Sunday, September 13, 2020

Patriots Old-School Their Way To Opening Victory; Newton Keys Powerful Rushing Attack

 Giddy. Absolutely, unabashedly giddy.

And I would have been regardless of the outcome of the game between the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins, so long as the Patriots ran the ball the way I thought they could – and it wasn’t so much that they did run the ball the way I thought they could, it was more the way they did it.

And the way they did it was to simply line up and run the ball straight down the Dolphins’ throats.

Led by quarterback Cam Newton’s 75 yards, the Patriots racked up 217 yards on 42 carries, including all three touchdowns, in a New England victory that was much more one-sided than the 21-11 final score would indicate.

Newton’s mere presence turned the Dolphins’ defensive ends into statues and opened up natural running lanes that were embellished by the Patriots’ physical offensive line and consistently exploited by their stable of excellent running backs – the result being everything that an NFL team needs to win on Sundays.

The Patriots enjoyed a nearly two-to-one advantage in time of possession, ran for over five-yards per carry and were surgically efficient in the passing game. In fact, so efficient was the offense as a whole on Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium that they gained 29 first downs on just 63 snaps – an average of nearly one first down every other snap.

All four of New England’s running backs contributed with surprisingly powerful running from both third-year runner Sony Michel and undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor, while Rex Burkhead and James White contributed their usual steady play.

In contrast, only three Patriots’ receivers combined with White and Taylor to catch 15 of Newton’s 18 offerings.

Shades of Chuck Fairbanks’ Patriots squads in the mid-to-late seventies and his Steve Grogan-led offenses that commonly featured a two-to-one balance between the run and the pass, as on Sunday, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels called a running play – including thirteen designed runs for Newton – on seventy-percent of the offensive snaps.

It was straight inside-zone power directly into the teeth of the Dolphins’ defense – and when Miami’s coaches tried to compensate by loading the line of scrimmage with ten defenders, McDaniels countered with short, quick-hitting pass plays that eventually forced the Dolphins to back off.

Running the football on offense and stopping the run on defense are the most fundamental concepts in the sport, and teams who do both successfully more often than not earn victory – and not only did the Patriots plow the row through the Miami defense, the folks in charge of stopping the opposition’s offense threw up a brick wall against the Dolphins’ running game, holding their runners to a paltry 3.2 yards per carry…

…forcing Miami quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to the air thirty times, completing twenty for 187 yards but also tossing three interceptions

The Patriots were particularly stout against the run, with the three-headed monster of Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler and Byron Cowart generally clogging the middle, forcing the play to the edges where Linebackers John Simon, Chase Winovich and Ja’Whaun Bentley mopped up the mess.

Most impressive, however, was the play of safeties Adrian Phillips and Terrence Brooks, who platooned in the Big Nickel role – typically manned by the opted-out Patrick Chung – laying some huge hits in run support and blanketing tight ends in the pass pattern, Phillips coming down with one of New England’s thefts.

All was not perfect for the Patriots – some early missed tackles and late pass interference penalties made things seem a little dicey at times, and the offense missed the opportunity to nail the Dolphins coffin shut with a costly fumble inside the one-yard line – but those are things that can be fixed.

Offensive Players of the Game: Patriots’ Offensive Guards

The Patriots’ guards dominated in the running game, pulling both inside and out, combining with Newton’s play fakes to open huge holes for the backs and in anchoring against the pass rush.

Defensive Players of the Game: Patriots’ Strong Safety rotation

The strong safety tandem of Adrian Phillips and Terrence Brooks delivered nothing but wood in run support all day long, and Phillips recorded one of the Patriots interceptions playing the “Robber” role.

It appears that the Patriots are going to be content to fill Patrick Chung’s shoes by committee, and it appears that they have two physical options to rotate in and out – with a special shout-out to hybrid JoeJuan Williams, who had sticky coverage from a safety position as well.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Patriots’ New Offensive Philosophy Isn’t New, It’s Just Evolving

Bill Belichick is a freaking wizard, and once again we are about to witness his magic.

In fact, the 2020 NFL season will come to be known as Belichick’s finest hour, as it were – not so much tied to success on the field, but for finally being able to build his New England Patriots in his own gruff image.

