Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Musket Reloaded - Part 1: Reverence To Philosophic Base Renders Offense More Balanced

Shaq Mason is a center.

No, not like his namesakes Shaquille O'Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon, both legendary basketball centers, but the kind of center who has a quarterback's hands all over his backside for the better part of an hour a day and surly defensive tackles hell bent on getting to that quarterback by bashing him right in the chops.

Basketball is Shaquille Olajuwon Mason's first love, but he discovered early in his high school hoops career that never got above the rim, as one might expect from a 300 pound kid who was still growing. Wisely, the Tennessee native followed the wider path to the gridiron, where for the past four years he has opened even wider paths both for the running backs lined up behind him, and for his own journey to the National Football league.
Mason (R) is stocky, has violent hands and gains consistent leverage

As a center, or so they say.

At least, that's what all of the draft experts were saying about the pudgy interior offensive lineman coming out of Georgia Tech - but Bill Belichick has rarely cared what the experts think...

...and besides, Belichick already has his center for the next decade in young pivot Bryan Stork.  What Mason was most likely drafted for was to become the team's next right guard.

If there is one player drafted by the New England Patriots who signals a philosophic shift on offense, it is Shaq Mason.  At 6' 2" and 310 pounds, Mason is a one-man wrecking ball as a drive blocker - his entire body is a center of gravity and he consistently gets under the pads of even the most physical defensive tackles and drives them off the ball.

So why was Mason not selected until the fourth round - indeed, the very end of the fourth round?  It isn't solely because he's short for a professional lineman, nor because his pass protection needs refinement, nor even because the middle rounds is where Belichick normally finds his best value - it is, after all, where he found Stork last season, along with versatile swing tackle Cam Fleming...

...and also where Belichick doubled up on drive blocking guards by selecting Stork's former Florida State University teammate Tre' Jackson this season. But Belichick selected Mason in the fourth round because he represented the best value for him at that spot as the top rated center in the draft, which means that his football IQ is off the charts, he has a nasty streak a mile wide, and he is the best run blocker in the class.

And just like that, as fast as you can say Belichick's wheelhouse, an offense that somehow managed to make the top five in the NFL in scoring and 11th in total yardage with guards that looked like they fell off a charm bracelet suddenly has become a drive blocking force.

But, you say, the Patriots are a short-area, quick-set passing team that relies on the right arm of currently suspended quarterback Tom Brady to move them up and down the field - and while that is still true, it is true only to the extent that the running game makes it so.

To say the Patriots' running game was unsettled last season is a pretty big understatement.  Injuries to Stork to start the season and to lead back Stephen Ridley in week five that ended his season low-lighted a season that saw the Patriots finish a dismal 18th in rushing yardage despite have the 11th most attempts in the NFL.

After Ridley's injury, the team struggled to find cohesiveness, but got a huge confidence boost in facing the run defense-challenged Indianapolis Colts four games, unknown power back Jonas Gray rumbling for 200 yards and four touchdowns in a Patriots rout in which Brady dropped back to pass just 30 times, 10 off of his season average to that point.

Then, miraculously, former Patriots' runner LeGarrette Blount became available after going through some bad ju-ju in Pittsburgh, and the erratic Patriots running game suddenly became consistent and efficient, relying on Blount and the interior line consisting of lunchpail guards Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly flanking Stork to clear a path for Blount to do what he does best, run the clock in the four-minute offense.

It barely registered on the glamour scale and almost completely disappeared during the playoffs - save another walk in the park against the Colts in the AFC Championship game - as New England rode Brady's arm and the toughness of his receiving corps to bring a fourth Lombardi Trophy back to Foxborough...

...but for them to bring home number five, the Patriots can't afford to be so one-dimensional again and should opt for more balance in numbers.

There are many reasons why, but the biggest reason is the proper execution of the Erhardt-Perkins offense which, when executed properly, absolutely grinds the opponent into the dirt - and that's the only thing that will make the nut for the dynastic Patriots, because simply winning isn't enough.

The Patriots under Belichick have been winning, and winning more than any other team in that last decade-and-a-half.  They are the standard bearers for success in the NFL regardless of whether you choose to asterisk their accomplishments or honor them straight up, because an asterisk is merely so many sour grapes on which these Patriots will stomp to produce their finest vintage yet in 2015.

And why not?  Not that much has changed on the team, particularly on offense where Belichick not only upgraded the interior of the offensive line, but also beefed up the stable of tight ends with the addition of free agent veterans Scott Chandler from Buffalo and Fred Davis from Washington to go along with All World tight end Rob Gronkowski and up-and-coming touchdown maker Tim Wright...

...but to understand Belichick's motivation - at least as far as his offensive philosophy is concerned - one needs only to understand the premise of the Erhardt-Perkins offense is not necessarily predicated on balance in equal numbers of snaps for both the passing and running game, but in what capacity each is needed to offset the other.

It's a capricious differential, one wrought with uncertainty at this point in the team-building process, but when the credo of the philosophic acumen is described as "Pass to score, run to win", it conjures familiarity from what New England's offense was at the turn of the century with Charlie Weis in charge of the attack, and what they have attempted to return to for the past three seasons.

And this season, they may just have nailed it.

The Erhardt-Perkins offensive philosophy is a concept-based system that maximizes not just the individual players' skill, but also the full potential of his football mind.  Where most offenses are based on either a full route tree or a numerical system that identifies players and gaps and routes by base numbers. the Erhardt-Perkins system runs a concept scheme that is limited only by the physical limitations of the personnel.

