Ochocinco, Burress facing similar challenges
Chad Ochocinco came to New England amid much fanfare, but has struggled to adjust to his new offense. (David Butler II/US Presswire)
Two of the NFL's highest-profile offseason moves occurred in the AFC East, with the Patriots trading for Chad Ochocinco and the Jets signing Plaxico Burress. It looks like it might be awhile before either player lives up to the hype.
Through three preseason games with the Patriots and Tom Brady, Ochocinco has exactly two receptions. While one was for an 8-yard touchdown, that's not quite the production New England was counting on when it traded for the mercurial wide receiver in July.
Ochocinco says that he'll eventually get there:
“I think it’s my third week. Let’s be realistic,” he said. “It’s the highest levels of football. It’s not easy.”
The Patriots' system, in fact, is one of the more complex in the NFL, especially for wide receivers. With Brady frequently adjusting plays and patterns, Ochocinco no longer finds himself in the "Get open and we'll find you" world he might be used to.
Ex-New England receiver Troy Brown told the Boston Herald that it's obvious Ochocinco is struggling: "It looks like he’s too tense. Passes you’ve seen him catch a thousand times went right through his hands . . . that happens from time to time. But he looks like a guy who’s pressing to get things right and make things happen."
And then Wednesday, Patriots beat reporter Greg A. Bedard tweeted that the Patriots "may have to wait until after the bye" to use Ochocinco as their No. 2 receiver.
That bye comes in Week 7. The benefit the Patriots have -- and what would give them the ability to gently bring Ochocinco along -- is a deep pass-catching group. Between wide receivers Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Deion Branch and Taylor Price, and tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, there are more than enough weapons for a QB of Brady's caliber.
The Jets may not have that same luxury when it comes to Plaxico Burress. New England's nearby divisional rival took a leap and signed Burress this offseason, after the talented receiver missed two years while in jail on weapons charges.
Burress is more or less the replacement for Braylon Edwards, who had 53 catches for 904 yards and seven TDs with the Jets last season but was overall a disappointment. Still, New York's hoping for at least that level of contribution from Burress.
But like Ochocinco, the learning curve has been steep. Burress missed the Jets' preseason opener with an injury, came back to catch three passes for 66 yards and a diving touchdown in Week 2, then was shut out Monday by the Giants.
That sparked the always-opinionated Joe Namath to question how effective Burress can be:
"When I see Burress, certainly in the past and Edwards, their route running and adjusting, I didn't like it -- and I still don't. "I'll be surprised if Burress and (Mark) Sanchez click well and I'll be even more surprised if Burress, after being laid off for two years and change, is going to make it through the season.
The Jets may not have the players to overcome a subpar or injury-riddled season from Burress. Santonio Holmes and 37-year-old Derrick Mason provide a nice base, but beyond that duo and Burress, there aren't a lot of proven options.
Which means that New York won't be able to ease Burress along as the Patriots might do with Ochocinco. Burress is going to be in the starting lineup in Week 1 and Sanchez will have to try and find him.
This is all part of the Patriots' mystique at play here against the Jets' attempts to rise up and steal the AFC East away. New England can go out and take a chance on a talented receiver like Ochocinco, knowing that it can survive if he struggles. The Jets, on the other hand, need gambles like Burress to pay dividends immediately and in big ways. But can either receiver put up big numbers in 2011? The early returns haven't been good.