I’ve always enjoyed watching Belichick build his team from the ground up each summer, but not as much as I’ve enjoyed this year’s effort thus far. He had a difficult – some say insurmountable – number of obstacles to navigate even before the pandemic swept across the country, and the resultant social distancing mandates made his task ten-times more daunting.

But “difficult” and “daunting” are challenges that fall right into Belichick’s wheelhouse.

We got our first look at his mindset during the draft, a fascinating, eclectic class of rookies whose selections seemed right on point with what he needed to propagate the theory that he’s been building towards this moment for the past four seasons…

…and although his method caused quarterback Tom Brady to go berserk and probably caused last-year’s late season collapse as well, there’s no doubt that this season’s incarnation of the New England Patriots will offer up a far better product than if he had not been building towards life without Brady.

The evidence is compelling, particularly along the offensive line. Starting with Shaq Mason and David Andrews in 2015, Belichick has assembled a group of linemen who are better a plowing the row than pass blocking – but to be fair, the aforementioned Mason and Andrews, along with 2016 third-round pick Joe Thuney and 2018 top pick Isaiah Wynn, have gradually improved in pass blocking…

…perhaps not consistently enough to protect a statue in the pocket, but plenty good enough to scheme around the talents of Cam Newton, who is now the favorite to win the starting quarterback job (as if he wasn’t the moment he signed his contract).

Initially, the line was being gradually constructed to meld with the skill set of Jimmy Garoppolo, whom the Patriots drafted in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft as the heir apparent to Brady. Garoppolo is much more ambulatory than Brady and, as such, required an offensive line that is more athletic than stout.

You know, guards that can pull into the flat on a designed roll out, or who can slip onto the second level and neutralize a linebacker, and tackles who have the ability to chip defensive ends and drift out to lead the screen plays that are a staple of Belichick’s method of operation.

But when Brady (Kraft?) forced Garoppolo out of the building in 2017 - right in the middle of the building process - it forced Belichick’s hand. His choices were to either scrap his philosophy and cater to Brady’s insistence that he was determined to play into his mid-forties, or to continue along the path he had designed for Garoppolo.

Of course, it went against conventional wisdom that Brady would still be playing at a high level three years later, so Belichick maintained course and heading, knowing that his personnel acquisition was moving the offense away from Brady’s strengths in favor of a hopefully seamless transition to a quarterback that embodies the latest trends in the league, that being a renaissance of sorts to the old-school, smashmouth ways of yesteryear.

Some are speculating a return to the early seasons of the millennium, a power-based running attack to open up play action and to clear defined passing lanes, and while that is the hope on my end, Newton’s presence adds another dynamic

And since any philosophy in football is built from the inside out, Belichick has stocked the offensive line with smaller, lighter linemen with quick feet, excellent football acumen, and a mean streak a mile wide.

Of all the starters along the offensive line, left guard Joe Thuney is the tallest at 6’ 5”, followed by (presumptive) right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor at 6’ 4”, center David Andrews at 6’ 3”, left tackle Isaiah Wynn at 6’ 2” and right guard Shaq Mason at 6’ 1” – with only Eluemunor checking in at over 310 pounds. 

The NFL average for an offensive lineman is 315 pounds, the average height, 6’ 4”.
Again, only Eluemunor checks in at or above the size of the average NFL Lineman, and he wasn’t drafted by New England, brought in on a trade with Baltimore to help assuage the massive injuries that befell the Patriots last season.

All of that said and true, it is no coincidence that Belichick has assembled the smallest, yet most athletic offensive line in football – and all he needed was a quarterback to surround with it.

That’s when Cameron Jerrell Newton fell right into his lap.

Newton isn’t just a mobile quarterback. In fact, he was the gold standard for mobile quarterbacks when he entered the league in 2011, initiating a trend towards more option-based offenses that have swept through the league in the past decade.

But the real indication of Belichick’s commitment to a more diverse, power-based attack came with the drafting of two tight ends, both of whom should step right into vital roles all over the formation and will complete the blocking scheme.

