October 25, 2002
Patriot Season Hangs In The Balance
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
John Elway got all the headlines. But Terrell Davis got the Denver Broncos a couple of Vinces.
The Patriots can look at this week's foe and draw some inspiration in their quest to save their promising season gone awry. Elway played in five Super Bowls. He got creamed when he tried to do everything himself. He got himself a stud running back and went out a winner. Elway would never have won even one Vince without Davis.
The Patriots don't have a Terrell Davis on their bench. But they do have an Antowain Smith. This guy may hold the key to the rest of the season, as well as the Patriots' defense of their world championship.
Teams don't win back-to-back Super Bowls much, which is what the Patriots want to try and accomplish this year. The last team to win consecutive Super Bowls is…
How ‘bout that. Just happens to be the guys on the other side of the ball this weekend.
Elway and Davis managed to win the whole thing in Elway's final two years as a pro. They beat Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXII (in that game, the Pack was trying to make it two straight after beating the Patriots the year before), then manhandled Atlanta the following year as Elway rode off into the Rocky Mountain sunset.
It bears repeating. Elway would never have won one Vince without Davis. And he won two straight with Davis, to boot. For all the props Elway got during his career for being a great come-from-behind quarterback, few people really care that those two Super Bowls Denver won were largely thanks to Davis and not Elway. In all those rallies Elway was able to pull off, it usually meant that his team was losing at the time. Take that rally strategy to the big show and it usually fails big time. In each of Elway's three Super Bowl losses (XXI, XXII, XXIV), his team was blown out badly.
There is a moral to this story, of course.
If the Patriots want to keep their hopes of repeating as champions alive, they had better get back to a formula that worked well for them last year. It is a formula in which their Sunday opponent is living proof that it can work, and two years in a row at that.
The Patriots simply must commit to running the ball more, and they must stop this practice of trying to make Tom Brady win all by himself on offense. It won't solve the problem of the defense stopping the run or the hail of stupid penalties, but it will at least give the Patriots a better chance of controlling the game on offense, and having the rest of the team feed off of that control.
Simply put, Smith was a key cog in the Patriot championship machine last year. The team didn't cough up a new five-year deal for Smith in the offseason for nothing. Smith's straight-ahead power running style accounted for 1,157 big yards last year. But the most important quality about Smith was that he took all the pressure off of Brady and allowed the young quarterback to play relaxed and not feel the burden of the world on his shoulders.
The result was Brady looking like Joe Montana most of the time, and the Patriots riding his young arm and leadership all the way to a Super Bowl win. And yet, even with Brady looking so cool, poised and efficient, nobody would ever be saying the great things about Brady if it were not for Smith and his great work.
The Patriots have lots of things to fix right now. The run defense is perhaps the most daunting challenge. But this one is easy. Someone just needs to wave a magic wand at Charlie Weis and tell him to stop all this Dan Fouts nonsense with Brady.
This makes so much more sense as you look beneath the surface. Why go to the pass so much with Troy Brown still hurting? Or with Donald Hayes admitting that he doesn't know the Patriot offense? Or with Daniel Graham also still on the mend? Or with Deion Branch still learning the ropes in the NFL, more specifically the fine art of how to get open in this league?
The argument against this plan, if there even is one, is that the offensive line is playing below last year's level due to constant shakeups. Joe Andruzzi has been hurt, Greg Robinson-Randall shocked everyone by losing his starting job to Kenyatta Jones, Stephen Neal is now gone for the season, and Matt Light is being made to look silly by one quick defensive end after another. Add to that a myriad of false start and holding penalties, and you can see why the Patriots are a little gun-shy with regards to committing to the run.
Hang all this. They simply have to commit to the run.
Offensive linemen love to run block. They have to do it several times to build up the aggressive edge they need to make it work. It's all about attitude, and it is built and created versus simply turned on and off. Best of all, Light doesn't have to worry so much about speed rushers while run blocking.
Oops. We forgot to mention this little tidbit. If the Patriots suddenly do get the urge to try and run the ball, they picked a bad weekend to start.
Denver happens to be first in the league against the run (75 yards per game), a wee bit better than New England (28th against the run, 143 yards per game). Trevor Pryce and Chester McGlockton, two awfully big boys, are admittedly very hard down linemen to run on. Ian Gold, Al Wilson and John Mobley form a terrific trio of linebackers. If the Patriots can manage to spring Smith and get him back into a good groove against this bunch, all the power to them.
At the risk of falling below .500 for the first time since their 31-20 loss against these same Broncos last year at Denver, the Patriots at least need to try and work Smith into the offense. Brady needs to get his confidence back, and he needs to stay out of situations where he is rushed into throwing foolish picks. More of the burden to win the game needs to fall on Smith, and the big guys who will block for him.
The Brady way won't win. Maybe the Smith way won't, either. But not finding out is worse than finding out.
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