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Scott Cordischi On Sports:  Belichick Defensive

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Bill Belichick

He’s a future Hall of Famer.  That is, unless many of those who vote people in hold “Spygate” against him.

Even so, there is no debating the greatness of New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.  His accomplishments as both a defensive coach and a head coach speak for themselves.

But that does not mean that Bill Belichick is perfect or, for that matter, immune from criticism.

Take, for example, the play of the Patriots secondary this season.  Devin McCourty, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I-Dowling, Patrick Chung, Steve Gregory and Nate Ebner have all been toasted more than Dunkin’ Donuts bagels and it doesn’t appear to be getting any better.

And this is not a new problem for this team.  It has been an issue for the past few years. 

For a coach that is supposedly a “defensive genius,” you wonder why Bill Belichick just can’t seem to straighten this very big problem out?

There are a few variables at play here.  First, there’s the issue of talent.  Or, in this case, lack of talent.

Belichick has been here for 13 years now which means that he has had 13 drafts to address the issue.  The problem is that Belichick seems to be able to identify talented defensive backs about as well as Larry King identifies future wives.

Here’s a list of all of the defensive backs (cornerbacks and safeties) drafted by the Patriots on Belichick’s watch with the round they were selected in in parenthesis:

2000:  Antwan Harris (6th)
2001:  Brock Williams (3rd), Leonard Myers (6th)
2002:  none
2003:  Eugene Wilson (2nd), Assante Sammuel (4th)
2004:  Gus Scott (3rd), Dexter Reid (4th), Christian Morton (7th)
2005:  Ellis Hobbs (2nd)
2006:  Willie Andrews (7th)
2007:  Brandon Merriweather (1st), Mike Richardson (6th)
2008:  Terrance Wheatley (2nd), Jonathan Wilhite (4th)
2009:  Patrick Chung (2nd), Darius Butler (2nd),
2010:  Devin McCourty (1st)
2011:  Ras-I-Dowling (2nd), Malcom Williams (7th)
2012:  Nate Ebner (6th), Alfonzo Dennard (7th)

Not exactly Ty Law, Champ Bailey, Darrell Revis and Rodney Harrison!

In all, 21 defensive backs have been selected by the Patriots during Belichick’s tenure as Grand Poobah of the organization and only one – Assante Sammuel – has turned out to be a very solid NFL player.  That’s a success rate of just over 4%.  Ouch!

What’s even worse is the fact that the one star he drafted in the secondary was allowed to walk via free agency because the Patriots didn’t want to pay him following the 2007 season.  It’s a decision that has proved costly to the organization because their secondary has been in shambles ever since.

It may be an over simplification to say that the main problem with New England’s secondary is their inability to draft and develop talent into it, but that is certainly a big factor.

However, there are other variables in play here as well.

Devin McCourty

Take, for instance, Devin McCourty.  How can McCourty have a Pro Bowl season as a rookie and look like the franchise’s next shut-down corner only to turn into Porky Pig the following year?  I’ve heard of sophomore slumps, but last year was a sophomore collapse, crash, fall-off, funk, slip, slide and downright disaster!

I guess the good news for McCourty is that he’s the toast of the town wherever he goes because opposing wide receivers make a habit out of toasting him game in and game out.

It has become fashionable this season to criticize Patriots defensive backs for not turning their heads around to see the ball while in coverage.  The theory being that if they did that more often, they would likely be flagged for fewer pass interference calls because they will have been deemed to have been “making a play on the ball.”

Which leads us to the next point.  Are these guys receiving the best coaching while here? 

That’s a tough question to answer because if we’re being truthful, most of the coaches on the Patriots staff have probably forgotten more about football than we’ll ever know.  Still, when you see the same mistakes being repeated, it’s a question worth asking.

But maybe the bigger question beyond knowing whether or not Pats defensive backs are being taught the proper technique, but, rather, is Belichick’s defensive philosophy putting these players in the best position to succeed.

Unlike many of the league’s better defenses, Belichick seems to continually prefer the “bend, but don’t break” philosophy.  The theory behind that being to keep the play in front of you and make the opposition have to use a number of plays to march the ball down the field.  Ideally, the hope would be that the opposing offense fails to make a third down conversion along the way or possibly turn the ball over.

That philosophy would be a sound one if the Patriots could actually execute it.  With smart and talented veteran players like Ty Law, Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymoure and Rodney Harrison, the Patriots were able to execute that philosophy effectively.

Now?  Not so much.

Maybe Belichick would be better served adopting a more aggressive style of defense where there is more blitzing involved so that opposing quarterbacks don’t feel as comfortable as they seemingly do now against the Patriots.