The health of the line as a whole combined with the drafting of the versatile tight ends and the presence of Newton suggests that the product that Belichick is going to field will be different from what we’ve witnessed in the past couple of decades under his rule – but not so different that it will be unrecognizable.

The same concepts will be in play, but this time Belichick will be building his roster from the ground up in his own image instead of trying to fit square pegs into round holes in order to appease Brady, because now the hole is square and all of the personnel moves that he has made in the past few years should fit beautifully.

After all, that’s what the Dark Master has had up his sleeve the entire time…

Friday, August 14, 2020

Patriots Sign Lamar Miller; Reaffirm Dedication To Running The Football

The reclamation projects just never stop in Foxborough.

On Sunday, the New England Patriots signed veteran journeyman(?) Lamar Miller and his surgically-repaired ACL to a one year contract – a surprise move given the strength and quality of the Patriots’ running back kennel, leaving all of us to wonder if the signing is a sign of trouble with third-year “lead” back Sony Michel.

Michel, of course, was placed on the team’s PUP list last week as he rehabs from foot surgery in the offseason, but we all assumed that second-year redshirt Damien Harris would be picking up Michel’s slack, with Rex Burkhead and James White providing a change of pace – and that most likely still is the case, despite Miller’s signing.

In fact, Miller may just be camp fodder unless he clearly out-performs one of the incumbents on the roster, with another option being placed on the injured-reserved list if he shows promise but isn’t quite ready to compete.

At his best, Miller is a crisp cutback runner between the tackles and has a second gear to get around the corner – and then has an extra gear once he breaks into the open field. The fastest back that came out of the 2012 NFL Draft, speed is his calling card. If his knee has fully healed and he regains his ability to cut against the grain, he offers more in the running game than Michel.

In fact, assuming Miller makes the 53-man roster, the Patriots are in better shape in the backfield than they were a week ago, and even then they were pretty stacked.

It is universally thought that the Patriots had one of the best running back depth charts in the league to begin with - even with Michel on the shelf – but now they have three similarly sized backs with decidedly different styles, plus the most effective passing back in the league, meaning that New England can now play the running game anyway you like it.

You want a slasher with elite speed, a threat to take it to the house on any touch? That’s Miller. You want a grinder who punishes linebackers and always gets the extra yard? That’s Harris. How about a guy who does a little of both? Yup, Burkhead – and even though all three are capable in the pattern, James White is dependable as they come wheeling out of the backfield.

Add all of that to the fact that they will be running behind one of the best zone-blocking schemes in the league and with a dual-threat quarterback running the entire show, what you get is a commitment to run the ball.

Of course, Newton is the catalyst with a skill set not seen in New England before. Let’s face it, Tom Brady was glued to the ground, but had decent elusiveness in the pocket - but more and more in the past couple of years, when the pass rush was closing in, he would simply take a seat and live to see another play…

…while Newton is an apparition, with the start and stop ability to leave would-be tacklers grasping at air. On reputation alone, defenders will have to account for Newton’s running ability on every play, his repertoire including RPO experience and a knack for scrambling out of trouble. But where his presence affects the running game is on the outside zone plays that Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels loves.

Newton is in his element In the outside zone. Where Brady would simply turn and hand off to his backs, Newton can and will employ elements of the double and triple options, so the need for a cutback runner with speed became paramount the moment Newton signed his Patriots’ contract – and that’s the reason Lamar Miller and his sub-4.4 speed now resides in Foxborough.

Actually, there is a lot to like about this year’s incarnation of the Patriots’ offense. Sure, there are a lot of variables in play – health and replacing players who have opted-out at the forefront – but if the universe unfolds in their favor, we could witness a renaissance of sorts, back to the days when the Patriots featured a powerful running game that sets up the passing game.

With head coach Bill Belichick being a rooted in the fundamentals of the game, I can’t wait to see how he shapes his offense when in his element – because there’s nothing more fundamental in football than running the football.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Belichick Will Have To Get Creative To Help Patriots’ Defense Survive Devastating Loss Of Talent

Eight different members of the New England Patriots have opted out of the 2020 NFL season for reasons related to the ongoing pandemic, and while three of them were counted on to be integral components, their loss opens the door for some talented players waiting in the wings…

…but now, thanks to those players opting out, the Patriots also have almost $35 million in cap space that they could potentially use to bring in a seasoned veteran or two to stem the tide of departures from the depth chart.