Instead of individual assignments, there are sets of route combinations which,  by design from the warped football brain of the Dark Master, are interchangeable depending on the personnel on the field at any given time - and the Patriots are one of the very few teams, perhaps the only team in the NFL, that has the diversity on their depth chart to pull it off.

No?  Name another team that could (Potentially) line up four tight ends and a back on first down, two tight ends and three receiver spread on second and one tight end, three receivers and a back on third down, utilizing the same formations but stressing out the defense by using different personnel each time - then place the added stress on them by going up tempo...

It's no secret that Belichick fawns after players that have two and three tool skill sets, and the more of those types of players he can get on the field at one time, the more the concepts open up for quarterback and the more a chance the offense has of occupying safeties by forcing the defense to defend the entire field.

That's why players like Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead and Kevin Faulk fit into this offense so well, as they all were magic with the ball in their hands, whether it be hauling in a wheel route in the flat or getting the tough yards up the middle of the field, the Patriots under Belichick have prized these versatile players.

All three of the aforementioned are long gone, leaving the "Passing Back" role up for grabs between a couple of young players, but that is a subject for another day - the sole purpose of bringing up that position is that having a versatile and tough passing back makes all the difference in play calling, setting protections and creating mismatches... if having pass catchers like Gronkowski, Chandler, Wright and LaFell wasn't enough - and that's just scratching the surface of the offensive firepower.  The point is that the Patriots have evolved into the sort of offense that potentially doesn't just take what the defense gives them, they take what they want from the defense by force - and the mismatches created by the versatility and sheer size of the "Skill" players is what dictates the concepts.

And that is what was meant earlier in regard to the offense achieving balance not in the numbers of play calls for the passing game vice the running game, but how one offsets the other in mismatches - and because the concept calls can be made from just about any formation or personnel grouping, rapidly, it gives the offense a decided advantage.

"Pass to score, run to win" is translated just how it reads: Throw the ball to gain a quick lead, then run the ball to tire out the defense, kill the clock and win the game - and with the beef and nastiness added to the offensive line in the 2015 draft, especially if James White claims the passing back role for himself, the offense will be able to pass and run to score, then run some more to win.

This is the first of a multi-part series that is focused around the philosophies of the offense and defense as it pertains to the team building process.  Part two will focus on the running game and the fact that how balanced the offense becomes is up to them...

...which also places a very large onus on the offensive line, particularly on the interior where the two rookies look to ply their trade instead of watching and learning, 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Bob Kraft - Craftier Than Percieved

Robert Kraft is a patient man.

In fact, Robert Kraft is many things: a business magnate, philanthropist, owner of two north American sports franchises, has many honorary degrees in addition to his Masters degree in Business Administration from Harvard University, and has been inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Most of all, however, he is a fan.

A fan of humanity, of education and of the arts.  He supports hospitals, women's groups and builds stadiums for colleges.  He is a fan of sports, having owned a professional tennis franchise until that league folded in the late 1970's and he was rumored to be in contention to purchase both the Boston Red Sox and the Boston Celtics at points in his career.

He is a fan of football.  A New England Patriots' season ticket holder since 1971, Kraft struggled through the lean years like every other fan of the team, and in 1988 tried to purchase the franchise from founding owner Billy Sullivan, but instead ended up outbidding several suitors to purchase then Sullivan Stadium out of bankruptcy - a key move in that along with the stadium came the Patriots lease, that ran through 2001.

Seven years later, Kraft was approached by new Patriots' owner James Orthwein and was offered $75 million to buy out the remaining six years of the Patriots' lease on the stadium so that he could move the team to St. Louis, Orthwein's hometown.

But Kraft saw this as his time to again try and purchase the franchise. In rejecting Orthwein's offer, he offered to take the Patriots off his hands for a then-record $172 million.  Having no recourse but to remain in Foxborough for six more seasons in a dilapidated stadium, Orthwein accepted Kraft's offer and the rest, as they say, is history.
Kessler must prove the Wells Report biased and fabricated to win for Brady

Kraft's love of the game of football itself has been on display throughout his tenure as Patriots' owner. Most will recall Kraft leaving his terminally ill wife's bedside to become the driving force in settling the 2011 labor dispute between the NFL and the NFLPA, prompting Indianapolis Colts' center and team player representative Jeff Saturday to declare that Kraft "Saved the game of football."

Kraft so loves the game of football that he became the founding father and is still the primary sponsor of the Israeli Football League, an eight-man-per-side league that has been in operation for eight seasons and is to this day the most successful non-domestic league in football history.

Unfortunately, most Patriots' fans and most media outlets do not take into consideration that in all of these things, Kraft bided his time, following his instincts and knew just when to rise from the weeds and attack.

So when Kraft addressed the football world on Monday night from San Francisco and announced that he was dropping his fight with the National Football league over the sanctions levied by them as punishment for the DeflateGate saga, it caused wide-spread pandemonium in Patriots' Nation, the aforementioned fans and media ripping into Kraft as if he were a convicted child molester announcing that he was moving into a hubble across the street from an elementary school.

Not only had they forgotten the fact that Kraft had saved the Patriots in 1995 when he purchased the team, and all of football itself in 2011, but also that he has the patience of a saint and the business instincts of a hammerhead shark - which means that he knows when the proper time is to strike, and now is not that time.

That time will come upon the completion of the appellate process for Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady, who was slapped with a four-game suspension for his alleged role in the saga - a process for which he has turned to NFL killer, attorney Jeffery Kessler to resolve for him.

