Before getting to the Pats-Colts game, I wanted to throw my two cents worth of opinion in on a couple of other NFL-related stories from this past week.
Jaguars fire Jack Del Rio. For many the reaction to Del Rio’s being fired was not that of surprise, but surprise that he lasted this long. After taking over for Tom Coughlin Del Rio’s teams had four good years and two playoff appearances. After the 2007 season Jacksonville gave Del Rio a five-year contract extension, and the Jaguars have not had a winning season since – including some failures down the stretch when a division title was well within their grasp. So why did it take so long to relieve Del Rio of his duties? I don’t believe you can overlook that contract; Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver is more interested in profits than wins, and he didn’t want to pay for two head coaches simultaneously over an extended period of time. It’s not a coincidence that Del Rio was fired at the same exact time that Weaver reached an agreement to sell his team. I think the decision to replace Del Rio had already been made – none of his assistant coaches were extended beyond 2011, a sure signal the entire staff was in a lame duck status – but Weaver was more focused on his bottom line than making a change.
Former Patriot Fred Taylor had some interesting comments about Del Rio.
“With Coughlin, if you came in, if you overstep, you’re screwed,” says Taylor, who played for Coughlin in Jacksonville from his rookie year in 1998 until the coach was let go in 2002. “With Jack, you never knew what you were getting. You donâ€™t know if youâ€™ll get a hard-ass one day, a buddy-buddy one day. You never really knew.”
Del Rio was a nice change of pace for the former Gators great, but then the so-called players’ coach wore thin.
“He was able to take care of the players somewhat,” Taylor says. “After that, after the next five years, it was a lot of gray area, which later in my career I didn’t buy into.”
Asked if he felt Del Rio played favorites, Taylor doesn’t hesitate.
“[Expletive] yeah. Hell yeah,” he says. “Why do you think I’m not there?
“There wasn’t any falloff in my production. I expressed my willingness to take a paycut. I just wanted to be there and be a part of the community. I wanted to finish my career there. Just because we had this new running back. All we had to do was switch roles. ‘Fred, Maurice [Jones-Drew] is going to be the starter.’ Fine, no problem. I wasn’t a virus in the locker room. I worked my ass off — everything.”
Instead, Taylor moved on after 10 years in Jacksonville to New England, where he finished his playing career before ceremonially retiring as a Jaguar before this season. Playing for the famously grouchy Belichick didn’t make Taylor miss Del Rio’s ways. Not hardly.
“Ninety percent of my enjoyment in New England was due to Coach Belichick — the respect he demanded,” Taylor says. “If you were the vet or the first-year guy, he yelled at you the same, chewed you out the same. Same thing with Coach Coughlin.”
With Del Rio, Taylor says, “there was a lot of gray area.” That came through most on the offensive side of the ball, where the Jaguars often struggled.
“At the end of the day, [Del Rio]‘s not a head coach,” Taylor says. “He’s a great defensive coach. But he’s not a head coach.”
Del Rio’s quarterback decisions were rarely cut-and-dried. He got rid of Byron Leftwich in favor of David Garrard only days before the regular season opener in 2007, but then he cut Garrard only days before the start of this season.
“Pulling that trigger was a bit premature,” Taylor says. “If you make that decision, make it a month out. Quite honestly, that kind of thing can ruin careers.”
Vikings release Donovan McNabb. And not a single team shows interest in signing him. Why would they? He’s played his way off of three rosters in three years. In the last two seasons he was 6-13 with 18 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Minnesota wasn’t going anywhere this season; their decision to sign him didn’t really make any sense, other than to perhaps create a little bit of interest with the hopes that it would sell some tickets. Reality quickly set in when McNabb threw for 39 yards – 39 YARDS! – in the season opener.
Bill Belichick gets tired of being asked the same dumb question over and over again. And the media circles the wagons to protect their own. I have to admit it was nice to see many in the media try to create a tsk, tsk, finger-pointing gossipy story – and their audience for once does not blindly follow their lead. For example, a gossip-monger at Yahoo blurred the line between reporting on an event and offering their personal opinion by writing that his “response was incredulous and bordered on the insulting.” Belichick had been asked essentially the same thing – that the Colts suck and therefore beating them would mean nothing – twice about five minutes earlier. Appropriately, Belichick let the report know that you can’t look at an NFL opponent that way. But Fox 25′s Kristine Leahy – who has asked other not so well thought out questions this year – decided that the topic needed to be asked yet again. The responses – most by fans of other teams – were resoundingly in favor of Belichick and against the writer. Similarly one of espn’s low-brow shows tried to take the same tact – defend the media, villify the coach – and once again the poll of their audience told them Leahy was wrong, and they were wrong for defending her. Considering how much of the nation detests Belichick, the fact the majority defended his response speaks volumes.
