.... With the focus this week off the Patriots (thank God), I thought it would be a good time to discuss a few broader and less defined topics, while we contemplate who we will see in NE January 12th.
1. THere has been a great deal of discussion over the course of this season about the running game, or perhaps the lack of a running game by the Pats. A lot of the blame has fallen on to Lawrence Moroney. He's been called everything from a mentally weak and soft, to a down right bust of a first round pick. And while I'm sure Moroney should share SOME of the blame, he shouldn't be taking all of it.
So, I'm thinking why have the Pats seemingly avoided the run, like we try to avoid the a meter maid coming down the street. Because I think the most accurate slam that can be made on Moroney is that in virtually EVERY big situation the Pats offense have found themselves, the Patriots offensive brain trust has avoided the run like HIV positive blood.
One aspect of this mystery hasn't been talked about much, though it has been mentioned from time to time, and the issue hasn't gotten much traction. AND IMHO, its really the major reason we havent seen a strong running game from the Pats up to this point of the season. That reason being, the newly instituted zone blocking scheme.
The Pats did away with their past blocking scheme that designated man responisbilities. In other words, in the past when a Pats OLman got to the LOS he had a specific rule as to who he was going to block (ie On, Over, inside gap.) In other words, for that play, he'd block the man on him in a 3 point stance, over him (LB) or the man to his inside gap. Of course they would be taught to go to the next man if his man stunted away from him, etc, but essentially when the OLman got to the LOS, he pretty much knew who he was going to block and in what direction he wanted to go.
The Zone blocking scheme is more like today's passing offense. There is a lot of reading the play on the fly involved. Instead of being responsible for a particular MAN, in a zone blocking scheme, the OLman is responsible for a gap, and who ever shows up in that gap, THAT's the guy the OLman is responsible to block.
On Paper this makes a lot of sense because DLmen often stunt into different gaps, and LB/S can pop up anywhere during given stunts/Blitzes. Theoretically when you have every gap covered by someone between the OL/TEs/RBs, there should be no leakage into the backfield and the RB has the ability to hit the soft spot for anywhere from 3 yds to breaking a big one.
However just like today's complex passing game it requires a group of 5 OLmen and other players to ALL read the same defense correctly, and get to the right man....all on the fly.
The bad news is that you only need one guy to make a misread to get the same results you get when the WRs/QBs have a misread, which is one of the reason I think we have seen so many more runing plays go for a loss, compared to other recent years. Also OLmen lose the ability to aggressively fire off the ball, because they are waiting to see who is going to be in their gap, at least until the techniques involved become second nature to them, and clearly they haven't yet.
We haven't seen the effect of this in the passing game, because of the general nature of pass protection, where a passive first step is the basic technique, whereas in the running game you want an aggressive first step..
Now I'm not saying we should abandon the zone blocking scheme. Clearly, once a good OL have the techniques down so its second nature, it can lead to a very effective running game. My point here is PERHAPS to explain why THIS year the running game has played a far distant second fiddle to our passing game.
I'm also not saying this is the only reason, but one that should be discussed, especially during a bye week.
2. Speaking of bye, I think we should all take this opportunity to say goodbye to Donte Stallworth. He has been an unmitigated success as a FA pick up. He hasn't been a key figure in the offense, which would be difficult give Welker's 112 catchs and Moss's 80+, but he has been effective on the field coming up with big play and a lot of YAC. He's been healthy all season contrary to what we've been lead to expect, and according to all reports he's been an A+ teammate.
Unfortunately 2 things are going to go against him. The first is his contract. He is making over $3MM this year and has a huge bonus payment due right after the season. Of course the 2 parties COULD renegotiate this bonus, but I can't see Stallworth playing for the same money he made THIS year, and I can't see the Pats paying him anything NEAR what he'd get in the open market.
The second reason, is the fact that the Pats have a player (Chad Jackson) who has very similar skills as Stallworth, at a much much lower price. The only difference is that Jackson hasn't proven he can do what Stallworth has accomplished, though I think our personel people think that he can....and so do I.
Most people think that the Pats can only afford to keep EITHER Moss or Stallworth. If that's the choice the only chance that Stallworth has to stay would be if Moss COMPLETELY prices himself out of the market or what the Pats perceive what that market should be. Moss has on several occassion has stated that he has enough money NOW. Money is NOT his motivation. Well, if you take him for his word, the $5MM he's making THIS season SHOULD be the starting point for a new cotract. With Stallworth gone, I think the Pats could stand to pay Moss a 3 year deal of about $21MM with over 10 guaranteed. I DO NOT think the Pats will pay him a TO type $10MM/yr deal, nor do I think Moss will demand one.
3. Speaking of Moss perhaps one of the most amazing stats to come out of this record breaking season was the one I saw in Mike Reiss's column which stated that Moss was on the field for 88% of the Pats offensive plays this year. Is it any WONDER he took a few plays off this season?
Not bad for a guy who was all done in Oakland last year.
Seeing this stat makes me want to find out if there where ANY other WRs who came close to this number? I would be willing to bet that there isn't a single other WR who was even in the 80's, let alone 88%
4. This would also be a good time for me to put down my annual "If I had control, I would change or add these rules" list Some of these are probably not new to you, and many have aready met with universal derission, but I am persistent and will continue to push them.
a. In the last 2 minutes of the first half and end of the game, the clock will stop after the offense makes a first down in the field of play, and won't start again until the sticks are set. Too often the offense is penalized for doing what its supposed to do...make first downs. This is especially true when the offense makes a big play at the end of a game. For example 30 seconds left, the offense is on its own 25. They complete a 40 yd pass to the opponents 35 and time runs out before they can snap another play.
b. The ground CAN cause a fumble. This will eliminate hundreds of replays. It will also make leaping in the air more of risk, and that would cut down on injuries. I have never understood this rule. It is the ball carrier's responsibility to maintain control until the whistle blows. We already require a receiver to maintain control until the whistle blows, why not RB's/QBs
c. Just having the ball breaking the plane will NO LONGER constitute a TD. The ball must actually be touched down in the endzone, or carried/passed accross. No more judgement calls for officials. The ball is either IN the endzone or not.
d. I'd emphisize the following on PI calls.
i. There can be no PI if one or more officials deem the ball uncatchable
ii. merely incidently touching a receiver will not constitute PI. The official must determine that the contact materially interferred with the receiver's ability to catch the ball
e. I'd emphasize the following on Defensive holding calls. Incidental contact after 5 yards WILL NOT constitute a holding penalty. the official has to determine that the receiver's ability to run his pattern was materially inhibited by the contact before a holding or illegal contact is called.
f. If an illegal procedure call is called on the offense and the play starts, the play will be allowed to continue, and the defense will have the right to chose if they want to take the penalty or the result of the play. No longer would the defense be penalized when the offense makes a mistake (ie the Raven game)