December 26, 2013
Belichick Working On Greatest Coaching Masterpiece
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
Everyone thought that what John Farrell and the Red Sox did this year was really something.
Worst to first. From the abyss of the Bobby Valentine stewardship to the World Championship in just one year. Thanks to a fortuitous trade with the Dodgers, the Red Sox were able to give Farrell the pieces he needed to mold the Red Sox into a champion. Farrell still had to go out there and guide the team through the regular season and ultimately the playoffs. But the fact that the Red Sox were able to get home field for all the postseason series and then win the whole thing ranks right up there as one of the more remarkable Boston area championships ever.
But if Bill Belichick manages to walk off MetLife Stadium with a Vince in February, it will be even more remarkable.
Historically, the Red Sox win will be better since it happened at Fenway Park for the first time in 95 years. But practically, if the Patriots were to win Super Bowl XLVIII, it would blow everything else away. It might go down as the best coaching job in NFL history, and the best coaching/managing job in Boston area history.
Tom Brady was condemned at the beginning of the season for reacting the way he did over the mistakes and transgressions of his new receivers, especially the rookies. In hindsight, who are we to question anything Brady or Belichick do or how they do it. Brady is accustomed to winning and excellence, and even without Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, whoever he is forced to work with had better listen to him and do what he says.
Four months later, the Patriots are on the precipice of 12-4, and still another first round bye in the NFL playoffs. Brady is no longer complaining about his receivers, even though Gronkowski came back and then suffered still another debilitating injury. Brady cussed in his last losing press conference, but it wasn't because of rookie mistakes. It was because of a loss that should have been a win. Even during the early season mistakes, the Patriots were still winning.
Brady and his team are in this position because of Belichick and his coaching job this season. To those who love to wax poetic about the system over the players, you must be drowning in your holiday grog right now. Belichick is making that belief seem like you were a total fool if you ever doubted it.
As Rod Serling would say, "Submit for your approval!"
Let's revisit who Brady has to throw the ball to. You have the exodus of Welker and Hernandez, and the continued health issues of Gronkowski. Welker has proven to be brittle in Denver as he has missed the last few games due to a concussion. With the two Buchholz tight ends not in the picture at present, the tight end has merely been de-emphasized in the Patriot offense. Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan are used in blocking packages and situational duty. They are not featured nor favorite targets of Brady.
So instead, Brady has Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, and Austin Collie, plus Shane Vereen out of the backfield. If these four can stay healthy, which has been an issue for all four, Brady is okay in the passing attack.
The offensive line has been really interesting. Both Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder, the two tackles, have wrestled with injuries, with Vollmer landing on IR. No worries, just plug Marcus Cannon in at right tackle, move Logan Mankins to left tackle and insert someone named Josh Kline at left guard. Mankins has proven to be a terrific fill-in at left tackle, and whenever you talk about the Patriot offensive line, you cannot forget the best OL position coach in the business, Dante Scarnecchia.
Defensively, you lose Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Tommy Kelly to IR. So, what do you do? Nothing except to dig up Joe Vellano, Isaac Sapoaga and Sealver Siliga to help out down low, and Jamie Collins and Dane Fletcher to help out at linebacker. The front seven is not as dominating as early in the season, nor a championship unit like ten years ago, but is at least getting the job done when it has to.
The only question in the secondary is the health of Aqib Talib, but otherwise this unit hasn't been as impacted as some of the others on the team. If Talib and Alfonzo Dennard are healthy to play outside, and Kyle Arrington can stay inside on slot receivers, the secondary is actually in good shape.
Overall, this is nowhere near the team that the Patriots could be fielding in 2013. It's a patchwork team at its finest. Most every team in the NFL can complain about injuries justifiably, but don't bring that malarkey to Belichick. As Belichick loves to deadpan, "We are only concerned about who is actually on the team, not about who is not!"
The injury factor also compares favorably to the Red Sox. Koji Uehara was supposed to be a setup man to Joel Hanrahan. Then Andrew Bailey. When Uehara became the closer in June, the Red Sox literally became a championship contender immediately. Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino and Will Middlebrooks have done extended stints on the disabled list. And the Red Sox still won. The whole team was pretty much together at the finish, but having Lackey take over as the number two starter over Buchholz was crucial, and the Patriots are doing much the same thing.
It could be said that the Patriots were even more adversely affected by injuries than the Red Sox. Many people had the Patriots written off completely with the season ending knee injury to Gronkowski. In the end, his absence may ultimately cost the Patriots a chance to win the Super Bowl. But with Belichick, you simply never know.
But if the Patriots at least make it to the Super Bowl, that in and of itself will be a supreme accomplishment. The NFC is the far stronger conference this year, and whomever wins that conference would be a favorite to win the Super Bowl. Still, the Patriots would have to be given at least a sporting chance to not only make it there, but to pull off the unthinkable and actually win it.
And if the Patriots get to the Super Bowl, Belichick would have to be heralded for one of the finest coaching jobs ever. Belichick's defensive game plan for Super Bowl XXV is in the Hall of Fame, and his one-game coaching job against the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI was one of the finest ever, if not the finest. Making it to the Super Bowl this year would exceed both of these accomplishments.
This serves once again as a call to Patriot Nation to enjoy the Belichick Era for as long as it exists. It is football coaching at its highest level. Lombardi and Walsh had their periods of greatness. Belichick is having his, and it is still a developing and growing body of work.
And woe be the Patriot who thinks that a first round bye is a done deal on Sunday. Belichick will make sure that every Patriot thinks they are facing the Green Bay Packers power sweep.
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