It is unlikely that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will budge from the punishment that he authorized for Brady, and Kraft knows this.  He also knows that the next step is to Federal Court where the NFL and Kessler will meet in mediation and, ultimately, with a court-appointed independent arbitrator...

...which will satisfy the demands of the NFLPA, and will likely strike down the punishment handed to Brady - or at least reduce it to a more fair sentence, at which time Kraft can take the results of the arbitration and then demand like-relief - because it goes without saying that the penalties handed to the Patriots, a $1 million fine and the loss of a first and fourth round draft pick, is excessive, given the crime - which was never proven anyway.

But that's only the tip of the iceberg.

In all likelihood, Kessler will tear down the Wells' Report, the 200-plus page indictment drawn up by prominent New York attorney Ted Wells at the conclusion of  his "independent investigation" on behalf of the league - which was anything but independent, given Wells' relationship with Goodell and the league - which appears to be fabricated and certainly was not unbiased, which was Kraft's assertion from the release of the document.

But Kraft's move is not dependent on Brady's suspension being reduced or overturned, rather, it is tied to the language in the Wells' report - and it just so happens that for Kessler to get justice for Brady, he will have to destroy the report, the very thing that will give Kraft the leverage that he needs to attack the league for redress of the monumental punishment.

Because if Kraft were to attack now, the Wells' Report stands in his way, flawed as it is - and he stands to lose much more than just an appeal, as filing an appeal in Federal court against the NFL also means that he is filing a lawsuit against the 31 other franchise owners, and if it comes down to a fight between Kraft and Goodell with the evidence that Kraft has in his favor now - which is none - it would take but 24 of the other owners in a vote to force Kraft to relinquish his ownership of the Patriots...

...which would be unlikely, but why take the chance?  Kraft has taken the prudent, albeit unknown and secretive path to salvation, employing his renowned patience and waiting for Brady's appellate process to expose the report as biased and, indeed, partial to the league and unfair to the Patriots and to Brady, then come out with a brace of legal beagles who will file perhaps one of the largest unfair practice suits in the history of professional sports.

What happens to Goodell at that point is a matter of speculation, but he could be dismissed as commissioner under a vote of no-confidence by the same measure of league owners, and dispatched from his lucrative digs high above Madison Avenue.

Will it come to that?  No one really knows for sure, but what we do know is that Robert Kraft has never backed down from a fight in his life, and he's not about to start now - and Patriots' fans need to remember that and give the benefit of the doubt to a man who deserves a couple of hundred of them, at the very least.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

DeflateGate..."Someone's unilateral wet dream"

"If this was a legit op, and I can't imagine how it could be, then so be it.  But if this was someone's unilateral wet dream, then that someone is going to prison." Admiral Shaffer, Director of the National Security Agency in the film Enemy of the State

One of the best ways to gather intelligence and data against a rival, enemy or illegal operation is to infiltrate their ranks, gain the confidence of the upper echelon and even participate in the activities, wired to the gills in order to obtain as much evidence as possible to bring down the opposition.

Counterintelligence moles, DEA agents, and corporate case officers operate around the world at the behest of their superiors, employing coercive tactics such as extortion or blackmail to obtain what they need when simple clandestine infiltration is not enough...

...and with books published and films produced that effectively glamorize the dark, dirty and often dangerous world of intelligence gathering, most folks have a veiled misconception of what counterintelligence is all about.  Spies are the worst of the worst, despicable human beings who are so skilled at manipulating their prey that they are routinely thought of as low-life scum.
Is Mike Kensil guilty of coercion?

And the folks at the NSA and CIA will tell you that none of them can be trusted.  Once a person is locked into the dark perversion of deception and dishonest practice, there comes a point where they must be turned loose or destroyed for the good of whatever entity employs them.

That seems a bit harsh for the purposes of the National Football League, though, as we've seen repeatedly, there have been those who have been labeled by public opinion as the aforementioned lowlife scum - but up until four months ago, Tom Brady was never counted among them.

Unless, of course, you count him so by association with New England Patriots' head ball coach Bill Belichick, who is universally despised by all who do not count themselves as fans of the team, including the fans of the other 31 NFL franchises and members of the media, Boston rags included.  He has been under siege by the New York media and fans of their two football teams since he did a little mind-changing back in 1999, resigning as the "HC of the NYJ" after less than one day on the job...

...then came the hatred that comes with winning three world titles in the space of four seasons, followed by the SpyGate incident, which resulted in Belichick running up the score and humiliating his opponents ever since - not to mention the fallout from the evil Aaron Hernandez saga, culminating in his most tumultuous season at the reigns, being accused of illegal substitutions and formations by the Baltimore Ravens and then of deflating footballs.

So despised is Belichick outside of New England that he earned the moniker "Beli-Cheat" and his team the "Cheatriots".  Undaunted, "The Hoodie" as he is known by his legions of regional supporters and pockets of  closet admirers around the world, preceded to lead his team to four consecutive AFC Championship games in the last four seasons and one Super Bowl victory last February, and doing so while relentlessly thumbing his nose to the league offices.

So it is reasonable to assume that when the General Manager of the Indianapolis Colts contacted the league offices during the week leading up to their AFC Championship tilt against the Patriots, that Belichick's name was on the tip of the tongue of everyone who mattered at the NFL offices on Madison Avenue, most with ties to teams whom Belichick dumped on at one point or another - and all with motivation to finally nail Belichick to the wall.

So instead of those people contacting Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft of the suspicions of the Colts' hierarchy - as they had previously when footballs had been tampered with by other teams - Goodell's henchmen, with or without the commissioner's knowledge, set up a "Sting" operation to try and catch the team and Belichick red-handed.

