Belichick’s Greatest Hits(and misses) Vol. 3: The Non-Super Bowl Years
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has always appeared to be a step ahead.
When fans whined about him letting go of veterans Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy, he responded by continuing to win Super Bowls. When the media claimed that veteran malcontents Correy Dillon and Rodney Harrison would disrupt team chemistry, he turned them into model citizens on championship teams.
But, with Tuesday’s news that the Patriots have cut defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, and the appearance that Chad Ochocinco is STILL not on the same page with quarterback Tom Brady, is Belichick losing his edge on personel decisions? The signings of those two veterans before this season, the horrid state of the defense and the offense’s inability to be consistently productive when Brady is even a tiny bit off seem to say yes. Well, you can be the judge. Here are some of Bill’s more(and less) brilliant moves since the Patriots’ last Super Bowl appearance in 2007.
1. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the 2010 draft: Beyond Wes Welker, the Patriots receiving corps is limited. Their young group of tight ends, however, is not. Gronkowski, a second round pick in 2010, has the combination of size and speed that offensive coordinators dream of and defensive coordinators have nightmares preparing for. At 6-foot-6 with good speed, Gronk is the biggest matchup problem on the Patriots’ roster.
Hernandez is a bit smaller, but very quick for a tight end. He also has a wide frame which he uses to box out corners on third down. There is a reason Brady enjoys using two tight end sets so much, he has two of the best in the league. When both are healthy, which is now the case, New England can work the short to intermediate passing game as well as any team in football.
2. Jerod Mayo: Though he has been banged up this year, Mayo is still the defense’s best player. He is a tackling machine and an instinctive play-maker against the short passing game. The Patriots have missed him in that regard, and he does not look to be back to full speed quite yet.
3. Zoltan Mesko: Isn’t it sad that No. 3 is a punter? Well, a little bit, but Mesko is already one of the league’s best, averaging over 45 yards a punt and helping New England flip field position over in their favor. If only the defense didn’t give it right back…
1. Getting too cute on draft day in 2009: The Patriots had traded down from the 23rd pick to the 26th pick in the first round and had an obvious, glaring weakness to address: pass rusher. Sure, Tully Banta-Cain was okay, and Mike Wright could eventually track down a quarterback, but the Patriots needed a game-changer. Staring them right in the face was UCS linebacker Clay Matthews. They had worked it so perfectly, they had traded down and their dynamic pass rusher was still there. So what do the Patriots do?
They promptly trade the pick to Green Bay, along with the fifth round pick they had received from Baltimore, for a second round pick and two third round picks. The Patriots used their second round pick on Darius Butler, traded one of their third round picks to Jacksonville and used the other third round pick on Brandon Tate. The third round pick they sent to Jacksonville eventually became Julian Edelman in return, and he is the only player from this deal still on New England’s roster(though he may be gone soon enough due to a Halloween groping incident and expendable play).
The Packers, on the other hand, selected Clay Matthews. In the Packers’ 3-4 zone blitz scheme, Matthews has become an All-Pro linebacker and one of the league’s most feared pass rushers. Green Bay would go on to win Super Bowl XLIII with Matthews making one of the game’s biggest plays, forcing Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall to fumble when Pittsburgh had fought back to pull the game within a score.
2. This off-season’s veteran signings: While the Patriots did not pay much for them, Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth have provided distractions and done nothing to help them win this season. Obviously, the Patriots literally cut their losses by parting ways with Haynesworth, but that came after the massive defensive tackle never seemed to be in football shape for the first half of the season. The Patriots changed their defensive alignment to a 4-3, the type of defense Haynesworth cried about not playing in while he was a Redskin, but he still didn’t provide the inside pass rush that made him a force in Tennessee. Heck, he barely saw the field.
Ochocinco, on the other hand, has just been incredibly unproductive. Eight games in, the receiver formally known as Chad Johnson has only nine catches for 136 yards and no scores. In the early goings, Ochocinco failed to create separation from defenders down field, but last week against the Giants he just looked completely lost and out of sync with his quarterback. Brady targeted Ochocinco five times in that game, and four times he appeared to be open, but the former Bengal star couldn’t even haul one of them in.
3. Trading Richard Seymour: It is hard for me to say this is a terrible move, because, at the time, it made a lot of sense. Both Seymour and Vince Wilfork were set to become free agents soon, and the Patriots chose to extend the younger player and pick up a first round draft pick for Seymour from a terrible franchise, the Oakland Raiders. The only problem is that the Patriots now have zero pass rush and the Raiders went 8-8 last season, leading to that pick coming at No. 17, rather than in the top-5 or 10 like Belichick probably anticipated.
Jury Still Out(but lookin’ good)
1. Nate Solder: So maybe the Seymour trade was not a total wash, because it did lead to the Patriots drafting Solder. In limited action this season, the big tackle from Colorado has been solid. His biggest strength is his size and, at 6-foot-8, not many defensive ends can get around him.
2. Brandon Spikes: He’s a little bit slow, but Spikes is just incredibly instinctive and has the ability to deliver big hits. His versatility has helped him see the field early as injuries have popped up on both the inside and outside of the linebacking corps. He is versatile in New England’s current 4-3, but Spikes is really best suited to play inside in a 3-4 where his lack of speed is masked and his instincts and solid tackling are accentuated.
Jury Still Out(but not lookin’ great)
1. Shaun Ellis: New England made another splash in free agency by acquiring Ellis from the rival Jets. Unfortunately, Ellis has been hampered by injuries, and will actually be inactive this week when the Patriots visit his old team. New England hopes he can come back and provide some kind of push up front, but at 34, Ellis may never contribute anything of note to the Pats.
2. Jermaine Cunningham: The former second round pick out of Florida is only in his second season but has rarely seen the field, despite injuries at linebacker. Whether that shows a lack of understanding of the defense, or a lack trust from the coaching staff, it is not a good sign. Cunningham has also contributed little this season on special teams.
Jury Still Out(like, really, it’s out)
1. Devin McCourty: Entering his second season, McCourty seemed to be a budding star. But, after a fantastic rookie season where he finished with eight interceptions, McCourty has struggled to take his game to the next level as the team’s top cover corner. He has shown flashes, but the league’s better receivers, especially the ones with size, have abused him this year one-on-one.
2. Patrick Chung: The safety from Oregon is actually second on the team in tackles(behind only McCourty, oddly enough), but his coverage skills have looked average at best. The Patriots want him to be an enforcer, but he also cannot routinely give up the big plays down the field he has this year. Like McCourty, there are flashes of great play, but consistency and focus have been a struggle.