Monday, May 30, 2016

Reloading The Musket, Part 1 - Goodell's Parity Plan Backfires, Belichick Loads Up Juggernaut

"Parity rubs against the spirit of competition at its fundamental roots. There is no room in football for parity. If there was, everyone would get a participation trophy and be happy with that. There wouldn't be any incentive to be any better than anyone else, there wouldn't be any reasons to dig deep, to rise above, to give every last ounce of energy, nor to willfully give up blood, sweat and occasional tears.
With Parity, what one gets is the football version of professional wrestling, a choreographed parade of marionettes with Goodell pulling strings of the 32 owners in unison, each taking turns at holding the coveted Lombardi trophy until the commissioner decides that it's someone else's turn..." - Foxborough Free Press, August 13,2015

Lewiston, Maine 6:47pm

I've been dealing with a disabling bout of writer's block for over a week now.

There have been ten causes identified for writer's block, but none of them seem to be what is causing my anguish.  The only thing that comes close occurs when an adverse circumstance has just taken place that saps all of a person's creative energy - but I don't know if graduating from college could be considered in my own psychoanalysis...

...and given that my subject is football - and the New England Patriots, to be more specific - one would think that there would be tons of stuff to write about this time of year, what with OTA's happening and new players are becoming acclimated to their new surroundings - and there is.

Perhaps where I'm going astray is trying to make sense of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's relentless insistence on bringing the Patriots back to the pack, as it were, by any means necessary and regardless of facts, science, or truth.

None of those things are on the side of the league, yet they continue to hammer New England with what the NFL Players Association calls "Their own brand of industrial justice", with Goodell as the judge, jury and executioner as both he and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals see it, not to mention the ownership and fans of the 31 other NFL franchises.

The aforementioned court has reinstated a suspension handed down by Goodell at the beginning of last season and overturned in federal court, Brady scheduled to miss the first four games of this upcoming season.  He has appealed the reinstatement and is ready to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary, but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really matter.

Just like Goodell also taking away the team's first round draft pick this past April, because instead of sitting around whining like the ownership and fans of the other teams would do, defacto General Manager Bill Belichick has been loading up his already talented team by signing no less than four former first-round draft picks... when one tries to imagine what the Patriots' are going to look like this season, everything instead of prognostications normally defined by fundamental practice and practical application should be considered, because the Patriots have the opportunity to exact their own brand of "industrial justice" on the poor wretches that line their schedule.

Both the why and how are readily evident, but first I have to get rid of this maddening case of creative slowdown.  In creative writing, the instructor will propose a "free write", a technique in which a prospective writer will put pen to paper - or fingers to keyboard in this instance - and just write whatever pops into his or her head...

...never stopping, not worried about punctuation, spelling errors or margins, just writing - and soon enough, they say, your momentum will carry you over the abyss of the blockage.  It doesn't matter what the subject is, just whatever gland it is in the brain that stimulates creativity conjures a random thought, then a default template takes over and before you know it, you're flying along with a choppy piece that seems more like parts of chatty letters.

Which is normal for me, so it's sound advice - but what I can't seem to get past is how to explain what the additions of tight ends Martellus Bennett and Clay Harbor means to the base philosophy of the Patriots' offense - their presence, particularly that of Bennett shifts the focus of the offense from the collection of garden gnome-sized slot receivers to a three-headed hydra that will annihilate the opposition's pass defense.

In fact, there is so much talent at the tight end position and so much depth and skill at the passing back position, that Belichick could play an entire game using nothing but a short-yardage, Jumbo package - a 23 Personnel, if you will, meaning two running backs and three tight ends.  Nothing really weird about it and a pretty easy offensive package for a defense to match up with...

...until you remember that you are playing the Patriots, who have brought out Dion Lewis and James White as their running backs and have tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Bennett split wide outside the numbers with H-back Harbor in the slot.

No wide receivers on the field, yet your secondary is doomed.  This is what happens when you mess with Bill Belichick.

This is what happens when you falsely accuse his quarterback of dark malfeasance.  This is what happens when you take away top draft capital.  This is what happens when you leave Belichick to stew in his own juices watching pick after pick come off of the draft board while waiting for his opportunity at the end of the second round.

And that was after he had made the deals to bring Bennett and Harbor aboard, and after receiving guard Jonathan Cooper as part of the compensation in the Chandler Jones deal.  You see, the NFL may have stripped Belichick of his top draft capital, but it could do nothing but sit and watch in horror while Belichick acquired multiple former-first and second round picks to turn what was already the most lethal offense in the NFL into a literal juggernaut.

The loot is breathtaking, as Cooper (7th overall, 2013), linebacker Shea McClellin ( 19th overall, 2012), defensive end Chris Long (2nd overall, 2008) and passing back Donald Brown (27th overall 2009) join the Patriots as former first round picks, while Bennett (61st overall, 2008), nose tackle Terrance Knighton (73rd overall, 2009) arrive as former second and third rounders, respectively.

Throw in Harbor (125th overall, 2010) and Belichick has added four first rounders, a second a third and a fourth, without spending more than fourth-round draft capital for any of them - all should make the team, but it is the presence of Bennett and Harbor, plus the stable of passing backs that should make this Patriots' offense impossible to defend, and open to perversions like the 23 attack.

Of course, the Jumbo package is used almost solely in short yardage or goal line situations, when the offense needs considerable heft to move the pile a yard or two, so ordinarily the two running backs would be your power back and a full back, and your tight ends would be a combination of blocking tight ends and swing tackles who must report as being eligible receivers.