How do we know this?  Simply, by following a paper trail - or, in this case, the "copy to" line on the email sent from Colts' General Manager Ryan Grigson.

The email was originally sent to Senior NFL Vice President of Football Operations David Gardi and Director of Football Operations Mike Kensil, the latter forwarding the damning email to Director of Game Operations, James Daniels, who turned around and fired it off in may different directions, including to Alberto Riveron and Dean Blandino, both Senior members of the leagues officiating department...

...all of whom decided to approach referee Walt Anderson before the game to let him in on the accusations and, as Blandino put it, "To ensure that proper protocols concerning the footballs was followed."

Which is funny, since Blandino flatly denied knowing anything about the accusations until after the game.  Things get murky after that, turning into a he said - she said litany of lies and misrepresentations, but what is clear is that the league had knowledge of the accusations, and instead of  taking measures to preserve the integrity of the game, they instead took the opportunity to set up the Patriots.

Insert Admiral Shaffer's rant here:  This was someone's unilateral wet dream, and not just someones, but none other than Mike Kensil.

Enter part-time, minimum wage ball handler Jim McNally, who became the focus and star witness for the NFL, his every move during the AFC title game scrutinized by an investigative team led by attorney Ted Wells, the independent investigator who NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had retained in past investigations.

The mainstay of the NFL's case against the Patriots in what has been dubbed "DeflateGate", has been the movements of McNally during the time immediately following the game officials pre-game duties of checking the PSI (Pounds per square inch) of the footballs - which is presumably done before any NFL game.

Once the balls were checked by the referee for the game, tenured veteran official Anderson, McNally left the official's room with two mesh bags - one full of game approved footballs and one full of game approved back up footballs. Left to his own devices, security cameras inside the stadium show McNally entering a one toilet bathroom, where he is alleged to have taken a needle and released some of the air pressure from the regular game-approved footballs.

He emerged from the head 1:40 later and preceded to the field, where the footballs were put into play and used throughout the first half of the game.  What happened next was a flurry of activity, Anderson and his crew measuring the PSI of the Patriots' footballs, finding them below the legal limit of 12.5, pumped them up to 13.0 and sent them back out for the second half.

Once the footballs were measured, it is reported that Kensil immediately located and approached Patriots' equipment manager Dave Shoenfield, stating, "We weighed the balls at halftime.  You are in big fucking trouble."

Regardless of how this looks for the league - trying to catch the Patriots in the act instead of stepping in to prevent it from happening in the first place - many would forgive them for their malfeasance simply because nailing Belichick in the act would justify all of the suspicions of cheating throughout the years.

But a funny thing happened along the way.  Ted Wells, the independent investigator who NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has retained in the past, discovered early on in his investigation that Belichick had no knowledge of purposeful deflation of footballs and, in fact, found out about the accusations when he woke up the following morning.

That, in and of itself, is curious.  One would think that if a league vice president approached the team's equipment manager at halftime to tell him he was screwed, isn't it reasonable to assume that said equipment manager would have approached the head coach - or duly appointed representative thereof - at some point before Belichick went home for the evening?

So either Belichick is lying about his knowledge of the accusations, or Shoenfield and McNally were under coercive orders to remain quiet - and since the Wells investigation bears out that Belichick had no knowledge, the circumstance falls back on coercion.

During the investigation, both McNally and assistant equipment manager John Jastremski handed over their cell phones to investigators, the text messages of which have been quoted ad nauseum, McNally trashing quarterback Tom Brady for his preference for inflation of the ball on the lower end of the spectrum - given that no evidence was ever given that Brady liked the footballs below the 12.5 threshold...

...and since Wells couldn't find one scrap of evidence that Belichick had been involved at all, the league's Sting operation was in danger of blowing up in their faces, so Wells issued the proclamation that Brady "More likely than not had general knowledge of the deflation of footballs." - a standard that would be laughed out of any court on a pre-trial motion, yet, combined with Brady's refusal to hand over his own personal cell phone as evidence, it was enough for the NFL to issue an indictment to the face of the league.

Up until that point, Brady had been looked upon as the lone redeeming factor that made Belichick's Patriots at least a little bit tolerable in the public eye - but with the indictment and subsequent four-game suspension handed down by NFL Discipline Czar Troy Vincent, there is now nothing that is sacred in Foxborough.

Is it possible that the New England Patriots have fallen victim to counterintelligence tactics?  At the very least, appearances are that the league did indeed conduct a Sting Operation rather than follow protocol to protect the integrity of the game - and a case can be made for inside job as well.

How else does one explain how McNally was left to his own devices after leaving a room full of game and NFL officials, when all of the people present in that room knew of the accusations by the Colts.  If protecting the integrity of the game was so important, would one consider that McNally would have been escorted to the field, and not allowed to enter the bathroom with the footballs in tow?

Given these facts, it is reasonable to at least ponder the notion not only that McNally knew what was going on (or at least had suspicion given all of the league officials in the room), but may have actually been coerced by the league into deflating the footballs in the first place, giving rise to all the evidence they needed to nail the Patriots in the act.

Ah, paranoia.  How good of you to drop by and plunge every Patriots' fan on the planet into the vortex of anger and despair...

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

We're On To Jimmy Football - Then Again, Maybe Not....

Garoppolo (L) modeled his game after Brady's
"Garoppolo can find receivers and fire the ball on target faster than you can say his name. Lighting release and frozen rope medium distance sideline passes are reminiscent of Dan Marino's lasers. This despite concerns about his size, short arms and small hands." CBSSports 2014 Draft Profile

Bill Belichick has a long-standing personal rule that he never discusses players who aren't playing - and Patriots' fans should follow suit.

