For New Year’s Eve we have a treat: another special guest appearance from Zeus.
Best wishes for a happy new year to everyone!
This and That (What I Like About You)
1. What I like about the 2013 New England Patriots is how they have taken the coaching of Bill Belichick to heart. They have faced adversity on and off the field. And yet, they have not given in to distractions and they have never, ever made a single excuse. Instead, they study film and practice hard. They focus on what they can control and they prepare, prepare, prepare. And most remarkably, no matter which 46 players dress for the game, when they take the field, they expect to win. How this works out in the tournament is anyone’s guess. But I think the Patriots have the resolve, focus and discipline to at least have a puncher’s chance. One game at a time …
2. Tony Dungy may be right when he calls the Broncos the team to beat in the AFC but goes too far when he says that he can’t see anyone in the AFC beating them. St. Tony’s longstanding man-crush on Peyton Manning has blinded him to certain facts obvious to even the most casual observer, most notably that the Broncos have already lost to three of this season’s AFC playoff qualifiers (Indianapolis, New England, San Diego). So Tony, just what is it that makes them unbeatable now?
3. The Pressure is Building – Dungy also conveniently ignores Mr. Manning’s well-documented penchant for competing in the postseason with a large bone lodged in his trachea. Manning is attempting to become the first QB to reach the Super Bowl without throwing a single spiral pass since Joe Kapp did it in 1969. The next two weeks of ruminating about past failures, lousy weather and the sorry state of his flaccid noodle-arm will clench Manning’s sphincter so tight that his lips will pucker, rendering his visage gaunt and toothless. While this year’s record-breaking performance has cemented his legacy as a greedy, stat-obsessed glory hog who is also one of the greatest regular season QBs in pro football history, Manning will once again take the field in the playoffs wallowing in a morass of uncertainty and self-doubt.
4. How the West was Won – Is it a coincidence that the Broncos are the top seed in the AFC while two other teams from the same division qualified for the tournament? Thank the pathetic NFC East. The Broncos, Chief and Chargers went a combined 11-1 against their so-called opposition from the NFC.
5. The NFL Rule Book has gotten overly prescriptive and far too technical to expect the current crew of geriatric part-time officials to enforce all of the rules with any degree of consistency. The idea that any problem, whether it be player safety or a short-term dearth of scoring, can be addressed with yet another arcane rule change, has gotten way out of hand and the byzantine interpretation of existing rules is beyond mind-boggling. Officials, coaches and players do not have a common understanding of what constitutes pass interference. Every week, the outcome of yet another game hinges on the enforcement a some bizarre, obscure, highly technical rule that no one has ever heard of before. When you can no longer shake the feeling that rule enforcement is random, subjective and capricious, the integrity of the game is called into question.
6. Hall of Blame – The roots of this go back to Bill Polian’s manipulation of the Competition Committee to change the emphasis and interpretation of pass defense rules. This was done not in the best interests of the great game of professional football, but rather in Polian’s naked self-interest. There’s an especially hot corner in Football Hell for Mr. Polian whose greed and shortsightedness have irreparably damaged the game.
7. Billionaire Boys Club – Monday was Decision Day for the captains of industry, the high achieving, brilliant geniuses who guide the fortunes of the NFL. What a freak show:
Jim Haslam (Cleveland) and the Glazer family (Tampa) did little to dispel the notion that they are petulant, impatient trigger-happy spoiled brats who will stamp their feet and fire everyone in sight if they don’t get their way, right away.
The Ford family in Detroit mysteriously awakened from a catatonic stupor to find their talented football team in shambles, something that was apparent to Lion fans years ago.
Erectile Dysfunction Icon Woody Johnson affirmed his lifelong commitment to mediocrity.
Mr. Daniel Snyder added another notch to his belt, a testament to the fact that that Mr. Daniel Snyder is wholly incapable of establishing a constructive working relationship with a single sentient human being anywhere on God’s green earth.
And Jerry Jones – oh, brother, don’t even get me started on Jerry Jones.
The fact that such obvious and epic mismanagement has no discernable detrimental effect on these owners’ ability to make huge money is tangible evidence of just how much people love the game of football. It’s a great business. But life needn’t be fair, so while the coaches and players are held accountable for their transgressions, the owners can be monumental screw-ups for life and still end up rolling in cash.
8. Tournament Time – 256 regular season games are in the record books. Twelve teams enter the eleven game tournament to determine who gets to hold The Big Parade. It is the most compelling event in sports. The next five weeks are going to fly – I dread the end of the season almost as much as I love the tournament.
Here’s wishing everyone a healthy, happy and fulfilling New Year!
Ian Rapoport of NFL.com and the NFL Network is reporting that the league is considering a proposal that would compel certain teams to appear Hard Knocks. The show is a joint venture between HBO and NFL Films, providing an all-access look at what happens on and off the field during an NFL team’s training camp. The series focuses on the daily lives and routines of players and coaches as they compete for a spot on the roster, with a mix of insight into the lives and work routines of coaches, veterans and rookie players; it is probably the most genuine reality show in all of television.
The NFL hopes to continue to have teams volunteer to appear on Hard Knocks each year. The benefit for a club is that they can create more of a following, a larger fan base, and more interest in their team; that would theoretically lead to more ticket sales and more profits, something that is appealing for a franchise that has been out of the spotlight or that has been struggling to sell out in recent years.
So does that mean that we will soon be able to view unlimited access to Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots?
The proposal includes a few critical exemptions. First, it would not apply to any team that has made the playoffs in both of the previous two seasons; as long as the Pats keep winning enough games to go to advance to the post-season, Belichick has the power to veto access to the film crew. The other exemptions are for any team that has appeared on the show in the last ten years, and for any team that has a new coach.