Under normal Belichickian standards, those aforementioned young and talented players would essentially go through a “Redshirt” season, seeing minimal action while they watch and learn from the veterans ahead of them on the depth chart, but head coach Bill Belichick appears to have lost the luxury of bringing his newbies along slowly.
Both Chung (23) and Hightower (54) have opted-out of 2020 season

Fortunately, of the players on the list of opt-outs, only the loss of linebacker Dont’a Hightower and right tackle Marcus Cannon are considered problematic, as there is no proven talent behind them on the depth chart – but especially Hightower, as his decision robs the Patriots of not only their play-calling defensive captain, it also leaves the linebacking corps looking more like a Senior Bowl lineup…

…going from a “Who’s who” pack of speedy sack masters to a “Who’s that?” group of rookies and journeyman part-timers that, from the outside, looks like a serious degradation of the talent level.

But these are the New England Patriots, and Belichick is the quintessential boy scout who is always prepared – and while some (most) believe that he was unprepared last season to deal with all of the injuries that crippled his team, the simple fact of the matter is that he was preparing his team for life beyond the dynasty in hopes of creating a new one.

Replacing Hightower And Chung

This is likely to be a game-to-game scenario, which is how Belichick operates anyway.

Belichick is the master game-planner who builds his teams with the Patriots’ schedule in mind. It is said that coaches build their teams to match up with teams in their division, which makes sense on the surface, given that they play each team twice – but in reality, that means that each team plays only six of their sixteen regular season games in-division, leaving ten games against non-division foes…

…so their success or failure in making the post-season lies mainly on how they fare against the ten other teams on their schedule, and somehow, someway, Belichick seems to be able to game plan for every single team, every single week – and he uses his entire roster, even if it’s just in one or two plays throughout the season.

Situational football is what Belichick lives for, and the options that he has for covering the “Will” linebacker spot that Hightower has vacated are actually quite plentiful, if not traditional.

For the past two seasons, Belichick has employed strong safety Patrick Chung in the position at times, and though Chung has also opted out, some the players that they have brought in through free agency and the draft to eventually replace the aging box safety are looking more and more fortuitous as time goes on…

…and the draft also produced a couple of off-the-ball linebackers who possesses the skill set to contribute in the multiple-layer infusion to replace the volume of talent the Patriots lost not only when Hightower opted out, but also the loss of Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts in free agency.

It makes sense for Belichick to look at veteran journeyman Brandon Copeland to provide some snaps in Hightower’s stead, but there’s a reason why the Penn product has bounced around the league since entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2014.

He is a man without a true position, initially entering the league as a 265 pound defensive end with impressive speed for the position, but with suspect lateral agility in the pass rush and found himself out of the league for a couple of seasons – then reinvented himself as an outside linebacker for the 2015 veteran combine, shedding twenty pounds and, as a result, trimming two-tenths of a second off of his forty…

…and while that improved his straight-line speed, it did little to improve his agility. At his best, Copeland, who’s weight now stands at 255, is a strong-side, edge-setting linebacker who willingly takes on tight ends on the edge, but also gets regularly swallowed up in the maw, leaving an inside track for runners.

As a result, he found himself as a rotational player for both the Lions and Jets, his greatest contribution being on special teams. With his lack of lateral agility, I can’t see him as a regular part of the lineup, especially if the rookies on the roster can make an immediate impact in camp.

Michigan’s Josh Uche is the favorite to take on the “Will” role vacated by Hightower due to his “tweener” skill set. Though he won many battles as an edge rusher in college, his size could work against him against offensive tackles and tight ends in the pros unless he is schemed as an interior linebacker in a 3-4 defensive alignment, where he could roll to the edge in run defense and attack interior gaps as a blitzer in pass defense.

