By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff
It is ridiculously easy to be hypercritical.
Anyone can do it. People of questionable intelligence can make an incredible living off it by hosting sports talk radio shows. It’s also a no-lose proposition, which is why so many of them do it.
Here’s a little tip for you aspiring sports media professionals out there. Pick against the local team far more than you do for them. Why? You can’t lose. If the team loses, you can sit there all smug and talk about how YOU predicted this. YOU saw this coming. If the team wins, no one cares, because they’re so happy that the team has won. See how simple it is? I’m not advocating a Fred Smerlas-like streak of picking the Patriots to win every game for 10 straight years here, but I’m saying if there is any doubt on a game, pick the home team to lose.
This also applies when analyzing the moves and decisions of the team, especially when done so in hindsight. Facts are facts, right? When looking long-term, again, it is to your benefit to pick failure. It is very hard to win in the NFL, and the odds are in your favor if you predict that a team will suffer a playoff loss. You can be as edgy and critical and negative as you want, because the chances are good that the team will not win the Super Bowl every year, and if they do, again, no one is likely to call you out on it.
So many people believe that the term objective actually means critical or negative. Only the “objective” folks see the flaws and mistakes made. Anyone who attempts to point out silly things like wins and losses, or to point out things are were done well or correctly, are labeled “fanboys.” It’s just how it is these days.
It used to be that supporting and rooting for a team and giving it your unwavering support was considered loyal. Now if you do that, you’re just a simpleton “fanboy” who roots for laundry and can’t think for himself.
Despite all that you’ve heard or read in recent weeks/months/years, the Patriots are still a very good football team. They actually do make some decisions and moves that are correct and good for the team. Contrary to the opinions of some, they do have an idea of what they’re doing down there. (Wait – I can hear it already – They haven’t won a playoff game in four years!!!!!! – which is true.) Again, I want to point out that it is HARD to win in the NFL. The other teams are getting paid and want to win too. Did you know that the San Francisco 49ers, in the midst of their great run in the 1980’s, with Joe Montana at his peak, lost in the first round THREE years in a row? Had Bill Walsh lost it? They came back and won back-to-back Super Bowls. It’s not unheard of for a very good team to lose in the postseason. Lets have a little perspective here.
The Patriots currently sit at 6-3 on the season, having completed the most arduous part of their schedule. With the injury to Texans QB Matt Schaub, the AFC is wide open. The Patriots are in a position to once again be one of the top seeds in the conference. Tom Brady has struggled at times this season, the defense has been dreadful statistically, yet they’re still wining. They must be doing something right. In the spirit of trying to counter some of the overwhelming negativity out there, let’s look at a few things the team has actually done right this season.
1.) Signing Andre Carter
While the trade for Albert Haynesworth and the signing of Shaun Ellis got much more attention, Carter has been perhaps the Patriots best defensive player thus far. His nine sacks in nine games have given the Patriots that pass-rusher everyone has been clamoring for. He has also been a professional in the locker room, adding a respected veteran voice to the young defense. While Cris Collinsworth said on Sunday night that no one expected much from Carter, he has been a productive NFL player in the past, and is on pace for perhaps the best season of his career. A great move by the Patriots.
2.) Signing Brian Waters
With the retirement of Stephen Neal in the offseason, the Patriots had a hole at guard. It appeared that Dan Connolly would be filling that spot, but the Patriots valued Connolly more as someone who could fill in all over the line. The decision to sign Waters has turned out to be huge, as he stepped in at guard in week one, and when center Dan Koppen was lost for the season, Connolly was needed to play center. It couldn’t have worked out any better for the Patriots, as Waters has played at his usual high level this season (Peter King has him as a mid-season All Pro) and has been another professional veteran example in the Patriots locker room.
3.) Drafting Nate Solder
When the Patriots drafted Solder, and not a pass rushing defensive end or linebacker, there was the usual hand-wringing, especially as tackle didn’t seem to be the team’s most pressing need. With Sebastian Vollmer severely limited this season with back issues, Solder has been forced into the starting lineup for several games, including the season opener in Miami, where he impressed with his play against Cameron Wake. It was thought that Solder would be given a year to acclimate before taking over for Matt Light, but Solder has been good as a starter, and if Vollmer can return to full health, the Patriots should be set at both tackles for many years.