The fact that this proposal is being considered makes me think that there has been a scarcity of volunteers in recent years, to the point where HBO and the NFL is concerned that the series may have to end. I have to think that when the day comes that the Patriots are not playing in January, HBO would absolutely love to gain access to Foxboro for their show. I can’t imagine Belichick would go for that at all. That type of intrusion, on top of the frustration from having not made the playoffs – would that be enough to make him seriously consider retirement?
Update: it is now being reported that the first exemption is not for any team that has made the playoffs in both of the previous two years, but for any team that has made the playoffs in either of the previous two years. That subtle one-word difference is critical, creating an immense difference in what teams will be eligible to opt out should they so desire.
Some people have taken notice to the many roster moves of the New England patriots,and chided Bill Belichick for the seemingly random nature of the very many personnel transactions, as if there was no plan and no logical explanation for these maneuvers. Perhaps the primary example for this is CB Marquice Cole, who has been has been signed four times and released three times this year – including four roster moves in a recent ten-day span.
On the surface these appear to be random moves that indicate an inability to form an opinion, and lack of decisiveness. Nothing could be further from the truth; in actuality Belichick is working the system to his favor.
Jason at Over The Cap (a great guy by the way; don’t hold his being a Jets fan against him) uncovered the rationale for these seemingly aimless roster moves.
What New England is doing is essentially using loopholes in the CBA to basically put Cole on their own version of IR with the designation to return while protecting their own financial interests. By waiting until the end of the week to release Cole, Cole receives his full salary, $42.058.82 per week, and will never miss a game check provided they continue re-signing him to a contract after Sunday’s game.
Termination pay is that guarantee everyone always talks about when a veteran player makes the week 1 roster. In Cole’s case he would be eligible to receive the balance of his $715,000 salary, which at the time of his first release was $546,765 and this week would be $504,706, once released. However, because Cole never misses a game check he is ineligible to claim Termination Pay following the season.
If New England did what many would think is the normal routine of releasing a player and then re-signing him when he is expected to contribute the Patriots would have to pay Cole both the balance of his Termination Pay plus his salary on the new contract. So if they had released him outright last week and waited until week 8 to bring him back Cole could file a claim to receive his $546,765 and collect 8 weeks of salary on top of that amount. By releasing him after Tuesday the most he could have earned is the $546,765. This is why he will likely be back by next Wednesday and if he still can not play be released by Friday. If New England placed Cole on IR his season would be over, which they don’t want to have happen.
The risks for New England are minimal with this strategy. Cole does not need to clear waivers until after the trade deadline and its unlikely any team would sign him if he has a minor injury anyway, so there is a great chance that Cole is always going to re-sign with New England once asked. In fact it is probably agreed upon before the release that he will be back and not entertain offers from other teams. The team most likely will replace him with a Practice Squad player who will need to clear waivers once released, but considering the player has been free for any other team to sign off the Practice Squad anyway, waivers are not a concern. If a team wanted him that badly they would have made an offer before this time.
So it’s a small but neat little aspect of roster management going on in New England right now that ensures they have the players they want at the price they want for the remainder of the season.
While other are playing checkers, Bill Belichick is playing chess.
I wasn’t particularly surprised that the Patriots lost yesterday, although I did not expect the offense (1-12 on third down) to struggle as mightily as it did. It is very difficult to win back-to-back games on the road, especially when one or both of those opponents are decent teams. Yes, the Bengals lost to Cleveland, but look at the entirety of their work and the talent on their roster; Cincinnati is a very solid ball club. Their loss to the Browns was a classic ‘trap’ game: it was sandwiched between an emotional win over Green Bay and a game against a team that has not had a losing season in 13 years.
Here is a look at how NFL teams have fared in consecutive road games this year:
Won both games
4-1 Indianapolis (beat San Francisco and Jacksonville)
3-2 Miami (wins at Cleveland and Indianapolis)
4-1 Seattle (beat Houston, lost to Indianapolis)
4-1 New England (beat Atlanta, lost to Cincinnati)
3-2 Detroit (lost at Arizona, beat Washington)
3-2 Chicago (beat Pittsburgh, lost at Detroit)
3-2 Baltimore (lost to Buffalo, beat Miami)
3-2 Cleveland (lost to Baltimore, beat Minnesota)
3-2 Tennessee (beat Pittsburgh, lost to Houston)
3-2 Arizona (lost to New Orleans, beat Tampa Bay)
2-3 San Diego (beat Philadelphia, lost to Tennessee)
2-3 Philadelphia (lost to Denver, beat the Giants)
Lost both games
2-3 St. Louis (lost at Atlanta and Dallas)
1-3 Minnesota (lost at Detroit and Chicago)
0-5 Jacksonville (lost to Oakland and Seattle)
0-5 New York Giants (lost to Carolina and Kansas City)
Of the 16 teams to play consecutive games on the road only two have won both games. Seattle is probably the best team in the National Football League, and they were unable to complete that task. There are other good teams that were unable to pull off the the feat as well, like the Bears, Lions – and yes, the Patriots. Indy defeated an injury-riddled 49ers team and then was gifted with a date in Jacksonville, while Miami had the good fortune of playing Cleveland prior to the Browns turnaround. The bottom line is that the Pats loss should not come as a shock; a win would have been the exception and not the norm, even for a good NFL team.
New York Jets (2-2) at Atlanta Falcons (1-3)
Monday October 7, 2013 at 8:30 pm ET on ESPN
Mike Tirico (play by play), Jon Gruden (gushing), Lisa Salters (sideline eye candy)
Falcons favored by 10; over/under 44½
Following the Saints 26-18 victory against the Bears, Atlanta is in danger of falling four games behind New Orleans in the NFC South should they lose Monday night. The Falcons are a double-digit favorite despite a less than stellar showing last week against the Patriots in a game in which they only scored one touchdown in six trips to the red zone. The Jets have performed better than what many expected them to do thus far this year thanks to quality play from both lines and a defense that is allowing just 283 yards per game (2nd best in the NFL).