Veteran signal caller Tom Brady will not be playing for the first quarter of the 2015 NFL season, barring a very high-profile appeal, suspended for hindering the NFL's investigation of the New England Patriots and the much-publicized "Deflategate" matter- and there's absolutely nothing that anyone but Tom Brady and his legal team can do about that right now.

Well, maybe his agent will have some more words, certainly in conjunction with newly-retained co-chair of the high-powered Sports Litigation Practice Group, attorney Jeffrey Kessler - who also boasts the NFL Player's Association as one of his clients - none of whom are likely to take the suspension lying down, meaning that that this thing will drag on for longer than even the lawyers will enjoy - because it's already gone on longer than any sane person would find amusing.

But whether Tommy Gun rides the pine of exile for the mandated four games or wins a partial reprieve on appeal, the Patriots' starting quarterback to begin the 2015 season will be most likely be second-year phenom Jimmy Garoppolo for at least a game or two...

...something that the head ball coach has probably already put behind him because he can't afford to waste his time worrying about a player who won't be playing.
2014 was a great learning experience for Garoppolo

That said, we're on to Jimmy Football.

Or, then again, maybe not.

But the retaining of Kessler is a story for another time.  All anyone knows for certain at the moment is the fact that Brady is suspended and if things stand they way they are now, Garoppolo is the logical choice to be the next man up.

The second-round draft pick of the Patriots last season, Garoppolo was supposed to have been a member of the Houston Texans, who had him pegged for the first pick of the third round, but Belichick pulled the trigger on him at the end of the second round, trumping the quarterback needy Texans by three spots on the board, forcing Bill O'Brien to select Pitt's Tom Savage at the beginning of the fourth round instead.

There are some who questioned the selection, placing the Eastern Illinois product on the long, freakish list of curious moves by the Dark Master, adding to names such as Tavon Wilson, Duron Harmon and this year's second round head-scratcher, Jordan Richards - safeties all.

But why Garoppolo? Why did Belichick want Garoppolo bad enough to spend his gold-laced second round draft capital on him, especially since he had brought in top quarterback prospects like Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel for visits in the weeks before the draft, fueling speculation that the Patriots might be in the market for Brady's heir-apparent...

...and they were, but it turns out that having those two in for a visit may have been a bit of a smoke screen for what they actually had in mind, because Belichick wasn't looking for a starting quarterback - instead, he needed a kid with enough upside to justify the amount of time he was going to have to spend coaching him up, and also someone who had enough natural talent to hold the fort in case something happened to Brady.

Well, now something has happened to Brady, and with a year of the Erhardt-Perkins offense under his belt, it's more probable than not that Garoppolo is ready to assume the hold-the-fort position that he appears to be custom-made for.

But then Brady threw a much-anticipated monkey wrench into the whole works by hiring Kessler to handle his appeal and a likely civil suit not only against the NFL, but also League puppet Ted Wells, whose mantra appears to be, a lie told often enough becomes the truth.

The Well's report - of which the most consistent thing was in its inconsistencies - prompted (or cued, depending on your point of view) NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's henchman Troy Vincent to issue the suspension on Brady - which with Kessler now on board makes the Wells' job a slab of meat to Kessler's pack of wolves.

Kessler is a heavy hitter and a bully and seems to enjoy shoving the league around, and with as weak a stance as the report takes, he has to be salivating in anticipation of taking a bite out of both the League - for like the fourteenth time - and out of Wells, whose reputation is about to shatter like cheap glass.

All bets are off for the moment as far as who the quarterback will be when the Patriots host the Steelers in early September, but whoever it is will enjoy leading what is perhaps the best offense in professional football.

The staple of the aforementioned Erhardt-Perkins offense is employing a quarterback whose best attribute is intelligence.  Brady has shown that you don't have to be an elite athlete to make the offense work, you just have to know the offense inside and out, know where everybody is on both sides of the line of scrimmage and to be able to deliver precision strikes in the intermediate passing game, allowing the receivers to work down the field after the catch.

Brady does that better than anyone who ever played the game, so it's patently unfair to expect the same out of a second year man who has more nick-names than career passing attempts - but why wouldn't we expect Garoppolo to come in and show the same kind of efficiency that he showed in college and in his brief appearances in the NFL?

He doesn't have a booming arm to go over the top of the defense, but he can do so with touch spirals that, if he ever figures out the secret to deep accuracy, he can lay right into the streaking receiver's hands.  In contrast, his intermediate throws are money and get to the pass catchers with a little extra mustard.

His eyes are tied to his feet, meaning that he never looses poise and remains in perfect firing position at all times because he feet move in tandem with his eyes, something that sounds automatic, but very few second-year NFL quarterbacks do it consistently.  There are times that he relies on his short-area arm strength to fit the ball into a phone booth instead of stepping into his throws but, hey, he's young.

"From his pocket mobility to his accuracy to his mental makeup, he has a lot of qualities you look for as someone you can develop at the next level." ESPN Draft Analyst Todd McShay said of Garoppolo prior to the 2014 Draft. "A lot of young quarterbacks leave their feet behind when they check into their next progression.  But not Garoppolo.  He's always in position, ready to pull the trigger."

Be that as it may, the Patriots need Garoppolo to just play caretaker for the immediate future.  Maybe he's ready for the big show and maybe he's not quite there yet, but one can be certain that Belichick is not going to just send him out and pray that he does ok, he's going to send him out with a solid game plan featuring lots of short-area passing plays combined with interior running plays, bubble screens and the occasional lid-popper over the top...