Yes, the possibility exists that you could give up some big plays versus the blitz, but you should also be able to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks forcing them to make quicker decisions and, hopefully, more mistakes.

This, in turn, would be greeted well by your defensive players who would, no doubt, prefer to be a part of a more aggressive defense than a passive one.

Yes, Bill Belichick is likely a future Hall of Famer.  But he needs to break out of this disturbing pattern of having a porous secondary.  And bringing in better players is not the only answer.

-For those Pats fans who were concerned about Stephen Gostkowski’s ability to perform in the clutch, Sunday’s game-tying and game-winning field goals should lessen those concerns.

-Ditto for the Brady-bashers who wondered if he could engineer late game-winning drives any longer. 

-If you didn’t know that the two presidential candidates were I a statistical dead heat in the polls heading into Monday night’s debate, you would have sworn that Romney was in the lead and that Obama was playing catch-up based on their respective approaches.

-The fact that many of the Red Sox players like Jon Lester are publicly endorsing new manager John Farrell is a bit of a concern for me.  It just feels like the overpaid cry babies are getting their way.

-Kudos to the National League Champion San Francisco Giants who are 5-0 in elimination games this postseason.

-Speaking of the Giants, did you see where Marco Scutaro picked up 14 hits in the NLCS and was named MVP of the series?  Why can’t the Red Sox get players like that?

-I’ll take the Tigers in 6.

-With the start of the NBA season less than a week away, remember this name Celtics’ fans: Jeff Green.

-Speaking of Boston’s season-opener in Miami, what will Heat guard Ray Allen do while his teammates receive their championship rings and raise a the banner into the rafters?  Just asking.

-Here’s some startling numbers for Pats fans, courtesy of the Boston Herald:  New England has been outscored 44-9 in the 4th quarter of the team’s games against Baltimore, Denver, Seattle and the Jets.  In addition, 30 of the team’s 71 offensive plays in the 4th quarter of those games either went for no gain or resulted in a loss of yardage.  The conclusion?  It’s not just the defense that’s the issue here.

-Did you see where NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that he may do away with the Pro Bowl soon?  Goodell called the game “embarrassing” because the competition is, well, a joke.  You’ve got my vote to pull the plug on it Rog!

-Former Patriot Matt Cassell signed a 6-year, $63 million contract with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009 and now finds himself benched in favor of the immortal Brady Quinn.

-The new commercial with Tom Brady and Ray Lewis about football addressing the issue of concussions is pretty funny.

-I’m no rocket scientist, but shouldn’t the NFL have the Pittsburgh Steelers playing in London so that Big Ben could see Big Ben?

-Actually, Pittsburgh will play in London next year against the Minnesota Vikings in one of two games to be played there in 2013.  The other game in London next season will feature the San Francisco 49ers and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

-What a job Bill O’Brien has done at Penn State where the Nittany Lions have won five straight games since starting the season at (0-2).  This weekend, they host Ohio State in a battle for first place in the Big Ten Leaders division.  Penn State is a 1-point favorite at home over the Buckeyes’ team that may or may not have starting quarterback Braxton Miller for the game.  As much as I would like to see Penn State win, I would take Ohio State plus the point no matter who plays quarterback for the Buckeyes.

-What a shame it is that Lance Armstrong cheated his way to a record seven Tour de France titles.

-After the way their season ended in a 4-game sweep at the hands of Detroit, you wonder if the New York Yankees aren’t a lot closer to the Red Sox from an organizational standpoint than the 26 games that separated them in the standings this year suggests.

Rob Ninkovich

-Speaking of the Yankees, am I the only one who no longer enjoys watching a game from Yankee Stadium on TV?  Where every seat was once filled in the old Bronx Zoo, now we see too many vacant seats on TV while watching a game from New York, and that includes Yankees-Red Sox games and postseason games.  It takes away from the atmosphere and the electricity that the old Yankee Stadium once had.  That’s what happens when you jack the prices of premium seating so much that you price out the average fan.

-Look up the word “overachiever” and you’ll see a picture of Patriots linebacker/defensive end Rob Ninkovich next to it.

-It’s amazing to think that the man who could be the NFL’s top receiver at the moment played his college football at UMass.

-I love the Patriots throwback uniforms.

-Since known steroid-user Melky Cabrera was MVP of the All-Star game and helped the National League and his San Francisco Giants secure home field advantage for the World Series, does this mean the NL has to give it back?

-Even though I an not a Notre Dame fan, college football is better when the Irish are relevant like they are this year.  Saturday night’s game between #5 Notre Dame and #9 Oklahoma should be a good one.

-All is well in New England this week, but a Patriots loss to the Rams in London Sunday would make for an unsettling bye week.


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