Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Thoughts About Patriots-Jets

1) New York Coach Rex Ryan said a lot of things prior to New England's 45-3 demolition of his Jets but only two of them made any sense: New England does indeed have both the better coach and the better quarterback.

2) While the "experts" focused their preseason talk on Brett Favre/Minnesota, the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Jets, Bill Belichick quietly continued the process of overturning New England's roster and molding the Patriots into a Super Bowl contender.

3) Attention sports editors: the next time a writer pitches you a story about how the New England Patriots will not be the same football team because of the departure of a "key" assistant coach--don't listen! Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis, Josh McDaniels and Eric "Mangenius" Mangini all left New England and found much less success elsewhere than they did while working for Bill Belichick; meanwhile, the Patriots are still top contenders, posting their eighth straight 10-plus win season. Belichick is now serving as the team's defensive coordinator and the Monday Night Football commentators noted that this extra responsibility had limited the time he spent watching film with Tom Brady this season--but the Patriots had an extra few days to prepare for the Jets game and Belichick used some of that time to break down film with Brady. The results of that film study were very evident on the scoreboard and should leave little doubt about who really is the schematic mastermind of New England's offense.

4) I have a great story pitch for any sports editor who is really interested in publishing a story about a prominent head coach whose success is indeed linked to the greatness of a particular assistant: the story describes the career of a two-time Super Bowl champion who posted an 11-5 postseason record (including 2-1 in Super Bowls) with a certain assistant coach but an 0-3 postseason record without that assistant coach, including a head to head loss to that assistant coach when he served as another team's head coach. Of course, I am talking about Bill Parcells, who never won a single playoff game without Bill Belichick on his staff and whose Patriots lost 20-13 to Belichick's Cleveland Browns in the 1994 playoffs (the last time the Browns won a playoff game). Many members of the media used to love to derisively call Belichick "Little Bill," as if he were some inadequate baby brother trying to fill his big brother's shoes. Looking at things in historical perspective, who looks "little" now?

5) After the Patriots finished routing the Jets, Brady said that the Patriots all heed the motto of their coach: "When you win say little and when you lose say less."


$9,000,000,000 Write Off said...

Coach's can let their strengths become weaknesses.

Belichick makes his reputation as a system coach, but he used to have a lot of talent (and cheated, let's not forget). His recent NE teams feature more undrafted/cast-off players than any other playoff team. Their shotgun spread/timing offense works in the Hurly-Burly regular season when unconventional schemes confound (remember Houston's Mouse Davis). His regular seasons have been spectacular.

Come the playoffs, though, athletically talented teams ramp up focus and effort and it all comes apart for NE. Fox Sports: “In his past three playoff games, Bill Belichick has been favored by a total of 24-1/2 points and gone 0-3 while being outscored 78-49.” That's terrible, favored in all 3 games and beaten soundly in 2/3.

Coaches that consistently lose in the playoffs when favored are missing some critical adjustment, too convinced of their genius. Tony Dungy consistently had great teams lose in the playoffs- JOn Gruden, a nobody, won a Super Bowl with a TB team that Dungy kept losing with. Bobby Cox, Del Harris, Dusty Baker, others come to mind.

I'm not 100% convinced Belichik belongs in that group, but his past 3 years may tell more than the talent loaded, cheating, Scott Pioli teams.

David Friedman said...


As Belichick would be the first to admit, the Jets outcoached and outplayed the Patriots in yesterday's playoff game--but that result does not necessarily validate the sweeping conclusions you make in your comment.

Belichick made his reputation as a defensive coordinator (his game plan for the Giants' first Super Bowl win is in the HoF) and then solidified that reputation by winning three Super Bowls as a head coach, joining a very elite club (Noll, Walsh, Gibbs).

Belichick adjusts his offensive game plan according to the personnel he has and the personnel he is facing. It is absurd to compare his coaching philosophy and/or level of success with someone like Mouse Davis.

It is true that the Patriots have not been as successful in the playoffs recently as they were earlier in the decade but even if Belichick never wins another Super Bowl he already has secured a rank among the NFL's pantheon of great coaches. Dungy was a very good coach but he only won one Super Bowl despite having some very, very talented teams; Dungy outsmarted himself by "resting" players late in the season and the only time he won a Super Bowl is when he had to play the whole season out because the Colts had not clinched everything with weeks to go in the regular season.

As for the "cheating," let's put that in proper perspective: the 70s Steelers are renowned for the numerous steroid users they had on their rosters, while the Broncos won two Super Bowls in the 1990s after achieving a significant competitive advantage by stacking their roster via salary cap violations (otherwise they would not have been able to keep so much talent around). In contrast, the Patriots systematically filmed and cataloged publicly available information that anyone who either watched TV or went to a game could see for himself (i.e., sideline signals); Jimmy Johnson and others have said that many teams did/do the same things that the Patriots did. I am not excusing the Patriots' technical violation of an arcane NFL rule but I also don't think that this "cheating" had much to do with their Super Bowl wins.

This year's Patriots team was very young and I think that it could be argued that they overachieved--thanks to Belichick's coaching--to reach a 14-2 record; in a sense, they "arrived" a year early but I think that Belichick will lead this core group to at least one Super Bowl win in the next few years and if that happens Belichick will have definitively put to rest all of the issues that you raised. On the other hand, if the Patriots never win another Super Bowl then it would be valid to note that after their third Super Bowl win they did not post a sterling postseason record; in fairness, though, the other coaches who won multiple Super Bowls have been even less successful after their last Super Bowl triumph than Belichick has been in recent years: Belichick guided the Patriots to a perfect regular season in 2007, almost led them to the playoffs despite Brady's season-ending injury in 2008 and then led them to the best record in the league in 2010 when most experts thought that this would be a rebuilding season. If you look at what most people said about the Patriots before this season then a 14-2 record does not look too shabby, particularly if the Patriots build on this in 2011 by winning a Super Bowl.