Disasters In Retrospect 

Part Three

              By Tom Mahoney              

I started thinking about this retrospective when I was scouting the NE-NY game from week Nine. The NFL channel played it this week and I DVRed it. I thought a guy having a good game in spot duty was Gerald Warren. He kept pushing the OG back in the backfield. It took me until the 2nd Quarter to realize it was Albert Haynesworth, and I donít think Warren was even on the team yet. Do you remember what an unmitigated disaster Haynesworth was, and Ellis for that matter. Then BB just cuts his ass. That is something that you just donít see.

Coaches and GMs can be stubborn idiots when it comes to personal mistakes they made. They will hold onto players who are hurting the team just for spite. Remember a few years ago, I think it was Tampa Bay. They had a WR who was such a DB that they banned him from the Stadium, but kept him on the roster so he couldnít join another team, just for spite. I forget the DBs name, but how many teams have we seen make obviously huge mistakes by the GMs and Coaches, and they kept on teams; to the detriment of the team; for far longer than rationally justifiable.

But not BB. He cut Haynesworth ass right out the door. He stuck Ellis on the bench. He finally resigned Warren. Now Ellis is actually playing well coming off the bench. Warren shows up on film whenever he is in the game. With those two guys getting limited minutes, they have been able to go all out on every play they are in, and have been effective on those short roles. Plus, the cutting of an NFL Defensive MVP, who signed the biggest non-QB contract in the history of the NFL, scared everybody straight. If they can cut Haynesworth, they can cut anybody.

In many ways the defense wasnít able to come together with Haynesworth on the team, but cutting him scared this defense straight. And BB was saying if you canít come together, Iíll cut your ass. Everybody took their specific assignments very seriously. Do your specific role, no matter how small, as perfectly as possible, or Iíll cut your ass.

When watching the NE-NY game I was startled by how different the defense was. The defense they play in Week Nine had nothing in common with the defense we have been watching in the playoffs other than a few names. They were still a straight up 4-3 defense, with their three Linebackers lined up way off the Line Of Scrimmage. Some guy named Adams was their Nickel Back and on the field for most of the important plays of the game. Haynesworth was still on the team. Ellis was benched completely. 

First, before the season could even start. They had three legit NFL Safeties on their Roster. So they decided to cut two of them. They cut James Sanders, the player some particularly annoying pundits liked to pretend was the Pats best Safety on the team. Then Meriweather, who I liked to pretend was the best Safety on the team (before Chung took over a starting role;-) was cut. Then before the season could even get rolling the only other legit Safety they had on the roster was injured. When Chung went down the Secondary just fell apart.

They were forced to sign some special Team player from Umass. Some guy named I-He-Big-Bo, or whatever. They also had some athlete named Barrett who looked the part, but couldnít play the part. And a guy I described as the worst Safety in the history of the NFL (I may have been a little obsessed with whatís his face calling the Pats defense the worse defense in the history of the NFL. So I committed the same crime;-). The play of the second two was so bad that they had to put the Special Teamer from Umass in as a starter, and in truth, he has been any thing but a disaster. He might not look the part, but he can play the part.

Plus, because they signed the disaster that was Albert, they were playing a 4-3 with 3-4 personnel. The defense in Week Nine looked almost unrecognizable to me. They have laterally rebuilt the entire defense from week Nine, that they spent the First Half of the season building.

Now, Sergio Brown isnít the worst Safety to ever play, just like the Patís defense in the First Half of the season wasnít the worst in NFL history. But it was close. They gave up more yards over the first half of the season then any team in history (fact not checked;-), and 23 points per game, which is not the worst stat ever. They were a strict 4-3 team, and lost 3 games with a QB who teams couldnít stop.

Then the injuries started striking They lost Chung, their only legit NFL Safety left on the roster. Then McCourty hurt his shoulder, and kept giving up passes like he was the worst Safety in the history of the NFL. Then Mayo, who was their 3rd or 4th most indispensable player, was knocked out (I had Brady, Carter, and Wilfork ahead of him, and now you could make an argument for Gronk). Then Spikes, who the 4-3 defense seemed to be built around, was knocked out.

Plus, the team was struggling with the inconsistent reality of Haynesworth. The aging play of Shaun Ellis. The incredible inconsistency of the secondary. But somehow they kept winning. We forget all the turmoil, and in retrospect wonder how did they keep winning? How did BB get this team to the Super Bowl, with their slow speed guys, Rugga-muffin O-Line, and ragtag defense?

There were signs. Brady became his old clutch self again. Rallying this team from behind over and over. A star emerged from the defense. A strange and wondrous sight emerged from the mist of this disastrous season, that kept this defense from being the worst in the history of the NFL. A twin sighting of apportions not seen in New England for years:

****Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
****As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
****Are melted into air, into thin air:
****And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
****The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
****The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
****Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
****And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
****Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
****As dreams are made on; and our little life
****Is rounded with a sleep.