...and it never hurts to be able to plug him into such a well-oiled machine of an offense, surrounded by what could very well be the largest and most physically brutal offense in the league.

Everything starts up front in football, and the Patriots are in pretty decent shape to start the year in that respect, though there figures to be some turn over in personnel.  In addressing a percieved need along the interior of the offensive line, Belichick drafted two absolute maulers to compete for and / or  take starting jobs at the guard positions.

A lineup of rookies Tre' Jackson at left guard and Shaq Mason at right with Jackson's former Florida State teammate Bryan Stork at the pivot gives the Patriots a potentially lethal drive blocking capability, particularly given that the scheme can be supplemented by wham-block specialists, reserve tackle Cam Fleming and All-World tight end Rob Gronkowski along with massive fullback James Develin.

For the record, all of the Patriots' running backs work best in a drive blocking scheme, in particular second-year third down back James White, who worked behind the always massive and mauling lines at Wisconsin - as well as fellow sophomore Tyler gaffney who excelled in the scheme at Stanford, where he ran behind Fleming much of the time.

LeGarrette Blount is a power back that will also benefit from the change in philosophy up front, as will enigmatic power back Jonas Gray, but the real challenge for Garoppolo and the offensive line will be in the passing game - but not as much as one might think...

...not with weapons like Julien Edelman, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell to throw at, not to mention tight ends Scott Chandler, Tim Wright, Fred Davis and, of course, Gronkowski.  That is a lot of experience in the pattern, which will make the sophomore's job that much easier.

As we already know, Garoppolo is always in the right posture to unload the football downfield, and he has perhaps the most natural footwork and quickest release of any quarterback since Dan Marino.  Of course, Garoppolo's deep arm strength will never match that of Marino's, nor does it have to as new England's passing game is predicated on methodically moving the football down the field with the short passing game and with well-timed running plays.

In other words, Garoppolo will be using and running an extended version of the four-minute offense, a philosophy that is akin to the Three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust standard, only in the form of short passes delivered with accuracy to allow the receivers to catch the ball without breaking stride, picking up first down after first down until, before you know it, the Patriots have scored 35 points.

Brady is the master at this philosophy, and when Garoppolo's quarterback coach - who has been working with since he switched from linebacker to signal caller in high school - tells us that his student models his game after Brady's, well, that makes it even easier to believe that Jimmy Football will be just fine as a placeholder until the greatest of all time returns...

...that is, if Brady is forced to sit out at all.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

How The Patriots Stand To Benefit From A Possible Brady Suspension

"Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost." Dante Alighieri from The Inferno

As if.

What kind of rat-bastard psychotic would find any benefit to the greatest quarterback of all-time being exiled from Foxborough into the second circle of hell, where those accused of cheating are whipped to and fro by violent winds, the result of allowing their lust for a competitive edge sway their ability to reason...

...symbolizing the power of their wants and desires to blow them around aimlessly, certainly off the straight and narrow path, never able to choose their own direction, doomed to an eternity of being shoved around by fate like a schoolyard sissy.
Garoppolo would get the call if Brady is suspended

And, yes.  Dante had many enemies and despised legions more after his exile from Florence, Italy at the turn of the fourteenth century, being accused of corruption by his political adversaries.  Also ordered to pay a substantial fine, which he refused to pay because he believed himself innocent - a decision that cost him a chance to return home, succumbing to disease in exile.

For certain, his Divine Comedie, a trilogy of which The Inferno made up the first section of the masterpiece, Dante carefully constructed a metaphoric place of punishment, where his enemies would become subject to his devious imagination, spurred on by what scholars contend as poetic justice.

So, it's easy to imagine National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell gaining enjoyment in assigning those who force him to deal with their bad behavior to various levels of punishment.  Of course, the second circle of hell comes well before middle hell, it's borders guarded by deep and murky waters of the River Styx, souls doomed "into a black sulkiness which can find no joy in God, or man, or the Universe."...

...those doomed to the fate of the violent ferried across the river by Charon.  In the seventh circle is where one may find most of Goodell's condemned, where the violent against people and property are immersed in accordance with their level of sin in Phlegethon, a river of blood and fire that runs parallel to Styx that has centaurs armed with flaming arrows as sentinels, ordered to shoot any of the damned that tried to emerge from the river through the heart.

This is the place where you will find the Ray Rice's and the Adrian Peterson's of the league, only in Goodell's version, the doomed are transported to their fate across Styx by Troy Vincent, but unlike Dante's vision, this modern-day master is kind and sympathetic, willing to allow the damned to earn their way back to the land of the living by satisfying certain stipulations.

Brady is likely headed for the second circle sometime this week, with Goodell laughing and wringing his hands like some preternatural villain while the flames rise and slowly erases all traces of the certain first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback, his fate the result of "More likely than not having general knowledge" that two lower-level franchise minions were collaborating to let air out of footballs that he had earmarked for usage in the AFC Championship game last January.

The word around Manhattan Island, where the NFL offices are located, have Brady going down anywhere from one week to half of the 2015 season, an event that many perceive to have potentially season-altering implications.

Lord knows, there is enough evidence to support that theory, as there are not too many quarterbacks that reside in Brady's rarefied air - and none of those are currently on the Patriots roster.  What the Patriots do have is 2014 second round draft pick Jimmy Garoppolo, a project so well-schooled in the Pro set offense and with an off-the charts football IQ that the club was comfortable with sending long-time Brady backup Ryan Mallett packing for Houston last offseason.

