Saturday, May 24, 2014

New England Patriots' philosophies morphing back to a simpler time

For a man that is so secretive in his dealings that he could be running the National Security Agency from his digs at Gillette Stadium and no one would be the wiser, Belichick sure isn't being too cryptic about how he envisions his New England Patriots this upcoming season.

From his free agency moves to his draft picks to his undrafted free agent choices, the Hoodie has been very deliberate, much to the chagrin of friend and foe alike - particularly on offense where fans and media of the team are feeling confused and somewhat dis-serviced at the seeming abandonment of the unfulfilled potential of a tight end-centric attack...
Cameron Fleming (73) represents a return to the fundamentals

...the promise of which was the result of doubling up on tight ends in the 2010 draft, Belichick selecting monstrous Rob Gronkowski out of Arizona in the second round then Aaron Hernandez from Florida in the fourth, the two teaming to form what was to be the vaunted nightmare matchup for opposing defensive coordinators for years to come.

And it worked, what with Hernandez' athleticism and speed occupying double teams up the seam and Gronkowski's size and pure strength causing fear and loathing amongst linebackers and defensive backs alike, the latter of which bounced off the man-child like a pinball.

But Hernandez turned out to be a murderous thug and ended up in the clink while Gronkowski kept breaking like cheap glass - and just like that, the promise of an innovative offensive juggernaut died before it ever really got started, and likely won't be pursued further.

Belichick didn't chase a veteran tight end in free agency - which was ok, we thought, because there were so many good young ridiculously athletic hybrids in the draft class and he was certain to pick one up through that process - but when all three days passed with no tight ends added to the roster, a gloom settled on Foxborough as many began to openly question just what the hell Belichick was doing.

Especially when he selected a quarterback in the second round then traded out of the third - the two rounds that had been determined to be the wheelhouse for Belichick to restock the "move" tight end position. That's when the boo birds emerged and have been chirping about how the Patriots' defacto General Manager sucks at drafting ever since.

That said, it should also be mentioned that Bill Belichick doesn't care what we think.

Just putting that out there in case anyone feels that the Hooded One screwed the pooch on draft weekend - because according to him he managed to improve his team, and unless you sign his paychecks, he couldn't give a rat's ass what we say or think.

The national media have rated his draft picks anywhere from an "B" to a "C-" and Patriots' fans on social media are calling him the worst drafter in the history of organized sports...

...he ignored our mock drafts that we worked so hard on, choosing not to follow our plans for a hybrid tight end that would stretch the seam.  He completely dissed our opinions and forced the people expecting the big time athletes with the sexy names to instead Google the unknown.

And for what?  To be different?  For a good laugh?  To piss us off?

The fair answer is that it is both all of the above and none of the above - but in the process he has changed the landscape of the offense that is still very much a work in progress at this point of the offseason, but at least headed in a direction that plays to the strength of the depth chart instead of hanging their hopes on an immensely talented yet imminently fragile Rob Gronkowski.

Also, he has taken a core of a defense that, when healthy, was already a top ten unit and with a few deft moves in free agency has caused it to evolve naturally into what may well end up being one of the most fearsome in the National Football League when all is said and done.

So now, the offense will be more standardized, centered on a power running game that sets up perhaps the best play action quarterback in the game today - a deliberate, relentless, chain-moving entity designed to force the opposing defense to defend the entire field from the inside, out...

...while the defense's evolution should form a powerful and quick attacking creature that should be akin to releasing greyhounds from the starting gate, snarling and sprinting after that illusive mechanical rabbit - only their target will be the opposing quarterback and any player that he elects to dump the ball off to.

In other words, a return to the most fundamental concepts in football - because that's how the Belichick era started and he appears determined to dictate to the football world that it's the way his watch will end as well - a methodical, ball control offense and a swift, stout, hard hitting defense that saps the life right out of the enemy.

Because merely racking up massive yardage on the field and points on the scoreboard at a break-neck pace isn't good enough any longer - utter domination, a spirit crushing juggernaut unleashed upon the opposition is the only thing that is going to make the nut, complete with perhaps the nastiest power running game in the league to shove down their throats...

...combined with a shut-down defense that no longer will have to adapt to what the opposing offense is doing or mess around with analogies such as "being in a chess match" or even "a game of cat and mouse" -  those things are for losers, and winners dictate to their adversaries and take what they want by force.

The Patriots have gone that other route - piling up yardage and points - and enjoyed tremendous success during the regular season for the past decade, but when it came down to trophy time, the nastiness has always been on the other side of the ball as the opposing defenses have been able to dictate to the New England offense.

What Belichick pulled off this offseason speaks to that issue in such a way that there is suddenly nothing modern about this team - nothing cryptic, nothing innovative, unless just lining up and telling the people on the other side of the ball "This is what we're going to do, now try and stop us" is innovative...

...the power running game, the nastiness along the offensive line, the size and quickness amongst the pass catchers combine with a quarterback whose style and skill set speak to the old school, and what comes out of it is a team that resembles the teams of the mid-to-late 70's, teams that trampled folks and made no apologies.

Now, no one is suggesting that the Patriots' offense will be approaching 3,000 yards on the ground or even going run-heavy - on the contrary, all Belichick has done is added a dose of hateful heft along the offensive line and brought the future of the backfield in to compete for playing time now, and in the process has given Brady a substantial number of options to ponder under center...

...but the defense is already one from the days of yore, with only a minimal amount of chemistry to be achieved and very few roster spots up for grabs, all the makings of a fierce and relentless violent attacking force.

Overreaction?  Perhaps, given how early it is in the team building process - but we're talking about a team that has been to three consecutive AFC Championship games with teams held together with duct tape, and as that hillbilly approach doesn't work win it comes to winning time, Belichick has opted for buying quality instead.

There really wasn't that much left to do to keep the team contending, but as you will read in this continuing series, they did more than enough to make sure that they can win now, and to continue the tradition for years to come...

This is part 1 of a 9 part series wrapping up the Patriots' offseason.  Part 2 will delve into the detail of their offensive philosophy.

Follow Michael on twitter: @MichaelHammpub

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