The Jets get Chris Ivory (hamstring) and Mike Goodson (suspension) back, to compliment Bilal Powell (4.4 yards per carry, 292 yards rushing) at running back. The Patriots dominated the line of scrimmage a week ago and Rex Ryan would be wise to attempt to do the same Monday night; the Jets running game versus the Falcons run defense is a mismatch that favors Gang Green. Expect Atlanta to stack the box and dare Geno Smith to throw the ball; the rookie quarterback already has nine turnovers (eight picks, one lost fumble) through four games and a scarcity of targets. Smith will be without his best option, WR Santonio Holmes (hamstring) and Atlanta CB Asante Samuel, who has missed two of the four games, returns from a knee injury looking for a pick-six.
Atlanta is still without RB Steven Jackson and probably don’t want to test the Jet run defense, which is limiting opponents to an NFL-best 3.0 yards per carry. CB Antonio Cromartie will match up with Atlanta WR Julio Jones; the problem for New York is the rest of Matt Ryan’s options in the passing game. TE Tony Gonzalez is a matchup nightmare for the Jets, and doubling up on him leaves more room for WR Harry Douglas.
I think the Falcons will be fired up as they are in desperation move; they cannot afford to fall four games behind the Saints. Geno Smith and the Jets have not played nearly as well on the road (0-2, outscored 51-23) as they have at home (2-0) while Mike Smith’s Falcons have never lost three straight games. Despite last week’s loss, Matt Ryan is still 34-6 at home in his NFL career and the Jets don’t have the personnel to mount a comeback once they fall behind. I think the Jets defense may be good enough to hang around and keep this game close for awhile, but the Falcons will pull away in the second half.
Bill Belichick hates to talk to the media; that’s what the national media tells us any chance they get. We collectively have heard that line so many times that it is presumed to be true, beyond any possible shadow of a doubt.
News flash: it’s a myth.
The head coach of the New England Patriots doesn’t hate speaking to the press; he does however detest irrelevant questions that have nothing to do with the game, or questions to which a reporter should know that he is not going to divulge an answer.
When you ask Belichick a quality question he will give you a response so lengthy that a columnist may need to split up his article into a two-part series. Ask him about something that relates to the history of the game of football, or as in this case the X’s and O’s of the game, and reporters need to go to their editor’s begging for extra space in tomorrow’s newspaper.
In Thursday’s cluster at Detroit the Patriots opened the game in a “12 personnel” (one back, two tight ends), with Stevan Ridley as the lone running back and two tight ends (Zach Sudfeld and Jake Ballard). Later, the Pats added fullback James Develin, and took a tight end off the field – i.e., a “21 personnel (two RB, one TE).
All it took was for a reporter to ask to compare the advantages of each personnel formation, and Belichick took the ball and ran with it.
“Just fundamentally, when you have one back in the backfield and you have four on-the-line receivers, that gives you an ability to get into the defense potentially with four people.
“Or even if it’s three of them, sometimes the defense isn’t sure which three of them it is. One tight end could be in it and the other guy could be in protection, that type of thing.
“I think you’re able to attack the defense from the line of scrimmage a little bit quicker and with a little less predictability, depending on who those players are, of course. That’s certainly a factor.
“But as far as your running gaps, I mean,you can put more width at the formation by having a guy on the line, whether it’s four on one side and two on the other side of the center or three and three. You just have a wider front, which there are some advantages to that.
“By having them in the backfield, you can create that same four-man surface or three-man surface after the snap so the defense doesn’t know where the four-man surface or three-man surface is.
“The fullback has to – he can build that from the backfield. And then there are also, let’s say, a greater variety of blocking schemes with the fullback in the backfield because he can block different guys and come from different angles. He’s not always behind the quarterback. He could be offset one way or the other and create different blocking schemes and angles that it’s harder to get from the line of scrimmage.
“Also, depending on who your tight end is, it can be a little bit easier to pass protect seven men because two of them are in the backfield instead of us having one in the backfield. And then when you start running guys up the middle in the gaps and things like that. I think fundamentally it’s a little easier to pick them up when you a have a guy in the backfield that can step up and block him from the fullback position as opposed to a tight end in the line of scrimmage who probably isn’t going to be able to loop back in and get him, so the line is probably all going to have to gap down or not gap down if the guy drops out and all that.
“It just creates a different – it creates some advantages, I think, and it also creates some things you have to deal with. You just have to decide how you want to deal with them. Obviously when you have a guy in the backfield, it’s harder to get those two receivers vertically into the defense in the passing game.
“They’re usually running shorter routes to the flat or checking over the ball or those kind of things, short crossing routes – versus having that fourth receiver on the line of scrimmage who can run some downfield routes, again depending on who the individual person is.
“The skill definitely changes what you can do with that guy. Those are the things that come into play. Some teams are very settled in one type of offense or another, so all of their plays and their rules or their adjustments come from that particular set. And other teams use multiple looks to, say, run the same plays or the same concepts to try to give the defense a different look. It’s harder for them to zero in on what they’re doing. But they’re able to do similar things from different personnel groups or different formations.
“That’s a long answer to a really short question, but I hopefully that helps a little bit.”
The response is not only an excellent primer for those that wish to advance their knowledge of the game, but it absolutely shatters the myth that Belichick does not like to talk to the media.
There are times when sports analysts say things that literally make me shake my head; the last few days has me bordering on whiplash from all the head shaking.