He possess more speed than Hightower and is fluid in underneath coverages, and the fact that he models his game after the late Sean Taylor, those box safety-like instincts and versatility has to have Belichick salivating at the possibilities of deploying Uche in the middle of his “Amoeba” defense.

As anyone who knows football is familiar with, the difference between the aforementioned box safety and a coverage linebacker is in name only, and since Belichick likes to employ his strong safeties as coverage linebackers, Uche fits that bill – but he’s not the only player on the roster who does.

Belichick’s top pick in the 2020 draft, safety Kyle Dugger, possesses the most versatility of any player on the Patriots’ defense and, as such, he could fill a different role in just about any alignment. A violent striker in space with the speed to handle the back end as well.

Dugger’s coaches at the Senior Bowl tried him at the single high safety position and as a hybrid linebacker who fills well in run support and excels at underneath coverages. He has the size to hold his own at the “Will” spot, where, as mentioned, Belichick used Chung at times to handle the better tight ends in the league.

Former Los Angeles Chargers’ safety Adrian Phillips was signed by Belichick in free agency, most likely to make him more comfortable in facilitating a trade with the Detroit Lions that sent Big Nickel safety Duron Harmon packing in a salary cap move. Phillips is also capable of reducing down into the box, but his presence only adds fuel to the speculation that Dugger will play a major role – something we will get into in a later article.

But with both Phillips and Dugger on the roster, Belichick should be able to continue fielding three safeties in both his Big Nickel and Amoeba packages, especially the latter, which is defined by no definition, a “formation” that is constantly shifting shape during the offensive cadence, making it close to impossible for the quarterback to set his protection at the line because he has no idea where the pressure will be coming from.

And that is important to remember about this defense. In the Amoeba, all of the defenders are juking and shifting as if they are rushing the quarterback, then at the snap, some defenders rush while others fall back into coverage so it is imperative that Belichick have as many versatile athletes on the field…

…and while the Amoeba is geared more towards late-down, long-yardage situations, the presence of players like Uche, Dugger and Phillips, along with young breakout candidates in linebackers Ja’Whaun Bentley and Chase Winovich, he could employ the tactic on early downs as well, albeit with a tweak or two.

All of that said, there is no guarantee with the newbies on the roster, but the versatility in their individual skill sets actually gives Belichick more options both in coverages and in run support than he had with more traditionally-skilled defenders in Hightower and Chung – but that doesn’t mean those players won’t be missed, it simply means that Belichick will have to open up his playbook a little wider, which isn’t a bad thing…

Friday, July 24, 2020

Newton Offers Increased Optionality For Patriots’ Offense

Optionality is a financial term that, in short, is the value of additional optional investment opportunities available only after having made an initial investment, and with the recent signing of quarterback Cam Newton, the New England Patriots are suddenly lousy with those additional opportunities – not only in terms of cap dollars, but also on the playing field.

Most teams’ average investment on the quarterback position runs at about 16% of their cap space, which includes both the starter and the backup(s), but with Newton signing a bargain-basement contract, the Patriots’ investment of 1.5% is the greatest value in the league. Even if Newton reaches all of the incentives on his contract, the Patriots still come in at just a quarter of what other teams are spending.

Combined with the grievance relief that the team was granted from the league over the contracts of Aaron Hernandez and Antonio Brown, the Patriots suddenly find themselves with maneuverability in their cap space, opening up options on the free agent market, though they will most likely keep that money in reserve in hopes that Newton does reach those incentives.

Hopeful, because a successful Newton will likely mean success for the entire team.

As mentioned, optionality (in the context of football), isn’t limited to cap dollars, it also translates to the playing field as their investment in Newton expands the playbook in ways that have to have Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels salivating…

…and also translates to Newton himself, who, with a successful season, can capitalize on the investment he’s made in himself by signing what amounts to a “Prove It” contract, opening up options and giving him leverage in contract negotiations beyond the 2020 season, be they with the Patriots or on the open market.

That said and true, many around the National Football League are still wondering why a former-MVP in the prime of his football career would settle for a one year contract from the New England Patriots with so little guaranteed money that it looks like a mid-round rookie deal.

Why, indeed!

