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Atlas was a Titan in Greek Mythology that was forced by Zeus, King of the Gods, to hold up the heavens on his shoulders for eternity. Ayn Rand, a controversial novelist once wrote a book called “Atlas Shrugged,” where she warned of a society that would crumble if the most successful minds and achievers stopped contributing to it. Less dramatically stated, what would happen if Tom Brady shrugged? Would the Patriots still be an elite team without Brady’s 5,000 yards and 40+ touchdowns?
Bill Belichick has been called a defensive “genius” and by many, the greatest coach in NFL history. Does Belichick fall down in the ranking a little without Brady? Yes in 2008, Belichick took a Brady-less team to an 11-5 record. Let’s not forget that 11-5 was not good enough to make the playoffs. Let us also remember that the 2008 Patriots were one year removed from an 18-1 season, playing a weak schedule and still stacked with performing veterans. The Patriots still had Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, and Tedy Bruschi. Brady wasn’t there to win the big games and 11 wasn’t enough. So, began the defensive decline and the rebuilding phases on defense.
Yet, I continue to hear and read about how Tom Brady’s fall from grace is why the Patriots can’t get over the Super Bowl hump for the fourth time. I can’t argue with Jeremy Lunblad’s statistic about Brady’s QBR in the fourth quarter of games the last three year’s. I can argue that I think that statistic has been skewed by the fact that Brady is now playing quarterback without a net, which makes a tremendous difference. He doesn’t have Tedy Bruschi there to pick of a pass in 6-0 nothing game on a cold day in Foxboro. Nope, it’s all on Tom.
From 2001 to 2007, this was how the Patriots defense ranked in yards per game – 2001-24th (SB) , 2002-23rd (no playoffs), 2003 – 7th (SB), 2004-9th (SB), 2005-26th (lost 2nd rd), 2006-6th (AFC Championship game), 2007-4th (SB Loss).
Bill Belichick doesn’t need to win another championship to put Spygate to rest. He needs to win another championship to prove he’s still got it. Otherwise, what makes Bill Belichick’s tenure as a head coach so much more spectacular than Joe Gibbs or say Tom Coughlin, who has beaten Belichick twice now in the big game? Like Belichick, Gibbs won three Super Bowls with the Redskins. He won those Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks over a ten-year span. None of those three quarterbacks were Hall of Fame quarterbacks; not even close. Gibbs coached in a division with Bill Parcells, Tom Landry and very tough Philadelphia Eagles led by defensive guru Buddy Ryan. Gibbs also had to do it in the same era as the San Francisco 49ers, who won four Super Bowls in the 1980’s. Gibbs walked away from the Redskins and NFL football after the 1992 season.
He returned in 2005 to try to save the franchise that owner Daniel Snyder had turned into a laughing stock. It didn’t work out as well for Gibbs the second time around. He coached four more seasons in Washington and made the playoffs twice. He reached the NFC Championship in 2005 with an ancient Mark Brunell at quarterback. In 2007, the Redskins reached the playoffs with a 9-7 record and were defeated in the first round. Gibbs was 67 years old during that season. In one game during the 2007 season the Redskins were destroyed by the Patriots 52-7. The national media and the Redskins fans remarked after that game that the NFL seemed to be passing Gibbs by. Whether that perception was reality doesn’t matter, Gibbs hung it up at the end of season. He just couldn’t re-create the magic without a star quarterback. The game had changed and Gibbs didn’t have Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Drew Brees.
Bill Belichick is now 60 years old. So I ask the same question, “has the game passed Bill Belichick by, at least on defense?” Is Tom Brady the only thing that is keeping this Patriot team from being nothing more than a middle-of-the-road team? Belchick, from 1985-2007, was as good a defensive mind as there was in the league. But in the last four years, the team has ranked 11th, 25th, 31st and 22nd in yards per game.
Currently in 2012, they are 15th in average points allowed, but are pace to give up the most passing yardage and plays of over 20 yards than any team in NFL history. Take Tom Brady off this team the last four years and where are Belchick and the Patriots? Brady is carrying this team. When he makes a mistake, when he has a bad game, they lose. Quarterbacks in the league bear responsibility for that more now than ever before in the NFL. Patriot success, though, is more closely aligned with Brady’s performance than any upper echelon team in the league. The 2010 Super Bowl Champion Packers scored just 21 points in Chicago to advance to the Super Bowl. Last year, the Giants defense kept Alex Smith from completing one pass to a receiver. The Patriots defense can’t do that, and haven’t been able to do it since 2007. . The last four years there has been bad drafting on defense, bad free agent signings on defense and ineffective coaching by Belichick and his coordinatorsk.