The phenomenon started when at halftime of the Patriots-Colts game Dan Marino declares that ‘the Colts are outplaying the Patriots’.
Huh? Based on what?
I suppose that perhaps we were all supposed to ignore the interception and punt return that were both run back for touchdowns – though even then that makes Marino’s statement (which was made in the tone of voice that suggested there was no room for debate) the sports equivalent of ‘other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?‘
Here is the thing though: even if you do remove those two plays the Colts were not outplaying the Patriots. Yes, Indy did score touchdowns on their first two possessions – but for the entire half the Patriots stopped them from realistic scoring opportunities in three of their six drives (50%): two touchdowns, a punt, an interception, a field goal, and what would have been another punt (except the Colts changed their minds and decided instead for a hail-mary FG attempt with no time remaining). The Patriots offensive possessions on the other hand resulted in a touchdown and two short field goal attempts (100%).
If Marino was mostly watching the Broncos game, that’s fine; but if that was the case then he shouldn’t be making such a definitive statement about what was occurring in the Colts game. The only other explanation I can think of is that he looked at halftime stats like total yardage and time of possession. As a professional analyst and former professional football player he should know that those numbers can be very misleading. There is a much higher correlation between winning and turnovers than winning and either of those other two stats; to suggest Indianapolis was outplaying the Patriots is careless, absurd, and just plain unprofessional.
Then there is the self-proclaimed world wide leader. Look, I get it that they are an entertainment business primarily interested in securing profits for their shareholders, but did you catch any of their pre-game show Monday night?
Shows have segments, which are basically the part of the in between commercials. At the end of a segment the audience is left with a teaser in order to entice them to not change the channel; usually it is information on what the panel will be talking about next. At the end of one segment the teaser was about the Patriots and the implication that Rob Gronkowski should not have been playing late in the 4th quarter of the game against the Colts. Back from commercial break, next segment, and no Pats discussion – though they did end that segment with the same teaser.
Next segment, guess what? Yep, no Pats talk, but a third straight Pats teaser.
They have to bring it up next time, right?
Wrong – though they were sure to end it with their 4th straight teaser about the Patriots.
Finally, 29 minutes and four commercial breaks after they first mentioned it, TWWL did indeed talk about it.
Now there are plenty of messageboard discussion on whether or not Gronk should have been out there, but let me ask this: how many of these people that are declaring the Pats were wrong to have him out there said anything prior to this?
Did Cris Carter say anything about it in the win against the Rams? No.
Did Cris Carter say anything about any other starters still playing near the end of any game that had been decided? No.
Did Cris Carter say anything about the 49ers still playing Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Carlos Rogers and Donte Whitner on the final possession against the Bears? No.
Did Cris Carter say anything about Andrew Luck or Reggie Wayne playing until the final possession Sunday? No.
Did Cris Carter or anyone else say anything when it was announced Luck hit 300 yards passing on the Colts’ final possession, or that when it was announced that on the same play Wayne had eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving – and suggest that instead of stats that they should be kept out of harm’s way on the sideline? No.
What this tells me is that Cris Carter and everyone else that is complaining about Rob Gronkowski being on the field is a hypocrite.
They’re not complaining about the decision, because if they were they would have also complained about those other examples.
What these people are whining about is the outcome, not the decision. Spare me the moral indignation, please. If you’re not going to bring up the subject every time it occurs to every team when the outcome of a game has been decided, then you are a hypocrite.
To utilize the benefit of hindsight to question a decision is lame, petty and small-minded when you don’t apply the same standard to others.
Carter further displayed his bias and ignorance by suggesting that Bill Belichick was placing Brady in harm’s way by having him play in the 4th quarter and passing the ball on the next to last possession. On that drive Brady did indeed throw it – twice. The two passes that Brady did throw were of the extremely quick, three-drop variety; one to Wes Welker and one to Shane Vereen. If he was referring to the previous drive, Indy had just scored to make it a 21-point game and the 4th quarter had just started. Were the Pats supposed to just start taking a knee at that point? Carter’s lumping them in with seven step drops and implying that the Pats were slinging the ball 40 or 50 yards downfield was reckless and erroneous.
This was just another in a long list of espn pandering to casual fans with gossipy tsk, tsk finger pointing.
As for Bob Ryan and Dan Shaughnessy pooh-pooing fans who booed Adam Vinatieri, all I can say is get over yourselves. Their pro-Red Sox/anti-Patriots prejudice act grew stale long ago. First of all the Pats paid him plenty of money, placing the franchise tag on him twice; perhaps Shank forgot that unlike baseball the NFL has a salary cap. Second of all Vinatieri didn’t just leave, he signed with what was then the Patriots’ biggest adversary and competition. What do these guys want fans to do, cheer for the opponent to score against the Pats?
One last thing on the subject matter: to the allegedly impartial and oh-so-tough New York press that is pandering to their fan base by blasting Belichick for his decision to have Gronkowski on the field, thank you. Patriots players are extremely loyal and supportive of Belichick. To portray this event as something that is going to lead to a Jets’ victory on Thursday is simply going to be a little extra incentive for the pats to kick butt.
This Day In Patriots History
November 20, 1964: Boston Patriots 12, Denver Broncos 7 at Fenway Park
Babe Parilli‘s 25-yard pass to Gino Cappelletti turned out to be the game-winner as the Pats beat the Broncos for the third straight time and improved their record to 8-2-1.
Cappelletti, who would go on to be named the AFL Player of the Year by both the AP and UPI this season, added a 51-yard field goal in the second half to give the Pats a bit of a cushion. A field goal of that length doesn’t raise an eyebrow today, but back then it was almost unheard of; to put that into perspective there were only three successful field goals of 50+ yards in the league for the entire season.