The market for Newton wasn’t what one would call robust, but wouldn’t it have been better for him to wait until camps opened and the inevitable injuries occurred, prompting panicked head coaches to reach out to him with an exponentially lucrative offer?

In the short term, that probably would have been the way to go for the former first-round draft pick of the Carolina Panthers, but taking over for an injured starter has many different layers to it, and the process can become so convoluted that it becomes volatile at a point in his career where stability is paramount, lest he become sadly known as a journeyman…

…but in the long-term, New England looks to be the perfect place for the of-late, oft-injured trend-setter to not only revive what was once a spectacular career, but to also market his wares in order to gain a contract more befitting a player of his ability.

The Patriots have all the tools in place to help Newton do just that, and with their 2021 cap situation looking far better than this season’s dead-money albatross, Newton could easily find himself the franchise signal caller.

Newton is no dummy. He’s betting on himself to regain his pre-injury dynamism, and he chose the best place in the league to try and accomplish just that. Most athletes in his position and with such a celebrated past are looking for the best money and see themselves as a savior of sorts, stepping in with the mind-set that they alone can elevate the team to relevance…

…and it is far too early to project whether Newton fits into that category, especially given his flamboyancy and confidence, but the fact that he signed for the veteran minimum in guarantees gives one the impression that his only goal is to prove that he is still relevant.

Belichick is no dummy, either, as he likely sees Newton as a super-sized, more athletic version of his long-lost favorite son, Jimmy Garoppolo, whom he was building around to accommodate his skill set as the heir to Brady – so much so that even after Garoppolo was traded, the Dark Master continued along the chosen path, knowing that he was already locked in to a philosophy that would end the dynasty had he kept hold of Brady for a couple of more years.

We all saw it, right? The talent that Belichick built his 2019 team with didn’t jibe with Brady’s skill set at all, causing the greatest of all time to bitch and bristle about iron deficiency of the offense. It was purposeful on the part of Belichick, as he wasn’t about to be caught with his pants down once Brady left – and certainly not after the weird contract that Brady signed before the start of the season that left Brady with all of the leverage.

So Newton, assuming he beats out Jarrett Stidham for the starting role, steps into a ready-made offense that plays fabulously into his style.

It’s worth noting that neither Belichick nor McDaniels are likely to move off their spot so far as their conceptual philosophies are concerned, nor should they, but it goes to figure that if Newton is indeed under center, his presence allows for expansion and evolution of the concepts.

We are about to witness a much more diverse and open Patriots’ offense, perhaps one that is more powerful and exciting than in years past. Where the offense was a model of efficiency and consistency with Brady at the helm, with a ratio between the running game and passing game consistently around 40:60, with Newton calling the signals that should flatten out to a more even mixture…

…and not for any reason other than that’s the way Belichick’s team-building philosophy has been trending, and with Newton on board, the perfect storm exists for the Patriots’ dynastic ways to continue.

How? The answer to that question starts in my next article, which reveals the fact that the Patriots’ offensive line and zone-blocking scheme are perfect compliments to Newton’s skill set.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Belichick To Roll With Stidham And The Receivers He's Got, Because That Was His Plan All Along

May 8, 2020

So, Bill Belichick didn't select any wide receivers in this year's NFL Draft, but at least he doesn't have Tom Brady around to bitch about it.

In reality, however, Belichick's New England Patriots are pretty stacked at the pass catching positions, so long as his wide receivers and tight ends do the job that they are capable of - but with a new quarterback under center, nothing's a given.

Indeed, the Patriots are entering the 2020 season with plenty of mystery surrounding their receiving corps, with only greybeard Julian Edelman, sophomore Jakobi Meyers and passing back James White the only known quantity - and while we got a little taste of what second-year perimeter threat N'Keal Harry and veteran Mohamed Sanu bring to the field, they are largely question marks... are newcomers Damiere Byrd and Marquise Lee, both with undeniable measurables and speed to burn, but both having underachieved thus far in their brief professional football careers - and the advantage that all of them have is working with the aforementioned new, young quarterback who doesn't seem to have the same obsession with perfection that Brady did.

