Paoletti: Ochocinco never caught on with Patriots

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Paoletti: Ochocinco never caught on with Patriots

The marriage was doomed at "I do."

Chad Ochocinco and the New England Patriots were never a match. Problem is, everyone focused on the wrong flaws.

Where the question was "Can he buckle down and abide?", it should have been "Can he play?" Or, more specifically, "Can he play here?"

When he called Foxboro "Heaven," who dared doubt him? With Tom Brady at Point A and Ochocinco at Point B, who didn't see at least 30 yards of turf stretched between their connection? The equation was so simple: Elite quarterback plus elite receiver equals . . .

Heaven.

Really, he should have been laughed at. Or he should have offered the idea to Disney for a flat fee and 50 percent of royalties.

Football players aren't delivered to glory in Foxboro. There's no Divine Right. There is the Patriot Way, and its foundation is hard work and humility.

Any veteran -- special teamer or star receiver -- who ends up in New England says the same thing about the system: He's never before experienced such expectation for perfection. Ever.

Ocho said it himself.

"That's what it's like around here," he told Jason Cole in January. "Everybody is pushing for perfection, and they're pushing hard. I've never seen anything like it in my whole career. You understand why this team is where it is . . . Tom is on you about the littlest things, that you were a step off where you should be or the angle is wrong or whatever it is. Really, he has me walking on eggshells, and I haven't done that since I was a rookie."

Ah-ha.

Talent alone can't save you in this town. And maybe that's where the disconnect was -- for Ocho and for all. When he took the field, the No. 85 on his back stood for seven 1,000-plus yard receiving seasons. It promised 70-yard touchdown catches. For all the weapons the Patriots offense had, this -- deep wideout threat -- was the one they lacked. The one that would make them unstoppable.

For it all to fall apart because he wouldn't, or couldn't, learn the system? Inconceivable.

When Ochocinco dropped passes in training camp, it was dismissed as growing pains. When he caught just three balls in preseason, it was shrugged off as the rich's irresponsibility for time. When he said he was content to play receiver-by-committee -- The Brand surrendering to The Common Good -- it was seen as blushing modesty.

He'd grown up. He'd matured. Hell, maybe he just wanted a ring.

Except, again, this is the Patriots we're talking about. The bottom line is clear: "Do your job." The subtext: "No free rides."

But Ocho couldn't pay.

He's a man who never wanted to do homework. He struggled in high school and college -- blowing off classes for whatever else. Talent was always there to grab him by the scruff and keep him in the game.

In Cincinnati, he was the offense. In New England, he had to start over. And it was complex. The Patriots wouldn't bend to meet him. In fact, they'd scoff at the thought.

"All he needs is time. He didn't have an offseason. He'll put his head in the playbook this spring," the chorus sang.

Why think that? He'd never done it before. He didn't even do it during his most successful years in Black and Orange. The Boston Globe's Greg Bedard writes that Ocho wasn't brilliant so much as Carson Palmer and the Bengals "had a feel for where he would end up" and met him there.

But we didn't see that. Maybe the Patriots didn't see that before bringing him in.

Trouble happened when Brady found out. Early.

Think a 34-year old, control-freak quarterback wants to patiently develop a 33-year old diva receiver?

Wes Welker leads the league in receptions because of his unique chemistry with Brady. The Deion Branch Comeback Tour is beginning Year Three because he and Brady rekindled their flame quickly. Rob Gronkowski's first career reception was for just one yard, but earned his quarterback a touchdown. Brady and Aaron Hernandez clicked just as quickly.

This offseason's glut of veteran receiver acquisitions -- Donte' Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, Brandon Lloyd -- point to a singular need: Proven talent. Whether or not Ochocinco still has soft hands and fleet feet, he lacks the most important thing a Patriots receiver needs.
Brady's trust.

So given retrospect's cruel clarity, we can say that no, Chad Ochocinco can't play -- not here.

We knew it wouldn't work. We just didn't know why.

Belichick explains matching in the secondary

Belichick explains matching in the secondary

FOXBORO – Here’s a leftover from last week I’m dredging up because it’s really instructive in giving insight to something we all flap our arms about: how the Pats decide whether to play zone, man-to-man or match receivers with their secondary.

The jumping off-point was asking about Trumaine Johnson -- a long-tall corner for the Rams. As Belichick about Johnson and the difficulties he poses, at 6-foot-2, it brought to mind the team’s acquisition earlier this season of Eric Rowe. The 6-2 corner they got from the Eagles filled a need in that the Patriots other corners are not very tall, headlined by 5-9 Malcolm Butler.

So I asked Belichick if the team strives to have different sized players in the secondary.