November 20, 1966: Boston Patriots 27, Kansas City Chiefs 27 at Municipal Stadium
The fired up Pats played the ’66 league champion Chiefs to a standstill thanks in large part to Art Graham, who had 11 catches for 134 yards and two touchdown receptions. Babe Parilli threw for 252 yards and three touchdowns, and Jim Nance ran for 107 yards on 22 carries for the Patriots.
Late in the 4th quarter the Chiefs led by 3 when Nick Buoniconti intercepted a Len Dawson pass, for the 4th takeaway by the Pats defense. Parilli led the Patriots on a 13-play drive deep into Kansas City territory but the Pats were unable to cross the goal line, and had to settle for 19-yard field goal by Gino Cappelletti with 24 seconds left to play to tie the game.
November 20, 1977: New England Patriots 20, Buffalo Bills 7 at Rich Stadium
Sam Cunningham broke open a defensive stalemate with two 4th quarter touchdown runs to give the Pats their sixth win of the season.
The Patriots controlled the game, rushing for 256 yards and running 23 more plays from scrimmage than the Bills did. However the Pats settled for field goal attempts and found themselves down 7-6 entering the 4th quarter before Cunningham broke off a 31-yard touchdown run to give the Pats the lead.
November 20, 1983: Cleveland Browns 30, New England Patriots 0 at Sullivan Stadium
The Browns posted their second consecutive shutout, upsetting the Patriots in Foxboro. The Cleveland defense confused and confounded the Pats (who had won four of their previous five games), finishing with five turnovers on the day.
November 20, 1988: New England Patriots 6, Miami Dolphins 3 at Joe Robbie Stadium
On Sunday Night Football the Pats defense held Dan Marino to 169 yards and held the Miami offense to a field goal to upset the Dolphins, who were favored by 3, for a rare win in Miami. John Stephens led the Patriots with 88 yards rushing on 20 carries, and Russ Francis had three receptions for 40 yards.
November 20, 1994: New England Patriots 23, San Diego Chargers at Foxboro Stadium
For the second week in a row the Patriots knocked off one of the NFL’s elite teams, this time 2-loss San Diego, who would go on to play in the Super Bowl at the end of the season.
The Patriots opened up scoring when Drew Bledsoe caught the Chargers in a blitz and hit Leroy Thompson for a 27-yard 1st quarter touchdown; Matt Bahr‘s 39-yard field goal made it 10-0 at halftime.
After Bahr’s 38-yard field goal with 38 seconds to go in the 3rd quarter, San Diego returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown to make the score 13-10 Patriots. However the Pats responded with a 64-yard, 12-play drive capped off by Marion Butts‘ (88 yards rushing) 1-yard touchdown run to give the Pats a 10-point lead.
From there the defense took over; first Chris Slade, who had 3½ sacks, tackled Stan Humphries for a 10-yard loss. Vincent Brown then intercepted a Humphries pass and returned it to the San Diego 13-yard line. The Pats settled for another field goal but it gave them a 13-point lead. San Diego was unable to score until there was only 55 seconds remaining, and the Pats recovered the onside kick to seal the win.
Maurice Hurst had two interceptions for the Pats, and Michael Timpson was the leading receiver with 8 catches for 82 yards.
November 20, 2005: New England Patriots 24, New Orleans Saints 17 at Gillette Stadium
On the day after Steve Belichick died, Eugene Wilson intercepted an Aaron Brooks pass intended for Joe Horn in the corner of the end zone to give the Pats back-to-back victories for the first time this season and improve their record to 6-4.
Tom Brady threw three touchdown passes and newly acquired Heath Evans, starting due to injuries to three other running backs, rushed for 74 yards on 16 carries. Andre Davis scored on a 60-yard pass from Brady to give the Pats a 21-7 lead entering the 4th quarter but New Orleans made it close when Donte’ Stallworth scored his second TD for the Saints. Deion Branch and Mike Vrabel both had first half touchdown receptions and TE Ben Watson was the leading receiver for the Pats with 66 yards on four receptions.
A quick entry this morning, just wanted to point out a great column in today’s Boston Herald from one of the very best Pats beat writers, Jeff Howe. It’s a contrast and comparison in the striking differences that Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick take in their approaches to being a head coach in the National Football League.
For fans like me who really enjoy the history of the game and the history of the franchise this column was a real treat. If you were a fan of the Patriots during the Parcells and Carroll era you will surely enjoy reading the article; if you’re a newer fan then I recommend it even more, to gain some insight into what those teams were like back then.
Bill Parcells’ office was right next to the players’ entrance at the old Foxboro Stadium, and the coach’s strict, fear-striking style caused everyone to do their best to sneak by him every morning. Players said when they weren’t called into the office, there were days when they felt it was a victory.
But when Pete Carroll took over in 1997, Foxboro Stadium might as well have been located on the moon. It was a vastly different environment.
Sneak by the office? Forget that. Players routinely opened the front door to the building and heard “Barbie Girl” by Aqua blaring from Carroll’s room. If it wasn’t that song, it might have been something by The Doors. Or whoever. The music was on, and the atmosphere was loose.
There’s a lot more, check it out when you get a chance; it’s a good read.
In what I consider to be a really nice tribute to Myra Kraft, Bill Belichick presented the game ball for the Patriots victory over the Dolphins to team owner Robert Kraft. Myra Kraft passed away back on July 20 at the age of 68 after a battle with cancer. During her final times she urged her husband to go work on negotiations between the owners and the players to get a deal worked out with their collective bargaining agreement. Without that, you and I would still be talking legalese like we were last summer, rather than how the no-huddle offense sparked a 17 point comeback victory, or Gronk touchdown spikes, or any and all other on the field football topics.