An unintended repercussion of an imminent Brady suspension is that, despite the burden of not having Brady running his offense, Belichick will have the benefit of having no choice but to insert Garoppolo as his staring quarterback with a very real opportunity to get his probable eventual replacement for a retiring Brady invaluable in-game, real-time snaps against the best the Patriots' opponents have to offer.

While that doesn't sound very appetizing for Patriots' fans, the opportunity for Belichick to see what he has in his investment at such a young stage of his career is tantalizing indeed - and for Brady detractors, it will be an opportunity to gain evidence that Brady is nothing more than a system quarterback if Garoppolo has immediate success.

Be that as it may, with Belichick roaming the sidelines, history has shown that the Patriots always have a fighting chance, and it's not as if Garoppolo won't have a supporting cast which could be the envy of the league, given the circumstances....

...with names like Gronkowski, Edelman, Amendola, Chandler and LaFell with sticky mitts and veteran savvy in the pattern and names like Blount, Gray, Gaffney and White to turn and hand the ball to - not to mention an ungraded offensive line with two of the best in the business protecting him on the wings and with a trio of wide-bodied maulers guarding his face.

If there had to be a suspension of the biggest, albeit most polarizing, name in the league, there certainly couldn't be a better situation to have Jimmy Football step into - and if Goodell is indeed the generous and sympathetic omnipotent one whose punishments and reinstatements are fair and just, the best-case scenario for New England would be a one-to-three games suspension.

However awkward it will be for the NFL having Garoppolo under center when the Patriots unfurl their fourth Super Bowl banner in early September on National TV against their hated AFC Central rival Pittsburgh Steelers, well, they probably view it as a lesson for all players to learn and abide by.  Ten days later, the Patriots travel to Buffalo for a date with the Bills, then return home to host the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars.

If Brady returns before the Buffalo game or the Jaguars tilt, so be it, but drama dictates that he will cross back over the River Styx during the team's bye-week, a merciful week four hiatus in which Brady could get in two weeks worth of practice before reassuming his role as the leader of the Patriots.

There is zero doubt that any suspension of Brady will be motivating to the rest of the team, and God help the rest of the teams left on New England's schedule, who are sure to feel the wrath of Brady and Belichick, running up the score and stomping each of them like so many grapes as they set out to prove that the Patriot Way still exists as they march on a road of bones toward title number five...

...the PR department for the team could do worse than hanging a plaque in the tunnel leading out from the visitor's locker room that reads:

"Through me you pass into the city of woe:
Through me you pass into eternal pain:
Through me among the people lost for aye.

Justice the founder of my fabric mov'd:
To rear me was the task of power divine,
Supremest wisdom, and primeval love.

Before me things create were none, save things
Eternal, and eternal I endure.
All hope abandon ye who enter here."

But first they are going to have to prove that they are not just a one-man show, and that's the opportunity that presents itself if Brady is indeed suspended.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

DeflateGate: If it's good enough for family court, it's good enough for the NFL

In family law, it is called the "Preponderance of the Evidence."

When attorney Ted Wells released his long-awaited report regarding the (still) alleged deflation of footballs by the New England Patriots in last January's AFC Championship Game, his findings took to task the mainstay of awarding money in civil cases.

In claiming the quarterback Tom Brady's knowledge of footballs being deflated was "More probable than not.", Wells took the road most traveled by social workers and family court lawyers in deciding who owes what to whom, effectively dodging any requirement for burden of proof.

After all, this is the NFL, not family court, not civil court and certainly not criminal court.  Had Wells come before a judge in any other type of case than a standard child support hearing with something as weak as "More probable than not.", the case would be thrown out and Wells censured and his reputation smeared.

Ah, but this isn't a court of any consequence.  This is the NFL, an entity that in actuality acts amazingly like the judicial system in the United States, one that goes from doing nothing about a certain issue until public opinion tells them that they should care, then proceeds to break out pitchforks and oil lamps and hunts down every offender that they can get their hands on...

...going from doing nothing at all to doing too much.  It's as American as apple pie, hot dogs and, yes, football.

Wells specifically cited text messages seized God knows how, in which the game official's locker room attendant Jim McNally bantered back and forth on several occasions with Patriots' equipment assistant John Jastremski in which McNally referred to himself as "The Deflater" and consistently demanded  shoes and other items of clothing in exchange for making sure that Brady's footballs were to his specifications.

Problem is, there was no specific measurements involved - no numbers - just some talk about Brady not liking the balls that he had to use in one game last season and that "Tommy sucks" and that he would make the balls feel like "Rugby balls", "Watermelons" and "Balloons" on various occasions, but no specific numbers as to how Brady liked his footballs.

There were, however, many quips about how overinflated McNally would make the footballs if he didn't receive shoes and autographed gear from Brady.

The word coercion comes to mind.

Naturally, despite no hard evidence of doing anything but pissing off McNally, journalists around the country are posting speculation of possible punishment for Brady, ranging from a fine to suspension, most of the journalists going the Ron Borges route and claiming that they've heard this or heard that from their "sources."

Patriots' owner Bob Kraft and Brady's father have fired salvos right back at the league, Kraft stating that his disappointment with the report as being "Grossly understated" and Brady's Dad outright accusing the league of smearing his son's good name and reputation...

...Kraft going so far as to blurt out the 'You can't fight city hall" axiom by stating that "Knowing that there is no recourse available, fighting the league and extending this debate would be futile.", but also went on to fire a shot across Roger Goodell's bow by promising, "We will accept the findings of the report and take the appropriate actions based on those findings as well as any discipline levied by the league."

