Thursday, May 29, 2014

Patriots surround Brady with weapons, just not how most envisioned

"There’s no entitlement in the NFL. I don’t expect to be given anything. I just hope I’m the one most entitled to play that position for a long time here.” - Tom Brady

Ummmm, ok.

Tom Brady is very rehearsed in saying the right thing, and it kind of gives him the country yokel presence the way he casually deflects questions about his greatness.  That's admirable for sure, but if anyone thinks that New England Patriots' coach Bill Belichick is going to hand the keys to his offense to anyone but Brady in 2014, they need to spend some time on the couch - at 100 bucks an hour.

And perhaps be prescribed some meds, maybe even fitted for the long sleeves...

Brady isn't perfect - all one has to do is check out his deep ball accuracy and his performances in recent championship tilts - but it's been since Jim Kelly was under center for the Buffalo Bills in the 1990's that one quarterback has enjoyed the consistent level of success that Brady has since the turn of the century...

...and his run isn't close to being done, which makes Belichick spending a second round draft pick for Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo all the more curious - some will say moronic - as one would expect a top draft pick to be an immediate contributor, yet the chances of Garoppolo seeing anything but a clipboard for the next three years are slim to none.

Curious, as Bill Belichick values draft picks to the point that he refers to them "Draft Capital", and insists on getting the most bang for his buck, as it were, so shelling out second round draft capital on a quarterback makes quite a statement - the question is, about what?  Is it more about choosing Brady's eventual successor or are we looking at short-term backup with imminent trade value down the road?

When Belichick selected Ryan Mallett  in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft, the choice raised some eyebrows in that Brady was just in his early thirties and two years removed from his torn ACL.  This fueled wild speculation coupled with the same dark noise about Belichick wasting third round capital on an immature punk who had a big arm and lofty intangibles, but was also reputed to be a dope fiend...

...while the only strikes against Garoppolo are his small-ish hands and the fact that it takes a phonetics program for those with a wicked New England accent to properly pronounce his name (Gah-ropp-ah-low) - though he insists that the NFL football is easier for him to grip than the standard NCAA version, and that will have to bear itself out in preseason games, because Brady is the man under center when the games count.

Mallett, of course, has been the subject of wildly erratic conjecture and connected to the Houston Texans as if Texans' coach Bill O'Brien has him tethered by the silver cord of an astral projection, some suggesting that he could be part of a package to entice O'Brien to part with reportedly unhappy receiver Andre Johnson - but Johnson is 33 and to trade Mallett for him would essentially be throwing away a third round compensatory draft pick.

The Arkansas product is in his contract year and is almost certain to be elsewhere next season, and the only way that Belichick receives that compensatory pick is to lose him in free agency - so Bill isn't going to give up Mallett for anything less than a second day pick, and may wait until the trade deadline and deal him off to a team desperate for a young quarterback.

Regardless of what the deal is with Garoppolo or Mallett, there can be nothing more aesthetically pleasing to a Patriots' fan's palate than to watch Brady survey the field in a clean pocket, cock his arm, step up into said clean pocket and fire the football downfield - the only thing more beautiful being the ball finding the receiver in stride, which happens with regularity inside 30 yards, Brady's tight-window accuracy the stuff of legend...

...though his recent performances in championship games gain him some lament, fair or not - but in reality the future first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback hasn't been the entire problem - rather, the blame can be spread so thin that most just target Brady for a few bad decisions amidst tumultuous circumstance caused by lack of proper weapons and poor play calling.

"Thirty-two teams are working hard to try to win it every year, and we’ve been close - 14-2, the Super Bowl in 2011, the AFC Championship Game in 2012 and 2013." Brady said to Peter King recently, adding "You get to those games, and you have to play your best to win, and we haven’t. I haven’t."

Brady isn't innocent by any means, but not the scapegoat that many play him to be.  His excellence in the regular season hasn't carried over to the post season simply because the Patriots' invariably run into opponents that are able to control the line of scrimmage on defense, rendering the running game ineffective and causing the offense to turn one-dimensional.

He's had the pass catchers during the season, but injury and a case of the dropsies haunt each title contest.  He's had the running backs, but the line of scrimmage has been a wasteland for them because of the aforementioned opposing defenses being able to control the line of scrimmage - and despite it all Brady has been able to put up numbers approaching career average totals.

In six games deciding either conference or league titles since 2006, Brady has completed 60% of his throws averaging over 260 yards per game - but for just eight touchdowns compared to nine interceptions while being sacked 18 times and smacked in the grill, times-three.

That happens when he is forced to throw the ball more than twice as many times as he hands it off despite working with the lead in each tilt but one, the 44 attempts per contest under those circumstances proof that both the running game and the at-times abysmal play calling has hung the albatross around Brady's neck... just twice - the 21-21 win over San Diego in the 2007 AFC Championship Game and the 23-20 win over the Baltimore Ravens in the 2011 conference title match - has the offense scored over 20 points in those title tilts.

As Brady said, the team needs to be playing it's best to win the big games - but he should have included that the offensive line needs to be nasty and mauling, because that's where the disconnect has been - not able to open holes in the running game and when that inevitably resulted in the Patriots' attack becoming one dimensional, Brady took a brutal beating because the pass protection became overwhelmed.

Belichick recognizes this, though injury can be blamed for a small percentage of ineffectiveness, and took measures to rectify the situation in the draft.  It might take a while to find the proper mix among the big uglies, but the Hoodie has the right idea and hopes that he has found the solution.

That aside, many fans are having a difficult time with the approaching and impending end of the Brady era - to the point that trust in New England Patriots' management is eroding with each personnel decision that they make.

One day, however, they will be thankful that the organization is so proactive - but for the moment the fans that have been clamoring for more weapons to surround Brady with are up in arms over the just completed National Football League draft, citing seeming indifference on the part of coach and defacto General Manager Bill Belichick in regard to winning now.

But the truth of the matter is that Belichick has finally addressed the need for more weapons to surround Brady with - and it didn't come in the form of a monstrous tight end or wide receiver with world class speed, but in three offensive linemen - road grading maulers at center, guard and tackle who happen to all be adept pass blockers as well...

...literally surrounding him in the pocket with the "weapons" he's needed all along, along with an ankle-breaking running back in hopes that protecting Brady and opening holes for the running game solves the post-season funk the Patriots have been mired for the better part of a decade.

So for now, we have to give props to Brady's famous wife who recognized the issue three years ago - after the Patriots were upset by the Giants in Super Bowl VLVI and being heckled by Giants' fans that Eli Manning "owned" her husband, delivered the infamous line that "My husband can not fucking throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time."

She should have included that he can't block for himself, either.

This is part 3 of 9 wrapping up the Patriots' offseason.  Part 4 will focus on the volatile situation in the running back coprs and how they impact the offense as a whole.

Part 1 of 9: New England Patriots' philosophies morphing back to a simpler time
Part 2 of 9: New England Patriots' offensive philosophy - Heavy on substance, not sexy style

Follow Michael on twitter: @MichaelHammpub