already clinched victory.  But someday, the Pats will have to figure out who’s gonna stay and who will be on their way out the door with respects to their starting defensive backfield.  With Rodney still in the mix, this type of evaluation may never happen.  The way this season has been going, the time might as well be now.

Speaking of now, here’s this week’s matchup.

This Week – St. Louis Rams (2-4; Against AFC East 0-1)

Slow Roasting the Red Hot Rams

After last week’s blueprint (should it be called a blueprint when the Broncos laid down so quickly – how ‘bout we call it a connect-the-dots sheet and leave it at that), what does Line ‘Em Up have for this week’s opponents?  It might be as simple as practicing two things that are prevalent in all programs – the gauntlet drill and tip drill.

The gauntlet drill is the type of practice where the running back runs through the middle of two rows of defensive players as they take whacks at the football in the RB’s hands.  Thus the name of the drill is known as The Gauntlet.  The Tip Drill is just like it sounds.  A position coach throws a hard spiral toward a couple of DBs and the ball has to be tipped prior to catching it.

It seems as simple as that, right?  Well, if you take a look at the October 12th game, the Rams should’ve been blown out by the on-fire Redskins.  Washington had 22 1st downs compared to only 8 by St. Louis.  The Rams had only 200 yards of total net offense and made only 28% of their third downs plays.  It was a statistical smackdown.

So, what was the great equalizer?  If you said turnovers, you’ve been paying attention, my friend.  The Redskins lost three of their four fumbles with one returned for six while St. Louis lost just one of their own.  That old worn-out saying about taking care of the ball proves that sometimes clichés have more than a ring of truth to them.

As for the Dallas meltdown; again, Dallas won the statistical battle.    The Cowboys had more total yards, more passing yards and only gave up three sacks.  But this time, St. Louis brought their offense with Stephen Jackson running wild for 160 yds in 25 carries and 3 TDs and Marc Bulger throwing a very competent 13 for 18 for 163 yds and 1 TD against the injury-riddled Dallas D. 

And yet, Dallas lost the game by treating the ball like a red-headed stepchild.  Old Man Johnson looked every bit the incarnation of the last days of “Drew does Dallas Wrong” – immobile (5 sacks) and mistake-prone (50% completion percentage, 3 INTs).  It was so bad for the ‘Boys that their rock on offense, Marion Barber, even lost a fumble.  With that win, the Rams were back in the hunt in the weak NFC West while the chaos in Big D that followed the loss was something that Jerry Jones brought upon himself by using the Daniel Snyder version of the Yankee MLB model of building a World Champion.

So, to recap this week’s gameplan, the Patriots need to stay with what got them the big W last week (running the ball to the left and left center in order to set-up the short bubble passes and crossing routes; defensive pressure and solid downfield coverage) and keep the ball to themselves.  After all, The Razor is their playground and they should feel that the ball is rightfully theirs to do what they wish.

Next week is the Saturday Night clash between the former kings of the AFC, as the Pats take on the Indy Colts.  Which team will show up – the one who beat back the Ravens or the one who limply lost to the Pack?  And how will the Pats try to keep them the latter and not the former?  Come back in seven for what they (and you) need to know.