Bill Belichick presents Robert Kraft with the game ball after the Pats win over Miami
Photograph courtesy of the New England Patriots via twitter, @realpatriots
Many have tried to come up with an explanation for why a Bill Belichick team could be as bad as they appear to be not just this season, but over the last few years. There has been much talk in this regard about the relative lack of success by the Patriots in terms of their personnel moves over the past few years, whether it be with draft picks, free agent acquisitions, or trades.
One other area that has been discussed quite a bit recently is that of not just the roster additions mentioned above, but the decisions to release certain players. Fans and the media are questioning why Leigh Bodden, Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders would all be let go and leave the team with unproven players such as Antwaun Molden, Phillip Adams, Josh Barrett, Sergio Brown and James Ihedigbo to take their places on the field.
After reading articles from local writers such as Greg Bedard and Ian Rapoport, it appears to me that Bodden was released not so much because those other players were better than him, but because of effort, attitude, and not accepting his new, diminished role on the team.
If you go back and re-watch the NFL Films documentary on Belichick that was done earlier this year, it is clear that the speculation about Adalius Thomas being a problem in the locker room was not only true, it was actually very understated. Fast forward two years to the Leigh Bodden situation and it is not a stretch to think that Belichick wanted very much to avoid any potential repeat of that nightmare.
To take that one step further, go back to the release of Brandon Meriweather. While Big Bang Clock was a talented player, he had also been benched at one time for too much free lancing, and was notorious for taking bad angles on plays; essentially a fundamentally unsound player that did not take well to coaching but got by strictly on his individual athletic skill. I don’t think it is out of the realm of possibility that the decision with Meriweather was also primarily about where his head was at, and the possibility that he could become a distraction in the final year of his contract.
Now that’s all well and good, but here is my question: if these players were indeed a problem in the locker room or had a bad attitude, where were the veteran leaders to set them straight? Would it have come to Belichick having to release Thomas if Bryan Cox or Tedy Bruschi was around in 2009? Would Meriweather have had that issue the last two years if a circa 2004 Rodney Harrison was playing today?
I don’t think so.
So where are today’s veteran leaders? Did Vince Wilfork or Jerod Mayo pull Leigh Bodden aside and telling him to get his act together, and if not, then why not? Logan Mankins has an unquestionably mean streak on the field; did he exhibit any of that behind closed doors and get together with another vet like Matt Light and give Adalius Thomas a little unsolicited advice two years ago? If so it didn’t seem to work.
Two years ago much was made about how many of the Pats draftees were captains of there teams in college. Was that an anomaly, a reaction to the Adalius Thomas situation – or a reaction to the lack of leadership in the locker room, and players not policing themselves? We won’t know for sure until perhaps the next documentary by NFL Films or when Belichick retires and discloses his memoirs, but it does seem as if recent teams do not have the heart and soul that teams in the early part of the last decade possessed.
That is going to need to be rectified before the Patriots can return another championship trophy to Foxboro.
Since Bill Belichick arrived in New England he has been steadfast in his philosophy about value in the draft. Because of that belief he is far more likely to trade down and acquire an additional draft pick, especially in the early rounds, than he is to trade up to go after a highly rated prospect. It’s not that it never happens (e.g., Vince Wilfork), but history has shown that he is more likely to either trade down, or turn it into an earlier pick in the following draft than he is to move up.
This strategy has been very frustrating for fans who anxiously see some name player passed by and their favorite prospect go to another team, but the success of the team in the early part of the last decade kept any grumbling quiet; it was difficult to argue with that success. Free agency, a hard salary cap and the annual draft in inverse order of the previous year’s record resulted in the NFL getting it’s wish for parity: a league where fan interest would remain high everywhere as no team would remain bad for long, even if it was at the expense of any franchise remaining on top for an extended time.
Owner Robert Kraft wanted to put together a team that could be competitive year in and year out, but how would that ever be possible in that climate? Bill Belichick’s idea was that by spreading talent throughout the roster he could build a winning team. The idea flew in the face of conventional wisdom where a higher percentage of money was to be spent at the top of the roster. Utilizing his idea of assigning more value to mid-tier players (and their contracts), the Pats not only became very competitive, they were able to keep on winning for an extended period of time.
As time passed the NFL salary cap grew by 247% from 1994 to 2011. Teams no longer went in to cap hell. Veterans with big contracts were still being cut, but usually it had more to do with their performance than their salary. And as the years went by more and more teams became savvy about the cap and made better financial decisions regarding big contracts. The rest of the league was catching up to the fiscally responsible teams like the Patriots, Steelers and Colts.
As we all know the owners opted out of the CBA and went to an uncapped year. Most thought that those teams that spent a lot of money in the uncapped year (like the Packers and Jets) would be hurt the following year when the cap returned. However, even though the cap was scaled back, the wording of the new CBA was such that contracts were written pushing a decent amount of money into future years – when new network contract will kick in and those new caps will dramatically increase.
Another aspect was that rookie contracts were scaled back in the new CBA. This had two effects; first off proportionally more money is available for veterans. Second, and perhaps more importantly, having an early draft pick is no longer an albatross around your neck to be avoided. In previous years bad teams were stuck having a high percentage of their cap tied up on those rookie contracts, and if one didn’t work out it would set them back for several years; now however that is no longer the case.
With the cap no longer being as restrictive as it was ten or more years ago, and with contracts to rookies taken in the top half of the first round no longer being a bad risk, is it time for Belichick and the Patriots to rethink their economic strategies to building a longtime winning organization?
