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Michael Lombardi on D&C: Patriots D-line ‘has to play a lot better’

12.09.11 at 9:31 am ET
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NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi made his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Friday morning to talk about the Patriots and league news.

The Patriots visit Washington Sunday. The Redskins are only 4-8, but Lombardi said there are some concerns.

“Defensively, they’re a really good team,” he said. “They’re two outside rushers, Ryan Kerrigan, the rookie, and Brian Orakpo, they can put pressure on the quarterback. They do a wonderful job of tipping passes. They’re inside, Barry Cofield, has tipped seven passes, which is a lot. Some defensive backs don’t tip seven passes all season. So, they’re great at being able to tip the ball, they can put a lot of pressure on you, and they’re scheme is a little bit more complex than some of the schemes the Patriots have seen the last two weeks. They strength of this team is defensively, and they’re really good in the red zone. Once the Patriots move the ball — which they will move the ball effectively — they’ve got to score touchdowns.

“Offensively, it’s a work in progress. Rex Grossman makes too many mistakes. If he gets pressure up the middle he throws off his back foot. Never going to be good. Santana Moss is their best skill player. Anthony Armstrong has great vertical speed but he’s not a consistent player. I think he’s got six catches, two of them for touchdowns. So, he can make some plays.

“I think for the Patriots, they’ve got to handle the beginning of the game, the Mike Shanahan script, get through that. And then they’ve got to be able to build a lead and make Rex Grossman become desperate. If they let this running game have some balance and become effective with Roy Helu then I think it’s going to be a little bit of a tougher game. This offensive line, especially losing Trent Williams, is the weakest part of the team.”

The Patriots have turned heads by inserting offensive players into key roles in the defensive backfield. But Lombardi said the key for the defense starts up front.

“I think their defensive line has to play a lot better,” he said. “I think if you look at what happened in the fourth quarter of the Colts game, 16 first downs, obviously giving up all those points is something that probably [Bill] Belichick has driven his message home to the players all week long. I think the defensive line was disappointing in not being able to rush and put more pressure on [Dan] Orlovsky and make him get rid of the ball quicker.

“I think obviously they need Patrick Chung back. I think they need to get healthy in their secondary. They need Dane Fletcher back. They need more speed on defense. And I think as they get through this patchwork area of their team, they’ve got to get these other players back. Those are the ones they’re counting on — [Brandon] Spikes, they need Fletcher back, they need Chung back, and they need to get healthier as a full football team.”

Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

On the Peyton Manning situation: “There’s a misnomer about this trading. First of all, his contract can be redone at any time. So, if they wanted to trade him — and that’s a big if. I’d hate to be the general manager of the team that traded Peyton Manning. How do you think that’s going to work out if he’s healthy? Probably dramatically bad. …

“I think so much of this is predicated on the health of Peyton Manning. When I was watching the clips of NFL Films this week, when Belichick was talking to him and then even when Tom Brady came over to talk to him, you could still see that there was stiffness in Peyton Manning’s neck as he turned to say hello to Tom Brady. It wasn’t like he quickly moved. So, I don’t know where this is in his rehab. There’s a lot of people in the league think it’s 50-50 he actually can come back and play. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know if it’s true. I think the health of him is the first thing you’ve got to solve and then you move forward. …

“I think if he can play, then I think you’ve got to let him be a Colt. I don’t see how you can let this player walk away from your team because you think Andrew Luck‘s going to be the next greatest thing. I’m still of the belief that I don’t see what’s so wrong about having two good players on your team. ‘€¦ Will both players get along? I don’t really care whether they get along. Peyton Manning’s too good of a player to let go. Andrew Luck’s too good of a player to not have for the future. So, you make it work somehow, some way. And forget about what all the people in the media are saying; just focus on building your football team. I wouldn’t let either player go if I thought Andrew Luck was the best player. And I think that ultimately has to still has to be decided through a lot more work.”

On which current young NFL quarterback will prove to be the most accomplished 10 years from now: “I think Cam Newton and Sam Bradford have the most talent of anybody. I think Matthew Stafford shows that talent. I think he’s going to have to get a better team around him, and he has to be more consistent. I think Cam Newton’s uniqueness in what he can do — he can run the speed option, he can run the loaded option and then he can run dropback passing — makes him a unique player. And I think Sam Bradford, the talent around him is so horrendous, it’s just really unbelievable how they could let that team slip the way they have. But he is so good that I think he could be a player that could really rise above it all if they get a team that could actually protect him, that could actually do something around him. I think he’s really a good player. I think he’s the sleeping giant in all this.”

On Patriots backups Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett: “I think Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett are starters. I’ve said this many times: If I would have taken the GM job of the 49ers, I would have gone after Brian Hoyer, because I think he has all the traits and characteristics. If I were the Cleveland Browns, I’d rather have Brian Hoyer behind center than Colt McCoy. I think he’s got all the traits you need, in terms of leadership, toughness, the arm strength, the ability to move the team. ‘€¦

Ryan Mallett’s in the perfect situation, much like Aaron Rodgers. He gets to work every day and he gets to improve and he gets to watch Tom Brady as a mentor. And with that arm strength that he has and the ability to make plays, I think he’s got a lot of Drew Bledsoe qualities in him as a player. Now, whether that comes to fruition, I think he’s going to need the opportunity; Tom’s going to play for a little while. But based on his talent level — and I know [Arkansas coach Bobby] Petrino really well. And I thought Bobby Petrino does a great job with quarterbacks. Petrino thought the world of him. Petrino thought he was the best quarterback he’s ever coached.”

Read More: Brian Hoyer, Cam Newton, Michael Lombardi, Peyton Manning
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