Let’s put to bed the biggest mistruth told all week on Felger and Mazz’s the #1 rated Sports radio show in Boston during afternoon drive. I bring that up, because I expect the best show to fact check. The premise was that Bill Belichick has never really built a top team defense from nothing. He’s inherited Parcells players and brought in players he was associated with while an assistant with the New York Jets. That’s why the Patriots won three Super Bowls. Well that premise is FACTUALLY incorrect. Yes, while coaching with the Giants and Jets, Belichick was a coordinator and not in charge of personnel. And it is true that during his time in Cleveland he struggled putting a championship roster. The 2001 Patriots Super Bowl defense had 9 or 10 full time players that were both Parcells and Carroll holdovers or played under Belichick while he was with the Jets as an assistant. But by 2003, only four of those players remained (Ty Law, Willie McGinest, Tedy Bruschi, and Ted Johnson). In 2004, that number dropped to three as Law missed almost the entire season with a foot injury and by 2007 only Tedy Bruschi was left on defense. So Belchick can build a defense from scratch. The Patriots have been pillaged by the rest of the league. They lost two personnel directors, Scott Pioli and Thomas Dimitroff, to other organizations and three former defensive coaches left to be head coaches or coordinators elsewhere (Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, and Rob Ryan).
In what has become a “pass happy league” where the rules overwhelming favor the offense, it’s been difficult for any team with a top tier defense to win a Super Bowl without a top 10 quarterback. You look at the last five Super Bowl champions – Giants, Packers, Saints, Steelers and Giants, they had franchise quarterbacks and they all had strong pass rushes and secondaries that hit hard, tackle well and did not give up big plays. Simply stated, pass rushers and big hitters in the secondary are what you need on defense, because shut down corners are difficult to find.
The pass rushers have been out there in the draft, whether it was Clay Matthews, Ryan Kerrigan, JJ Watt or Robert Quinn. Belichick passed on them or didn’t move up high enough in the draft to land them.
When they have gone for those big bodies in the secondary they have missed: Ras I Dowling over Brooks Reed and Jabaal Sheard in 2011, Tavon Wilson over Casey Heyward this year.
This past offseason the Patriots finally traded up twice and took a pass rusher, Chandler Jones at 22nd and a play making linebacker, Don’ta Hightower at 24th overall. What the heck took so long??
So, it’s not that Bill is just missing in the draft. Every team misses on players every year. It’s that it took him three years to finally get aggressive in the draft, and when he does that he usually is successful. Now the Patriots are left having to rely on Chandler Jones as a rookie to generate a constant pass rush. Jones could have been the final piece, not the first piece. As for the secondary, well Bill has drafted plenty of first and second round picks but still can’t put together a pass defense that is even middle of the road. Seattle, who the Patriots played last week, have one of the better secondaries in the league and they have only one starter who was taken in the first round.
For some inexplicable reason the 2012 New England Patriots came into the season with one of the youngest teams in the NFL. Why? The 2001-2004 Patriots were comprised mostly of veterans on defense. During the last two off seasons the Patriots have failed to find another safety to pair with Patrick Chung. They passed on Dashon Goldson, Yeremiah Bell and Laron Landry in free agency. So that leaves you with Tavon Wilson and a Rubgy player (Ebner) in coverage against Sidney Rice with the game on the line. The Patriots defense has kept that fourth Lombardi trophy out of New England for three years running now and yet Bill decided to put it all on young draft picks by adding no impactful veterans. Last year, the Patriots signed defensive ends Andre Carter and Mark Anderson, who combined for 20 sacks. Jones might match Carter’s stats, but they have nothing to replace Anderson, which puts more pressure on the secondary.
“Good Science allows for more than one opinion otherwise you have will of one man, which is the basis of a cult.”
Has the Patriot Way become a cult? Does only Belichick’s opinion matter anymore? The NFL and college ranks are littered with coaches from the Belichick tree. Maybe it’s time for Belichick to ask for some help. Look at some of the better defenses in the NFL: Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta, Houston and Minnesota. Their head coach is either a former defensive coordinator or an ex-head coach turned coordinator. When Belichick came to New England, it was Charlie Weis on offense and it was Bill’s defense. Now all Belchick’s success in drafting and winning is crafted around offense. It’s as if he has forgotten how to handle the defensive side of the ball. Or maybe it’s Belichick’s defensive coaches, who are unable to teach his philosophy to their players. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, cornerback coach Josh Boyer, safeties coach Brian Flores, defensive line coach Patrick Graham and linebackers coach Pepper Johnson deserve a fair share of the blame. Outside of Johnson and Patricia, you probably don’t recognize these names. Once again, that reflects on Bill. We know who Josh McDaniels is, we knew Bill O’Brien, and heck we knew Brian Ferentz was the tight ends coach last year.
Bill Belichick, like every head coach, has a giant ego. Maybe it’s that ego that keeps veteran coaches out of New England. Parcells was never was afraid to search out Belichick if he needed him. He didn’t seem to care if he got all of the credit. The Patriots won three Super Bowls because they had veteran talent, drafted well, coached well and found impact players in free agency. They also had Tom Brady. Brady is the solution, not the problem.
For seven seasons it was the perfect equation: Brady + Belichick = Championships. A majority of the Patriot fan base still follows the motto, “in Bill we trust.” But in an election year, it’s OK to ask, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” On defense, the answer still seems no. The Patriots have 10 weeks to get it back on track. If the defense fails them for the fifth straight season, Belichick will still be associated with Gibbs, Parcells, Shula and Landry, but this time it will be for different reasons.
It’s time for Bill to give Brady’s shoulders a rest.