Translation: Go ahead and try to discipline us, because your stupid and wrong Preponderance of the Evidence isn't going to hold up before an arbitrator.

That kind of stuff holds up in family court every day, as when child support, child custody and taking children away from their parents are before the judge, the wretches from Support Enforcement, Child Protective Services combine efforts with slithering divorce lawyers to deny people their rights under Preponderance of the Evidence, the standard being that the person of interest "More probably than not" can afford to pay this much, "More probably than not" is grooming their children for abuse and neglect and that the other spouse "More probably than not" is an adulterer or adulteress.

But it can't hold up in football, something that Goodell is going to find out the hard way.

Bob Kraft is going to go after after him like a cornered wolverine, a wolverine that has been cornered for four months and has serious retribution on his brain, all because Goodell was caught in the crossfire of a sting operation gone bad, and had no choice but to make a big deal out of it, and settling on a Preponderance of the Evidence was the only way he could come out of it unscathed... least that's what he thought.  And so much for Ted Wells.  Goodell should have known better than to hire a family court hack to do his dirty work.  But hey, if that standard of evidence is good enough for violating the rights of thousands of parents all over the land every year, surely it's good enough for the NFL...

Friday, May 1, 2015

Reloading The Musket - Meet Malcom Brown: Husband, Father, Patriot

Brown's combination of talent and maturity made him the ideal pick, and a late first-round steal for New England
For the seventh time in eight seasons, the new England patriots have drafted a defender with their top selection - and with all seven still on the Patriots' roster, one would think that head ball coach Bill Belichick would have to be looking at an elite defensive unit as a whole.

Certainly the front seven is loaded with 2008 first rounder Jerod Mayo, 2011 first rounder Dont'a Hightower and 2013 top pick Jamie Collins starting at linebacker in the Patriots' 4-3 alignment, along with first round talent in defensive end Chandler Jones and 2014 selection Dominique Easley on the defensive line...

...and on Thursday night, Belichick added yet another gem to his defensive line, drafting University of Texas hybrid tackle Malcom Brown.

Hybrid may be the wrong word,  but how else can one label a 6' 3", 320 pound mammoth with the hands of a blacksmith and the feet of a dancer?  Brown played every position along the defensive line in his time at Texas, but his place along the Patriots' line appears to be Vince Wilfork's old haunt at the nose.

But Brown is a different player than Wilfork - where Wilfork was a two-gap run-stuffer, Brown is primarily a one-gap penetrator with such violent hands and relentless work ethic that he will command double teams just as Wilfork did because he can re-establish the line of scrimmage two yards deep in the opponent's backfield - just as Wilfork did, only in a different manner.

He explodes out of his stance and was almost always the first man off the snap, winning first with speed and then with technique, the latter of which is still a work in progress, as it would be for any rookie.  What that means for the Patriots is that, with Easley positioned as the three-technique and the rotation of Rob Ninkovich, Jones and newly-acquired Jabaal Sheard on the outside, the opposition will have to settle for picking their poison - and lord help them if they pick wrong.

Most experts were shocked out of their socks that Brown was available to World Champs and, privately, Belichick had to be positively giddy that the monstrous underclassman was still on the board at the last pick of the first round.

But publicly, the Dark Master was as droll and monotone as we've come to expect, answering reporter's questions like he was ordering a late dinner - but he perked up a bit when asked about Brown's maturity.

"I think that’s impressive." Belichick with a smile. "Staying in school, finishing up at Texas, starting a new program this year and all that, I think he did a lot of things that would lend themselves to making good decisions, being loyal, committed, sticking with it, finishing the job, all that type of thing."

Belichick's answer lends some weight to the notion that he factors in stability with his players more than most coaches do - an impressive list from him for sure, and he didn't even address the fact that Brown is married and has a child despite being just 20 years old.

"I'm real big on family – I love my family." Brown gushed during a conference call immediately following the end of the first round.  "I made a decision to get married and I really wanted that. It's just somebody to take care of and I've done that and I had a child. I'm going to take care of my responsibilities. Every responsibility that I have I'm going to take care of."

Mature beyond his years and humble beyond being thankful for the opportunity, Brown knows who he is and knows what he brings to the table.

Talent? Yes.

Confidence? Immeasurable.

"I know nothing comes easy." Brown said "I know I'm going to have to work for everything I want, and I'm prepared to give it my all and work for that. I'm just ready to go to work. I don't expect anything and I'm going to work for everything."

Sounds like a Patriots already, but sounds a lot like a certain 1999 sixth-round draft pick name Tom Brady when he was just breaking into the league.

"You guys drafted me," Brown continued. "so you're about to get the best player you've ever drafted, so just be ready for when I touch the field."

That's a lot for a 20-year-old to back up, but he's under no illusion.  In fact, when asked if he has any friends on the Patriots or even anyone he knows, his answer was the same for anyone: "Tom Brady."  He says he's heard of Dominique Easley as they were both five-star recruits coming out of high school, and he saw what Malcolm Butler did in the Super Bowl, but as far as familiarity and living the dream, he sounds as if he's taking it one step at a time.

"I know I have to work for anything. Even though I am a first round draft pick, there is a lot of pressure because they put a lot in me." Brown said, winding down the call. "Also, I'm not just going to take this and just sit back and lay back on it. I'm going to work, I'm going to do what I do going into every year of football. I'm going to give it my all and you're going to get my all."

Sounds like he's just going to do his job.  No wonder Belichick cracked a smile.