Patriots wonder what happened against Cardinals, prep for Ravens

It’s been a while since the Patriots defense was the team’s strong suit, but here we are.

After two weeks of football, we’ve been introduced to a revamped defense that features one of the stronger defensive lines (especially when it comes to run defense) and linebacker units in the NFL.

While the feel-good story over the last two weeks has been a defense that Patriots fans can get excited to watch again, the feel-bad story has to be the shaky offense that can’t seem to fully click. The loss of Aaron Hernandez (ankle) for what appears to be several weeks certainly won’t help matters either.

The Pats still have arguably the best quarterback, tight end, and slot receiver in the NFL, as well as other new options. Points shouldn’t be so hard to come by as they were against the Cardinals.

There are a few reasons why New England doesn’t look like New England on offense.

Take a chance

The Patriots left points on the field Sunday. Twice – at the end of each half – they took their foot off the gas and, in turn, let the Cardinals off the hook. With 40 seconds left in the second quarter, Brady hit the deck for a sack – but no loss. With 4th and 4 on Arizona’s 47-yard line, New England could have simply gone for it but instead chose to punt. Why not run the clock down to about 10 seconds before snapping the ball, look for a quick slant or out pattern, and then call your last timeout if you convert? If the ball falls incomplete, Arizona has one try of their own from their own side of the field – they’d most likely take a knee.

Again in the fourth quarter, the Pats used their last minute to center the ball instead of forging ahead for more yards. Perhaps Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels saw how Cards running back Ryan Williams fumbled, and didn’t want fumble-prone Stevan Ridley to do the same. It likely wouldn’t have been an issue with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who hasn’t fumbled since high school. Should Stephen Gostkowski have hit the field goal? Yes. But the lack of trust in the running backs to hold on to the ball hurt.

McDaniels offense

Is McDaniels trying too hard to make the Tom Brady-to-Brandon Lloyd combination work? We’re all well aware that McDaniels loves Lloyd (and vice versa), but if that force-feeding is coming at the expense of targets that Brady feels more comfortable with – Welker and Gronkowski – then we’ve got problems. Yes, Welker has had a few drops dating back to last season, but he’s still a guy Brady loves throwing to – and should continue to. Look at the lone touchdown drive from New England: Welker, Gronkowski, and Julian Edelman are the only targets thrown to. That tells you a lot.

Offensive line

“Paging Brian Waters… paging Brian Waters…” Brady was sacked four times and pressured on many more occasions. You don’t just move on seamlessly from Matt Light and Brian Waters. They need help here.

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