****(I love this speech, because many including myself consider it to be Shakespeare's personal farewell to ****the London and the stage)

Mr. Car-ter and Mr. Anderson. Real and substantial passrushers who started hitting QBs on a pace we hadnít seen in years.

Over the Second Half of the season after Albert and his chaos was released. After the two Safeties who should never have seen the field when the ball was being thrown in anger were benched. Ellis was benched. Warren was signed. They started shifting in and out of the 3-4 and 4-3. Odd visions of Odd and Even fronts began to appear all over the field. And a strange thing happened, they suddenly could lose. 

Mr. Car-ter went down, and I panicked. However, Chung and Spikes came back. The Patís signed some guy named Sterling. McCourty's shoulder got better, and the Pats put him in at Safety on 3rd downs. Suddenly the defense wasnít so bad. Sergio Brown even made some nice plays in the second Half of the Season.

And I quoteth myself, ďOver the second half of the season, the defense has been above average in some of the most important defensive categories that lead to wins (Total yards- Just about the least important Defensive Stat when it comes to wins;-). Important stats when it comes to wins: Sacks, Takeaways, and Points Per Game Allowed. Over the last eight games of the season the Pats had: 30 Sacks, created 20 Turnovers, and allowed only 18 PPG. Plus, an impressive assault on QB efficiency: Opposing QB TD-INT Ratio 10-12. That is a nice combination of defensive stats that actually leads to wins.Ē

Meanwhile outside the Patís Cave, pundits who didnít watch the Pats play continued to say their defense sucked. Most of us still fell for it. However, they kept getting better inside the Pat's cave. Then the playoffs came. They put a beating on Denver and stumped on the Ravens when they could. They match the physicality of the Raven's defense in the trenches. They led the way to the Super Bowl with their resilient, fight through everything, and never give up attitude.

Now they are in the Super Bowl. They are the better team, with the better record. My prediction is that if they can avoid Turnovers, and take advantage of Eliís propensity to hand the ball over to defenders, which he does two or three times every game (it is amazing how many times Eli hands the ball over to defenses and they drop it, if the Pats defenders don;t drop it, it could go bad for NY real fast), they win this game easy.

If Brady throws an interception or two it will be a lot harder. You donít want to give Eli a chance to get hot. When he is hot he can get into scoring position in a flash. NY has better speed guys on the outside than the Pats. 

However, the Pats can run on this team, and they certainly and throw on this team. I am not a fan of NYís back seven in pass protection. Boley and Kiwanuka are good moving forward. However, they are not so good moving backwards. Plus, I watched three NY games this week. And SF does not have more speed at WR than the Pats. SF's WRs consistently got past the NY DBs and Smith couldnít deliver the ball. NYís main strategy in the pass defense is to Press the receivers and hope the rush gets to the QB before the he can throw the ball deep. Because WRs get open deep on the Single Safety pass coverage all the time, and I donít even think that matters to the Pats.

The Pats are the best team in the NFL, and maybe the history of the NFL at completing short and intermediate passes. I just see the O-Line, really healthy for the first time this season, slowing down the rush enough for Brad to tear them apart. He is going to kill this defense lining up Welker next to Gronk in the right Slot. And when they have time Brady will hit the deep receiver 20-30 yards down field. He doesn't have to throw it 5o-yards down field. The NY coverage breaks down consistently after 10-15 yards down field. If their rushers get their, it doesnít matter, but if the O-line holds they are in big trouble. This team was 9 and 7 in the Regular Seaosn for a reason.

Defensively, the Pats 3-4 defense has nothing in common with the defense NY faced in week Nine other than a few names. They have been stuffing the run with a vengeance the past few game. If they can continue to out physical the offense then Eli is in big trouble. The talk about Brady struggling when he is getting hit is silly. I watched three NY games this week, and Eli fell apart every time he took a big hit in those three game. They talk about Brady not likely to take the big hit. Well of course he doesnít, and neither does Eli. No QB like to get hit you idiot. All Quarterback struggle when the defense hits him. That is why I always say, ďif you canít hit the Quarterback, you canít win.Ē

I will say one thing. Iíll take Brady right after a big hit over Eli any day of the week and twice on Sunday. I know the Immaculate Eli has no weaknesses, but he has a tendency to throw behind receivers, and will have bouts in the middle of the game where he throws two bad balls for every good one. Brady can be streaky too, but I trust him more in this game than I do Eli. I certain trust our Offensive Line, which is the healthiest itís bee all season, more than the NY O-Line. They were a sieve against San Fran in the NFC Championship Game. While the Patís O-Line was matching and defeating the Ravenís physical D-Line all game. I just like out chances tonight, that's I all Iím saying. Now I have to go sit my butt in front of the TV and start freaking out.

 

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