“That’s if you move them around,” he explained, meaning size only matters if you intend to put size-on-size. “If you don’t move them around, if you play a guy at one positon and he plays on the right side or the left side, you cover the guy that’s over there, which I’d say is more the situation than not. There are some teams or some situations where you’ve got him, he’s got the next guy, you’ve got somebody else, but I’d say that’s by far the lower percentage of the plays, by far. Generally, you see a corner play – some games are different. We’ll match to this guy and somebody else matches to that guy. Teams will do that. There’s some of that, but by and large, most teams play at one position and whoever is in that spot, that’s who they cover.”

With matching receivers being the exception rather than the rule, the next logical question is why? Why would you let a little guy cover a big guy if you also have a big guy who could cover?

Because offenses make it complicated, Belichick answered.

“The easiest thing in the world is for one player to match another,” he explained. “‘OK, you go cover this guy.’ Alright, great. But what do the other 10 guys do? That’s the problem. It’s easy to matchup one guy. That’s simple. What do the other 10 guys do? What if he’s here? What if he’s there? What if he goes in motion? What if he’s in the backfield? What if it’s this personnel? What if it’s that personnel in the game? Then how does all the rest of it matchup? That’s where it gets tricky.  You can be spending all day, literally, on that. OK yeah, you take this guy but what are you going to do with the other 10?”

Belichick also delved into other options including a coverage concept the Pats used when Darrelle Revis was here. Giving Revis the opponent’s so-called No. 2 receiver and doubling the No. 1.

“You can matchup and put your best guy on their best guy, or you can matchup and put your best guy on let’s call it their second best guy and put your second best guy on their best guy and double him,” Belichick said. “If you’re going to put your best guy on their best guy and double him anyway then you kind of lessen the matchups down the line. It’s like setting a tennis ladder, or whatever. If you put your bad guy at one and you win two through seven, great. If you put your best guy at one and he gets beat by their one and then your two versus their two, you know. That’s what you’re doing. You have a three to four-man ladder there with the receivers and your DB’s [defensive backs], except we don’t have to match them that way. You can match them however you want.”

It’s a fascinating discussion and it comes into play the next two weeks as the Patriots will see a true test with receivers like the Ravens Steve Smith and Denver with Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas.

The Patriots will have decisions to make. Chances are they’ll use a little bit of everything. But these are some of the the things they weight when doing so.

Call-up coming? Belichick likes what he's seen from p-squad receivers

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Call-up coming? Belichick likes what he's seen from p-squad receivers

The Patriots find themselves in a difficult spot following Sunday's win over the Rams: They are a team that likes to lean on three-receiver sets, yet they have only three healthy receivers.

Danny Amendola suffered an ankle injury during a punt return over the weekend that further thinned an already thin position group. The healthy receivers left on the depth chart are Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and rookie Malcolm Mitchell.

The Patriots will in all likelihood make an addition to their 53-man roster at some point in order to bolster their depleted receiving group, and in a way, they've been preparing for this.

The team has been adding and subtracting receivers on their practice squad for much of the year. They began the season with rookie seventh-round pick Devin Lucien and fourth-year wideout Devin Street on the p-squad. On Sept. 14, they added DeAndrew White as a third receiver on the 10-man unit, a relatively unusual amount of practice-squad depth at one spot. 

After Street was signed away by the Colts, the Patriots have also given practice-squad shots to Da'Ron Brown and Shaquelle Evans. Neither of those players stuck, but Lucien and White have, showing that the Patriots have been encouraged by their contributions.

"I think they’ve made good progress . . . They both have been consistent," Bill Belichick said during a conference call on Tuesday. "They’ve been out there every day. They work hard. They’ve made plays for us in practice on the scout team against our defense, so overall our guys on the practice squad do a good job.

"They certainly help us get ready for the games by simulating our opponent’s schemes and playing styles and at the same time they’ve improved with their individual skills and techniques. Both of those guys – they’ve done a good job for us."

ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss reported on Sunday that the Patriots voluntarily increased the salary of White (from the minimum of $6,900 per week to $10,000 per week), perhaps making him the favorite as a potential call-up to the 53-man roster.

White is in his second pro season out of Alabama, and he was signed by San Francisco last year as an undrafted free agent. He played in four games as a rookie, catching two passes for 18 yards. He also returned six kicks and returned one punt for the 49ers. During his collegiate career, he returned five kicks and two punts.

Should the Patriots feel as though they would be straining to add a receiver to the 53-man roster, they could find some help with the depth they have at running back. Dion Lewis, James White and DJ Foster are all capable pass-catchers who have the ability to line up wide or in the slot. Foster, who was a college teammate of Lucien's for one season, played receiver as a senior at Arizona State.