Not that expecting your receivers to be where they are supposed to be on the route tree is a bad thing, but Brady's heat-of-the-moment, Sam Kinison-style of explosive expression seemed to make his young pass catchers tense up so badly that Harry looked like he was running with a corn cob up his ass near the end of the season.

Stidam is young, so he also needs his receivers to be where he expects them to be, but with the fear of pissing off the greatest quarterback of all time no longer dominating their subconscious minds, maybe they can relax a little and work on their craft instead of running away from it.

I love Tom Brady, make no mistake. What Brady gave to the people of New England - to the entire sports world - was nineteen years of the most clutch performances ever seen. When Brady signed with Tampa, my wife tried to peel the Fathead of Brady off of the cave wall, but I defended it like a wolverine and finally calmed her down enough to allow me to explain to her why it was staying in it's place of honor.

I told her of my admiration of Brady and reminded her of all of the excitement and joy he was responsible for, of how he turned us both into adrenalin junkies by making us stew in anxiety during the two weeks between Championship Sunday and Super Bowl Sunday, then really amped us up by making the crucial plays on the biggest stage in sports to win six of those world titles...

...and having his team in position to steal the three that he lost. He has been the one, lone constant on the field for New England for all nine championship runs, and I am thankful and humbled to have been able to witness every single throw.

One of the best passes I ever saw Brady make was the seriously filthy timing throw on a ten-yard out pattern to Danny Amendola, who was well covered by an Atlanta Falcons' defender on the winning drive in the overtime period of Super Bowl 51. The ball exploded out of Brady's hand with the requisite zip required of such a pattern, but with just barely enough loft to evade the nickelback's fingers...

...the Patriots scoring to win their fifth Lombardi Trophy, Brady taking the opening kickoff of overtime and shoving it down the Falcons' collective throat to complete the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, perhaps the greatest of all time. I recanted the tale to my wife, who looked at me thoughtfully and said, "He's still a dumb-ass for throwing that pick-six right before halftime."

Brady. You either love him or you hate him, but no matter which way you lean, you have no choice but to respect him.

Brady epitomized the not-so-well-worn cliché uttered by the old-school "Voice of God", NFL Films' narrator John Facenda who said, "Great players aren't great all the time; they're just great when they have to be.". My wife understood this, finally, despite being an insane female hybrid of Oscar Zeta Acosta and John Cleese, who would fly into a sputtering, animated rage when Brady threw an interception (see above).

But as crazy as it sounds, the way that Belichick has stocked the offense over the past half-decade was in preparation for life without Brady - unfortunately for Brady, that meant the offensive personnel last season was geared more towards a power-based philosophy, or at least it became that way when the offense lost their center, both fullbacks and Harry for half of the season...

...while Edelman played broken after missing a few games, and Sanu never really became part of the offense, dealing with a bum ankle that required offseason surgery - the tight ends didn't do squat, leaving the undrafted rookie Meyers as the only healthy receiver, making it easy for defenses to take away the Patriots' running game as well.

That said, the caveat for this season's offense will have to be the well-worn cliché "If Healthy".

"If Healthy", the Patriots have the receivers to force any defense to defend the entire field, with Harry working the perimeter, Sanu the intermediate routes, Edelman and Meyers working the middle and either Byrd or Lee clearing out the trash as deep threats. To make matters even worse for defenses, Belichick drafted two capable tight ends to handle the seam and safety valve responsibilities.

And, of course, all of that opens up room for the real star of the passing game, running back James White, who along with his battery mates Damien Harris, Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel, will also work in the power running game behind an offensive line built to plow the row.

All Stidham needs to be is proficient, the rest has been done for him. Just get the ball to where it needs to be and let his weapons be weapons. If he can command his troops on the field, earn their respect and manage the game plans, the Patriots have as good a chance as anyone to win the AFC East.

Belichick Tanking 2020 Season? Complete And Utter Hogwash

May 6, 2020

There's a lot of talk going around in the media that New England Patriots' coach Bill Belichick is going to "tank" this season in order to get a high draft pick in the 2021 draft - and the notion is so un-Belichickian that it is prima-fascie absurd...