Prior to the new CBA I was a staunch defender of Belichick’s draft and team building philosophy, in large part because I believed that the new CBA would be far more restrictive to teams in regards to the salary cap. But since that has not been the case, the old model is if not obsolete, at the very least questionable. I still believe that since the draft is something of a crapshoot – even the best drafting teams have a large percentage of misses with picks taken in the early rounds – so I’m not ready to completely discard the concept of acquiring extra draft picks. However, it seems very apparent that early draft picks – particularly picks in the first round – now represent a much higher value for teams than they did in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.
Now the question is whether or not Belichick can embrace this change in philosophy. Some are quick to portray him as stubborn, but Belichick has been anything but that throughout his career. He has a long history of going against conventional wisdom and thinking outside the box, whether it be listening to statistic experts on the probabilities of a two-point conversion, going for it on 4th down, using a linebacker at tight end, or many other ideas. Belichick adapted as rule changes caused the game to evolve offensively seven years ago; I am confident he can and will adapt next off season as well.
Earlier this week I attempted to quantify how well – or not so well – the Patriots have drafted over the last several years. That apparently struck a nerve with many, so I want to clarify a few points.
First of all I never said the Patriots are the best team in the NFL at the draft – it should be quite obvious that they are not.
I never said the 2011 Patriots defense is good; that too should be quite obvious that they are not.
And I never said that the Steelers have not drafted well. I used them as an example of comparison because they are the team, more than any other NFL franchise, that people use as a comparison when it comes to drafting. The reason is because right now they are arguably the best in the business in that department.
What I found was that the Patriots are not really all that far off – but nobody seemed to want to hear that. I was either an idiot for not joining in on the post-loss draft bashfest, a homer for declaring the Pats drafts haven’t been that bad if you look at the numbers, and on top of that apparently because I compared them to the Steelers some thin skinned Pittsburgh fans feel slighted.
I still don’t understand how people can come to conclusions about what is a good or bad draft without knowing what’s the average, upper quartile, lower quartile, very best and very worst for the average number of elite players, starters, and solid contributors per team per year. It’s like complaining about a QB for throwing ten incomplete passes, ‘that’s ten wasted plays, bench the bum‘ … without considering what the norm is for number of incomplete passes – and then finding out he’s on average completing 25 out of 35 passes per game, making him one of the league’s most accurate passers.
The other point is that when you trade down in exchange for additional draft picks you are essentially conceding that the total number of busts will be higher. The roster size is still the same; the expected result should be more players drafted equals more players cut (i.e., busts); why people act surprised when this happens is baffling. Teams – and there fans – shouldn’t be the least bit concerned with how many players don’t work out; the important number is how many players do contribute and produce.
If you have more draft picks you will have more busts. If you have fewer draft picks you will have fewer draft busts. That’s shouldn’t really be that difficult to follow folks! But apparently the concept that having a higher number of draft busts being irrelevant to which team had a better draft in this scenario really is rocket science to some people.
Over the last few years, and unsurprisingly after Ras-I Dowling went on Injured Reserve and the Patriots lost two days later, several members of the media and a litany of Patriots fans have declared that Bill Belichick has become so horrible at drafting that he should be relieved of those particular duties, with some going so far to suggest that the Patriots should fire him and replace him with someone else.
But is that an accurate portrayal?
The list of so-called draft busts has been repeated so often, along with the 20-20 hindsight of ‘we could have had this guy’ that it’s a wonder this team ever wins a single game. But if it is as bad as so many are saying it is, why then is this team not alongside the Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Rams in the won-loss column?
Could it be that it is not quite as bad as many are making it out to be?
Let me throw out a few numbers to you.
89% is the best, 50% second best, and 30% is the worst, right? In a vacuum yes, but it really depends on the context and the benchmarks in which they are being used. An NHL goalie that stops 89% of the shots he faces is going to find himself on the bench. An NFL quarterback who is completing 50% of his passes will be holding a clipboard and probably soon be out of the league. A baseball player that gets a base hit in 33% of his at bats is an all star and headed for a big payday.
As you can see, those numbers are meaningless in and of themselves unless we know the context in which they are being used and the benchmark they are being used against. I have yet to see a definitive objective study on how many players per year a team should expect to become solid contributors, starters, Pro Bowlers or elite possible future Hall of Famers per their annual allotment of seven draft picks. Yet despite the lack of this data and the accompanying barometer of what is a reasonable expectation everyone from Presque Isle to Pittsfield seems to be confident in declaring that there is no question that the Patriots’ recent drafts have been unsatisfactory. But how can so many reach any conclusion one way or the other without that information?
Now I am not going to take the time to assess the 2,560 players that have been drafted by 32 NFL teams over the last ten years, but I am willing to compare one team that many so often hold up as examples of who are allegedly far superior to the Patriots. Let’s start with Sunday’s victor, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Steelers hit on 1st round pick Santonio Holmes. Willie Colon is a three year starter on a much maligned offensive line; if he played in Foxboro fans would be calling for his ouster and labeling him as being made of glass after going on IR with torn triceps. Third round pick Anthony Smith has bounced around on five different teams and is most well known for being burnt by Tom Brady after guaranteeing a victory in 2007. Third round pick WR Willie Reid’s NFL career lasted two seasons, with a total of four receptions for 54 yards. 4th round pick DT Orien Harris never made it out of his first training camp in Pittsburgh and is now in the UFL. Four other players from that draft class never played a down in the NFL.
2007 was the arguably best draft of the last twenty years for the Steelers as they landed Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley with their first two picks. In the third round they landed Matt Spaeth, a blocking tight end who was essentially a backup to Heath Miller that walked away as a free agent after four years. The Steelers then drafted punter Daniel Sepulveda, something that those who deride the drafting of kicker Stepehen Gostkowski should take note of. The Steelers used another 4th round pick on DT Ryan McBean, who made one appearance that year and was cut prior to the start of the 2008 season. McBean played one more game for the black and gold than the next pick, 5th round the OL Cameron Stephenson. With the next pick the Steelers did well, selecting DB William Gay, who has started all 72 games with Pittsburgh. There was also a 7th round pick that did nothing.