Indiana turns off the Colts game. How bad are the Colts? Consider this: a television station in Indiana took advantage of not being bound to broadcasting the Colts, and broadcast another game instead.
For the first time in at least a decade, a local TV station decided the Colts werenâ€™t the team it wanted to broadcast.
The decision was made by the local Fox affiliate, which is under the umbrella of Granite Broadcasting Corporation and part of Indianaâ€™s NewsCenter.
The Fox channel had the rights to the Coltsâ€™ home game, but it could only broadcast one game because CBS had the doubleheader Sunday. Indianaâ€™s NewsCenter chose the late-afternoon Chicago Bears game at Oakland over the Coltsâ€™ 27-19 loss that dropped them to 0-11.
One of the more interesting matchups to keep an eye on today will be Nate Solder versus Dwight Freeney and/or Robert Mathis. Solder has come along quite nicely, and with injuries to Sebastian Vollmer and Matt Light, the Pats have needed him to produce right away.
The Patriots have faced a stable of elite pass-rushers this season, including the Chiefs’ Tamba Hali,Â the Cowboys’ DeMarcus Ware and the Dolphins’ Cameron Wake. Playing against them and studying their moves this season has given Solder a crash course in protecting the quarterback.
Against the best of the best, Solder said good footwork is paramount.
“I think technique is the most important thing, especially against the best ones,” Solder said. “You have to be at a high level of technique at all times.”
Solder’s veteran teammates have helped teach him the other aspects of the game to prepare him for games like Sunday’s.
“All the O-line has been helping me a ton,” he said. “The preparation, in-game mentality. All those sort of things are things I’ve learned from them.”
Taylor Price gets cut. Is this really a surprise? There was a quote from Bill Belichick a week ago that Price was inactive not due to his hamstring. Recently Christopher Price asked Tom Brady about Price, and reading between the lines his response was quite telling. “Itâ€™s about gaining the trust of your teammates and coaches so that youâ€™re able to go out there and do it with confidence in the game.” When Tiquan Underwood gets on the field ahead of Price, it was obvious that Price had not gained that trust, and Brady and the coaching staff did not have confidence in him. Brady went so far to spend extra time one-on-one with Price after practice, throwing extra passes to him despite his injured elbow – and it still didn’t click. With so many injuries the Pats just could not continue to tie up a roster spot on Price, so the decision to let him go was simpler than it first appeared to be.
What blueprint to beat the Pats offense? Remember when that was all the talk after the Steelers dominated the Pats earlier this year? Nick Underhill points out that the scheme is not foolproof, as the Eagles discovered last week. It is also something that those calling for the Pats to be more aggressive on defense should consider; sometimes conservative bend don’t break philosophies do have their merits.
Earlier in the game, when the Patriots ran a play, Welker noticed that the safety came down hard and attacked him at the line of scrimmage, so he went back to the huddle, relayed that information to quarterback Tom Brady, and told him how he was going to beat the coverage the next time he saw it.
Sure enough, later in the second quarter when they lined up in the same formation, the defense attacked him the same way. So instead of running his usual pattern underneath, Welker stutter stepped, got safety Nate Allen to dive at the ground, and took off towards the end zone where Brady found him for a 41-yard touchdown pass.
Some predictions on this game:
Steve Balestrieri, Pats Pub: Patriots 38, Colts 14
Russ Goldman, Pats Confidential: Patriots 38, Colts 10
Nick Underhill, masslive.com: Patriots 38, Colts 10
Michael Hurley, nesn.com: Indianapolis (+20)
Greg Bedard, boston.com: Patriots 42, Colts 10
Tom E. Curran, csnne.com: Patriots 45, Colts 7
James Lazar, bostonherald.com: Patriots 48, Colts 13
Mike Reiss: Patriots 42, Colts 10
Tedy Bruschi: Patriots 38, Colts 14
Chris Forsberg: Patriots 35, Colts 13
Mike Rodak: Patriots 38, Colts 10
espnBostonRadio’s Adam Jones: Pats 35, Colts 7
espnBostonRadio’s Andrew Brooks: Pats 42, Colts 10
espn Accuscore: Patriots 37, Colts 15
Madden 12 Simulation: Patriots 31, Colts 3
Peter King, si.com: Patriots 31, Colts 9
Jon Saraceno, USA Today: Patriots 41, Colts 13
Myself, I think the Colts defense comes up with some early stops, causing much angst among Patriot Nation during the first quarter – then get the job done on both sides of the ball, winning easily. Patriots 38, Colts 13