...a fraud on it's face, and the so-called "AFC Evaluator" who started the rumor is either a complete lunatic, knows nothing about Belichick, or is a disgruntled fan who is in deep mourning over Tom Brady being shown the door - and perhaps a combination of all three. Then again, he could just be some douchebag blogger who cited this unknown and perhaps completely fictional "evaluator" just to gain page views.

The blogging community is full of irreputable frauds who pretend to have some sort of anonymous insider contact, posting outrageous claims and knowing that they have a fifty-fifty chance of being right - and if they are wrong, they can blame it all on their anonymous contact to maintain their own credibility.

At issue, of course, is the minimal trust that most fans and media have in Brady's heir, second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham, maybe trying to make themselves feel better about the future of the Patriots' offense by presupposing that Belichick is going to tank the 2020 season in order to log such a horrible record that they can select one of the elite quarterbacks coming out of college through the 2021 NFL draft.

But here's the thing, and there's really no getting around it: Jarrett Stidham is the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots, and Bill Belichick doesn't give two shits if you like it or not.

Belichick passed on every quarterback avaiable in the draft, and wouldn't even take calls from the Cincinnati Bengals, who were trying to get any value at all out of mediocre quarterback Andy Dalton before finally releasing him. Belichick hasn't even made inquiries of free agent signal callers Jaiemis Winston or Cam Newton.

Perhaps all of this is why some ding dong started the "tanking" rumor, doing their own demented brand of math to connect the dots - but Belichick would never do such a thing, for several solid reasons...

...the most prominent of which is, well, he's Bill Belichick - and Bill Belichick is all about winning, and the amount of losing it would take to obtain a top-three pick in next year's draft would send him into a spiriling, sputtering funk - and if you think he's terse with the media now, addressing them after losing so many games would be like watching an episode of Judge Judy.

But as bad as that would be, tanking would also destroy the culture of the Patriots that Belichick has propogated for the past two decades.

Losing creates a culture that impacts everything and everyone, from the team owner to the guys cleaning the toilets. Losing is a cancer that invades the very core of a sports franchise, and although he played doctor with the Cleveland Browns back in the mid-nineties and brought the franchise to the brink of remission before being uncerimoniously dismissed, he'd rather not put himself in position where he would have to go through that again.

Not to mention that destroying that culture would have a residual effect of making New England a far less desirable destination for free agents, many of whom in the past have wanted to sign with the Patriots simply to escape losing cultures and to have a shot at a title - not to mention the effect it would have on current players, many of whom have taken less money as a free agent over the years to re-sign with the team.

To lose while being competative is honorable, if also dejecting, but to lose by holding back is sandbagging, a dishonorable ploy that no one except lawyers respect, no matter the advantage it brings.

And about that, Belichick cares very much - but even if he didn't, the idea wouldn't sit too well with the veteran players on his roster, affecting the aforementioned culture to the point that those players wouldn't be racing to get in line for new contracts or extensions to hang around.

To that point, there would eventually be some sort of pushback from the players, and chaos would ensue, eventually driving both them and Belichick himself out the door in short order.

In truth, however, Belichick may have come dangerously close to alienating the veterans on his roster last season, and did alienate Brady - or maybe it was Brady alienating Belichick by showing up at post-game pressers looking like someone pissed in his granola and not so subtly bitching about how inert the offense was...

...which wasn't necessarily by design, as Belichick brought in help in the form of Antonio Brown (briefly) and Mohamed Sanu - but Brown turned out to be a post-juvenile delinquent who was all flash (pun intended) and no substance, while Sanu broke as soon as he arrived in Foxborough and contributed next to nothing.

So, it's not like Belichick didn't try to appease his star quarterback, but injury crippled his offense in a way that nobody could have survived, not even Brady - but the good news was that the Patriots were in every game that they lost, a missed play here and there dooming them to having to play in the Wild Card round of the playoffs and an early exit from the tournament.

And I'm off subject a bit, but it is important to know that Belichick never broke stride in his plan for life after Brady - even to the detriment of the offense last season - and, if Stidham turns out to be a good-to-very-good quarterback in the system that Belichick has set up for him, the Patriots will still be in the hunt for a division title and more.