In 2008 the Steelers nabbed RB Rashard Mendenhall in the first round. Mendenhall has been a solid starter and is headed towards his third straight 1000-yard season, though he is another player that I feel Pats fans would want to run out of town if he played here due to injuries and fumbles. The next pick was WR Limas Sweed; as far as busts go he makes Chad Jackson look like a Pro Bowler. Then in the third round the steelers took LB Bruce Davis; he was inactive for all but five games and cut during training camp the following year. After spending that season on the Pats’ practice squad he bounced around with three other teams and was waived by the Raiders three weeks ago; he has a total of four tackles in his NFL career. In the 4th round the Steelers tabbed T Tony Hills, who played in four games over three years before he was cut. In the later rounds they added two backups still with the team and one that never made it out of training camp.
With their first pick the Steelers chose DE Ziggy Hood, who has started 17 games in three season. The next pick was T Kraig Urbik who was inactive for the last nine games of his rookie season and cut in the following training camp. Then in the third round there is Exhibit A of Pats fans perfect 20-20 hindsight, WR Mike Wallace – though you may want to question why Urbik was taken ahed of him if it’s so easy to draft players who will go on to be very productive. Another third round pick was backup DB Keenan Lewis, who was inactive for 19 games in his first two season. Two of the five other players from that draft are also still on the team as backups.
At this point we’re getting into drafts that are too recent to accurately evaluate, but i’ll plow ahead for argument’s sake. This draft does appear to be a very good one for the Steelers thus far, with six out of ten drafted players still on the team. Center Maurkice Pouncey was taken with the 18th overall pick and has started every game since he turned pro. Second round pick LB Jason Worilds is not a starter, but did contribute with 17 tackles last year. Third round pick WR Emmanuel Sanders had 28 receptions for 376 yards in his rookie season, and has 18 catches for 243 yards and 2 touchdowns in the first half of 2011. Fourth round pick DE Thaddeus Gibson was cut during the 2010 season. Four of the six late round picks are still with the team as backups.
First round pick DL Cam Heyward has five tackles and a sack. Second round pick OL Marcus Gilbert has been starting. The five other picks are all still with the team as backups.
So overall this is where I have the Steelers from 2006 to 2010:
1st Round: Five for five – excellent
2nd Round: 1 elite player, 1 backup, 1 bust
3rd Round: 1 elite player, 1 other starter, a backup, a decent role player no longer on the team, and 4 busts
4th Round: the team’s punter, starter Willie Colon, and 4 busts
5th Round and beyond: DB William Gay, WR Antonio Brown, 7 backups and 12 player that never did anything
The Pittsburgh Steelers are in my opinion one of the most, if not the most well run organization in the entire NFL. They are applauded for their scouting and drafting abilities, and rightfully so. But is there really that much of a difference in the amount of production that have got out of their seven annual draft picks in comparison to the much maligned Patriots drafts – especially when you take into consideration that three draft picks were utilized for five years of Wes Welker and three years of Randy Moss?
By comparison here is what the Pats have gotten out of those drafts:
(7) solid starters, above average at their position: Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Sebastian Vollmer, Patrick Chung, Stephan Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko
(4) other starters, role players and backups still on team: Ron Brace, Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Spikes, Taylor Price
(4) players who contributed while here but are no longer on team: Brandon Meriweather, Laurence Maroney, Jake Ingram, Jonathan Wilhite
(11) 1st to 4th round busts: never made as much impact with team as was expected or hoped for: Darius Butler, Brandon Tate, Tyrone McKenzie, Rich Ohrnberger, Terrance Wheatley, Shawn Crable, Kevin O’Connell, Kareem Bown, Chad Jackson, David Thomas, Garrett Mills
(4) good late round values: Matthew Slater, Julian Edelman, Brandon Deaderick, Myron Pryor
When I compare those two groups I would put the Steelers ahead, but it’s actually reasonably close. Quibble if you’d like about what category one or two players is placed in, but it’s not as if there is a stark difference.
So why is there so much consternation about the Pats’ draft? The first thing that comes to mind is that the grass is always greener on the other side. We notice LaMarr Woodley but completely forget about Limas Sweed when they are on an opposing team; when it’s our own we forget about Aaron Hernandez and Sebastian Vollmer and focus instead on Brandon Tate and Terrance Wheatley. Negativity and controversy create reactions; that’s what fuels sports talk radio, and to a lesser extent the rest of the sports media. Just look at how many people have something to say after a loss in comparison to a win whether it be on the radio, in the comments section to an article, or on a fan message board.
The other thing that fuels this thought process is that the Patriots philosophy is that since the draft is a very inexact science – the results above pretty much lay claim to that fact – the team believes more picks is better than fewer early picks. Though this can be frustrating to watch on draft day, ten straight years of double-digit wins does seem to back up this strategy. The flip side of that is that with more picks there will also obviously be more failures, and fans focus on that.
The total number of failures and the percentage of failed picks is irrelevant.
What’s important is the total number of hits, whether your strategy is to trade up, trade down, or stand pat. Obviously if you trade down you’ll have more misses, just as you will (or better) have fewer misses if you trade up. The bottom line is that the number of hits you get should be about the same – and in the case of the Patriots it is very close to that of the most elite organization in terms of scouting and player evaluation in the NFL.
Enough with this talk about how bad the Patriots draft. If that was the case they would have a won-loss record rivaling that of the current Rams, Dolphins or Colts.