Dynamic in every interpretation of the word, the 23 personnel was designed for the offense to take what they want and need by force, which is the entire philosophy of the New England Patriots' offense heading into the 2016 season - which is scary in-and-of-itself, given the twisted mind of Belichick and his young Igor, but when one adds in the big chip balanced on Belichick's shoulder...

The Dark Master is a man of few words.  Very rarely is he compelled to offer anything more than what is required to reporters, league offices and the like, and so scrutinized is he that he has to be as transparent as a plastic baggie in all of his dealings, thanks to episodes such as "Spygate" and numerous times stretching the interpretation of the rules.

Each time he is rebuffed, he rises from the canvas with the style of a mean counter-puncher and lays waste to everything in his path.  He has a very clear track record of this behavior, so it shouldn't be a surprise at all that Belichick has a very real axe to grind against the league, including the management and ownership of 31 other NFL franchises who have supported commissioner Roger Goodell in his punishments handed down to New England as the result of the stupid and wrong "Deflategate" saga.

In 2007, his response to "Spygate" was to sign freakish wide receiver Randy Moss and slot receiver Wes Welker for Brady to throw to, the result being a perfect regular season where Belichick left no doubt as to final scores, running up the tabulation with some truly impressive offensive performances.  It was stylish in many ways and serves as the high water mark for points scored in a season or the franchise.

Which is significant in that the New England Patriots own four of the eleven highest scoring seasons in the history of the National Football League.

The 518 points scored in 2010, the 513 in 2011 and the 557 in 2012 surpassed in franchise history only by the 589 scored in 2007, and that total second in NFL history to the 606 scored by the Denver Broncos in 2013 - and if we are to witness on the field the potential this 2016 offense has on paper, the Broncos record is toast.

Simply winning is not going to be enough for Patriots' head ball coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady - not after what Goodell, the media and the ownership of the other 31 NFL franchises have put them through the past 18 months, and he certainly didn't sign all of that talent just because he could...

...he's going to incorporate them all into his master plan to create a a massive inexorable force that crushes anything in its path during the 2016 NFL season, and not stop until he has a fifth trophy for the franchise - because that's the only way to exact justice for the franchise.

The one thing that Goodell can not touch is the end result on the scoreboard.  It can not be appealed to a higher court, it can not be subjected to multi-million dollar investigations and it can not be suspended or have a draft pick taken away from it - a final score is a final score, and if the Patriots are standing on that podium with the Lombardi trophy securely in hand, they win.

If they are not, they lose.  It doesn't get any more simple than that.

But back to our original thought regarding the "Jumbo"package, and how the Patriots could pervert it into a dreadful weapon - there is no question that New England could pull that off, the only question remaining is how would an opposing team defend it?

For one, they would have to play the formation pretty much straight up to account for the running game, but at the same time try to cover a trifecta of tight ends that individually are too fast for linebackers and too big for safeties to cover one-on-one, but to double team any of them means leaving the box light, which is suicide in the 23 personnel...

...and just the fact that the uniquely verbose Belichick arch-nemesis Rex Ryan has no idea how he would defend it means that the idea has merit.

"I just think it's unusual to have two guys that are like 6' 7", and can run, catch, block." Ryan mentioned at the owners meeting in Florida a couple of months back. "It's going to be a major challenge. There's no doubt about that.  They're scary when you look at them."

"Those are two huge guys.  How we're going to defend them, I don't know."

It's not like the two-tight end package that Gronkowski teamed with Aaron Hernandez to terrorize the league with back in the early part of this decade is being re-imagined or reborn, because Hernandez was, for all intents and purposes, a big slot receiver while Bennett is more a traditional up-the-seam tight end like Gronkowski.

Harbor is more along the lines of Hernandez, though his game hasn't really blossomed to this point in his career, relegated to back up duties behind Julius Thomas and Mercedes Lewis in Jacksonville the past couple of seasons because the Jaguars didn't have the weapons that the Patriots do, so Harbor's snap count suffered until Lewis was injured - then Harbor shined.

The Jaguars were genuinely shocked at his blocking ability when he got the chance filling in for Lewis, but the fact that he was still going to be the third option in Jacksonville combined with the sports hernia surgery he had after the season was over made Harbor available, and the Patriots signed him for a lot more than the veteran minimum deal he was likely to get elsewhere - which shows that Belichick already has a role picked out for him

The Jags - and the Eagles before them - used Harbor mostly as a decoy in motion to sniff out the coverages and set the strong side, which is also what he'll be doing in Foxborough, taking a linebacker with him across the formation to clear out zones for the backs wheeling into the pattern and for giving the slot receiver space to sit down and show his numbers...

...while Gronk and Bennett hold their own personal track meet up the seam, taking multiple defenders vertically.  That doesn't leave very many defenders in the box, where the Patriots' supurb collection of receivers and running backs should find plenty of room to run.

This is no joke.  If the Patriots stay relatively healthy and Belichick's evil philosophy evolves according to plan, it's going to be next to impossible to stop this offense - which we will cover as this series evolves - and given the quality of folks that they have on the other side of the ball, New England has been instilled as the odds-on favorites to win the Super Bowl.

Of course, there are some in the Boston media that are urging fans to "pump the brakes" on Bennett and the rest of the pack of tight ends, but there is really no reason to - as we will find out in the next free write...

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