4.) Re-signing Logan Mankins
Mankins hasn’t been his usual All-Pro self, but signing him was nonetheless a huge move for the Patriots. After the ugly, protracted contract battle, getting the guard signed signaled that the Patriots will pay the guys they feel are important enough to the core of the team. Mankins adds toughness on the offensive line, and is especially protective of Brady whenever little scuffles break out. He’s still relatively young, and should serve to help transition the offensive line to when Solder, Vollmer and Marcus Cannon are the mainstays up front.
5.) Re-signing Matt Light
Keeping with the offensive line theme, it seemed like a given that Light would be back, but when the team drafted Solder, some thought that it might spell the end of the line for Light. While he’s never been an elite player, Light has been a Pro Bowl-caliber player throughout his career, and a leader on the line. Bringing him back proved especially important with the health issues of Vollmer, as Light’s presence allowed Nate Solder to fill in for Vollmer while Light protected Brady.
6.) Giving Kyle Arrington a two-year deal
With Devin McCourty’s struggles this season, Arrington has emerged as the Patriots top cornerback, and a playmaker at that position. Arrington’s five interceptions are tied for the league lead in that category. The Patriots could’ve just given him a one-year deal to keep his rights, but they rewarded his play from last year with a two-year deal. If Arrington continues his strong play, he might’ve been looking at a big pay raise following the season, instead, now the Patriots have him locked up for 2012 as well.
7.) Utilizing the no-huddle, hurry-up offense.
In the strategy department, the decision to try and wear out opposing defenses by keeping them on the field and preventing from substituting has been wise. They first did this in preseason, during the Tampa game, which had Bucs defenders talking after the game about how tough it was to defend when they never had a chance to catch their breath. The strategy paid off during the Jets game this week in the second half as they took advantage of a tired New York defense which just wasn’t ready to line up again, and was laboring to keep playing. This strategy will likely be used more during the course of the season, especially against teams who are determined to go all-out to get to Tom Brady. The Jets game also showed that the no-huddle doesn’t necessarily mean a hurry-up, as they went on an extended drive in the fourth quarter using the no-huddle, which essentially put the game away.
8.) Signing Mark Anderson
I hear skeptics dismissing Anderson’s five sacks because an number of them came “in garbage time.” Well, when you’re trying to put a team away, isn’t the best thing you can do is to sack the quarterback? It’s like bringing in your closer. The former Bear has been very effective in rushing the passer this season, and saw extended duty during the Jets game. Working him opposite Carter has given the Patriots a very good 1-2 combo that the opposing offensive line has to account for. He was a low-risk, cheap signing that has paid off for the Patriots.
9.) Drafting Marcus Cannon
Cannon’s story is well known by this point, the massive (6-5, 358lbs) offensive lineman was discovered to have cancer when taking his physical at the combine, which cause his draft stock to drop sharply. Once projected as a low-first or second round pick, the Patriots selected him in the fifth round, not knowing if he would even be able to play. Cannon responded well to treatment, and was placed on the active roster this morning. His story is inspirational, and his talent may make him the successor to Waters in the future.
10.) Moving Matt Patricia to safeties coach
This move might’ve seemed curious when it was made last offseason. Patricia is considered by many to be the de facto defensive coordinator. Putting him in charge of the safeties, which then included Brandon Meriweather, James Sanders and Jarrard Page along with Pat Chung, may have seemed like a step down from coaching the linebackers, which he had been doing. The move may have been an indication that the Patriots already had doubts about their personnel there, and putting Patricia there to work with the group may have given them enough to move on from Meriweather, Sanders and Page. Belichick himself also served as a secondary coach prior to becoming a defensive coordinator with the Giants, and may have placed Patricia there as a stepping stone to the role. In addition, Pepper Johnson, who with Patricia is considered the top defensive assistant, works with the defensive lineman. Moving Patricia to the secondary gives the team a top assistant with the front seven and with the secondary. I don’t know if that was the intent, but sort of splitting up the defense between the two of them makes sense, especially where there are so many young players as well as players new to the Patriots.
This list only includes this season, each season the team makes bad decisions and good decisions, just like every other team in the NFL. So while some will never tire of point out the bad decisions up and down the roster, there have been plenty of good ones, as well.
It’s easy to be critical. It’s a little harder to be objective and to look at the good as well as the bad.
Hopefully this serves as a reminder that the team has made plenty of smart decisions and that is why they continue to be successful.