Monday, November 1, 2010

The New England Patriots and Other NFL Thoughts

Two months ago, I was scoffing at anyone who said the New England Patriots were going to win 10 or 11 games. Coming off of a disappointing season, I hadn’t seen the team make what I consider to be any serious improvements to a porous defense that dogged them through most of the 2009 season. I predicted an 8-8 season; a rebuilding year.

After seven games, the New England Patriots have a 6-1 record, the best record in the National Football League. It shows what I know, which apparently isn’t much. This team has been a very pleasant surprise.

Featuring a timely offense and a bend, but don’t break defense, the 2010 edition reminds me of the 2003 Patriots, who won the Super Bowl. The 2003 Pats played a lot of close games, often times it wasn’t easy, but in the end they made fewer mistakes than their opponent and that wound up being the difference in them winning the game.

That’s the way this team plays. On defense, they give up a lot of yards, but put the clamps on, once opposing offenses get within the ten yard line. Offensively, Tom Brady is still there, but the TD’s are scored by players such as Danny Woodhead, BenJarvus Green Ellis and Brandon Tate, none of whom are stars.

The Patriots also have superior special teams, a very underrated aspect of football. The Patriots have been fortunate to have terrific kickers the last 15 seasons with Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski. The team also upgraded the punting position with big legged Zoltan Mesko, a rookie from Michigan.

This has been an amazing coaching job by Bill Belichick, so far. Right now they have four rookies starting on defense – Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Deaderick, Brandon Spikes, and Devin McCourty. All have played very well. Besides veteran Vince Wilfork, the defense is anchored by second year player Pat Chung and third year player Jerod Mayo.

Almost halfway through the season, the 2010 Patriots have been a joy to watch.

Other NFL news…

This week the talk was of a possible NY Jets-NY Giants Super Bowl down in Dallas. After watching the Green Bay Packers defeat the Jets 9-0, in what can best be described as a “rock fight”, the idea of printing those Super Bowl tickets for the Jets is premature. Mark Sanchez still has a lot of work to do at the QB position. He’s a front running type of QB. When the team is going well, he plays well. However, when they need him to step up and make plays, he hasn’t shown the ability to carry the team, yet.

Another team having a surprise season in what was thought to be a rebuilding year is the Kansas City Chiefs. The last several seasons have been nightmarish for the Chiefs and their fans, but the team is run by former Patriots GM Scott Pioli. He and coach Todd Haley have things going in the right direction. It certainly helps that Haley has former Pats coaching alumni Charlie Weis as Offensive Coordinator and Romeo Crennel as the Defensive Coordinator . Led by the best running attack in football, featuring Thomas Jones and Jamal Charles, the Chiefs are off to a 5-2 start.

The Minnesota Vikings have a lot of talent. On paper, a team with Jared Allen, Pat Williams, Kevin Williams, Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, and Brett Favre looks great. However, despite his performance before being knocked out of the game, Favre is no longer an elite QB. When he plays within the system and manages the game, like he did yesterday, he can still be effective. However, he’s prone to taking too many risks and throws a lot of interceptions. Unfortunately, for the Vikings, backup QB Tavaris Jackson isn’t the answer. Their coach Brad Childress was considered a fine Offensive Coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles, but as a head man, he’s been mediocre. The Vikings, at 2-5, would be wise to fire Childress immediately, and promote Defensive Coordinator/Asst. Head Coach Leslie Frazier to head coach. The Vikings seem like a team needing a different voice from the top.

Speaking of teams needing a coaching change, Jerry Jones needs to end the Wade Phillips era in Dallas. The Cowboys have been an extreme disappointment and at 1-6, Wade has lost the team. They are so bad; Jones apologized to the fans yesterday. Even the defense has been a disappointment the last two weeks. Former Cowboys head coach Dave Campo is still on the Dallas staff, serving as the secondary coach. He’s definitely a candidate who could replace Phillips as an interim for the rest of the year. He’s worked under Jerry Jones before; it’s not his first rodeo.

At 0-7, the Buffalo Bills are the worst team in the NFL. I feel sorry for their fans. I really do. Owner Ralph Wilson is over 90 years old and doesn’t spend the money necessary to bring elite talent and coaching to the Bills. It is obvious that the team skimps on scouting, based upon their draft record, whiffing badly on first round Defensive Linemen such as John McCargo and Aaron Maybin in recent years. They replace head coaches constantly, this year, they have retread Chan Gailey as head coach. The Bills also went into the season with Trent Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick as their QB’s. Edwards, initially the starter, was released. Fitzpatrick hasn’t played bad as the starter, but he’s not a long term answer. What a mess!

The Indianapolis Colts have been so devastated with injuries; they are the football version of the 2010 Boston Red Sox. I’ve read and heard media members say the Colts aren’t what they were. I don’t buy into that school of thought. As long as Peyton Manning is healthy and playing QB, the Colts are as formidable an opponent as anyone.