Watching Chad Ochocinco play the wide receiver position for the New England Patriots in their 34-31 loss to the Buffalo Bills last Sunday was an exercise in frustration for anyone (such as yours truly) who believed that Chad would make a notable and immediate difference in New England's passing game. Traded from the Bengals in early August, he hasn't even come close, catching just five passes for 87 yards and no touchdowns through three games.
Not only was Chad targeted just four times versus Buffalo (two catches for 28 yards), and not only did he drop that easy fourth-quarter pass … it's the way Chad rolls in the offense on a play-by-play basis that is so disconcerting right now. He frequently struggles to disengage from physical press coverage at the line, and even when the call is for a longer read to deep receivers, it's clear that Tom Brady feels far more comfortable with his more familiar targets. That's understandable to a point, but this is also the offense where Randy Moss and Rob Gronkowski were able to make major contributions right away — and Gronkowski was a rookie last year.
This week, the Pats face the Oakland Raiders, and head coach Hue Jackson. Jackson was Ocho's position coach in Cincinnati from 2004 through 2006, and he imparted a few tips on how to keep Chad productive and happy while on a conference call (via CSNN.com) with the New England media this week.
"Chad Johnson's my son. [...] I know you guys probably have a hard time with him. He's kind of colorful. But he is a tremendous young man. I really adore him but I won't on Sunday. [...]
"We grew. [...] When I came to Cincinnati it was real early in his career and he was right on the cusp of becoming a great player. What I tried to do was push him and take him to where he truly wanted to go. He wanted to be one of the best in the league and there's no question at that time he was. He really worked at it. The way he studied videotape, the way he prepared. I let him have his own personality because that's Chad. You have to allow him to be him to get the most out of him. That's what we were able to do and we forged a bond that's been the same since my time in Cincinnati. [...]
"He played for me, he did wonders for me and he is a tremendous competitor and a doggone good football player."
That's all well and good, but in a system where it's more about precision routes and being part of a receiver corps than being able to just get open and go, and catching passes from a quarterback who demands precision and consistency from his receivers … well, it's a different system. Jackson's point about letting Chad be Chad might be valid when it comes to personality — you don't generally get the best out of an extrovert by muting him — but when it comes to letting Chad be Chad on the field, the New England offense doesn't work that way.
The Raiders have a precision offense to a point, but there are more deep routes and basic receiver concepts than in New England. This year, the Raiders have been led by their running game, though Jackson is well known to be a great passing game coordiantor and quarterback guru. And the Bengals certainly put an NFL offense out there in the Chad era, but Senor Ochocinco was allowed to freelance a lot more than he is now. There is no No. 1 receiver in New England — Rule No. 1 is that Tom Brady is No. 1, and Rule No. 2 refers you back to Rule No. 1. Yes, that was still the case when Randy Moss was there.
I still think that Chad will eventually get the hang of the New England offense, but Jackson's comments do make me wonder — what if Chad had been traded to the Raiders instead?
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