Life of a Sportsaholic

This blog is intended to be insight into my life as an irrational, stats-driven, obsessive sports fan in Boston. I am a fan of all types of sports with an emphasis on Boston teams and am a proud UConn alum.

Tag: bill belichick (page 1 of 2)

Catching Up with the Busy New England Patriots

AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

In the past week, by my count, the Patriots have signed, re-signed, or traded for 8 different players. This has been an unusually active period for the Pats who historically let the first few days of the free agent signing period settle before jumping in looking for deals. This year, Bill Belichick jumped into the trade market on March 8th and when free agency began at 4pm on March 9th, he made a big splash signing a #1 CB to bolster the defense. For those who haven’t been following the Pats moves as closely as I have, here is a recap of the new additions to the roster (in order of acquisition).

TE Dwayne Allen, Traded from the Colts 

Allen was the first domino to fall for the Pats and fills the #2 TE void that was left behind with the departure of Martellus Bennett (signed with the Packers). Allen is an excellent blocker, which is exactly what Bill Belichick looks for in a #2 TE, so he should fit in nicely. Allen has a history of catching passes in the red zone and will likely have a chance to tally some TDs this season opposite Rob Gronkowski.

CB Stephon Gilmore, Signed in Free Agency

The biggest early splash was the 5 year, $65 million deal Gilmore got in free agency from the Pats. The big payday was warranted given that he was one of the top ranking free agents this off-season, it’s just surprising the Pats were the one paying. After 5 years with the Bills and 5 defensive coordinators, Gilmore is ready for some stability. If he works hard and buys into the system (some question there), Gilmore has the size and athleticism to be an excellent #1 CB, especially since he is just 26 years old. The signing did create some issues with CB Malcolm Butler, who will likely be playing somewhere else next season. If not, a Butler/Gilmore secondary could be dominant against the pass next season.

S Duron Harmon, Re-signed

Harmon is a perfect Belichick player. He’s the 3rd safety on the depth chart and plays mostly in nickel and dime packages, but is also an important special teams player. Bill loves guys who get dirty on special teams and can contribute in multiple aspects of the game. Harmon has only missed 1 regular season game in 4 seasons, making him a nice, stable rotational piece.

TE Michael Williams, Re-signed

Many Pats fans won’t even know the name Michael Williams because he didn’t see the field in 2016. Williams is the definition of a depth piece who can be valuable in case of several injuries. In 2015 he appeared in 15 games of the Pats (started 9) and caught 3 passes for 26 yards over that span – he was primarily a blocker. At 26 years old, the Pats like him enough to keep him around, but don’t expect to see his name called unless something catastrophic happens.

WR Brandin Cooks, Traded from the Saints

One could argue this trade was even bigger than the Gilmore signing and may be the best move of the off-season, period. Cooks has been coveted by Belichick and the Pats for years and now he is a Patriot. The 23-year old WR is one of the best receivers in football and the sky is the limit on his potential. The Pats gave up their 1st and 3rd round picks for Cooks, but he has an expiring rookie contract after this season. My guess is that Belichick and Co. hope he signs a longer term deal and stays in New England for the foreseeable future, although he will not come cheap and likely demand top dollar. Cooks had 75+ receptions and 1,000+ yards in his last 2 seasons with New Orleans, which is up there with only Antonio Brown of the Steelers and Odell Beckham Jr. for the Giants in terms of production. Cook adds speed to the Pats receiving options, making them even more potent this upcoming season.

DE Kony Ealy, Traded from the Carolina Panthers

The Pats looked to bolster their defensive line depth by trading for Kony Ealy from the Panthers. Ealy has played in all 32 regular season games the past 2 seasons for the Panthers, but only started 15 of them total. He can get to the QB and is just 25, so could develop into regular starter over time. Ealy is best known for his dominant performance in Super Bowl 50, when he became the only play to force a fumble, get an interception, and record 3 sacks in a game. The potential is there and the risk is pretty low.

DT Lawrence Guy, Signed in Free Agency

Another guy in his mid-20s with potential. Guy is a journeyman defensive lineman who will add depth to the Pats line. He is 6-5, 300lbs and has 67 games under his belt (20 starts). During the past 2 seasons Guy played for the Ravens and started 17 of their 32 games while racking up 5.5 sacks and 1 forced fumble. He’s a big body inside who stays at home and won’t light-up a stat sheet. A Belichick special: depth.

RB Rex Burkhead, Signed in Free Agency

Fitting the same mold, Burkhead is a 26-year old with potential, but little to show for it in his career. He will have to compete with James White and Dion Lewis for a spot in the backfield, but given past injury history at the RB position, it’s a low-risk signing. Burkhead is looking for a chance to play and will likely be motivated to work hard in practice to prove his value. I doubt he will see the field much this year, but could be a safety valve is White and/or Lewis go down for an extended period of time.

***

LB Dont’a Hightower, TBD

As of writing this, Hightower had yet to make a decision on where he was signing, but a return to the Pats seemed likely and a decision was expected Wed. The Jets and Steelers were also reportedly interested in his services, but the needle seemed to be pointing to Foxboro.

CB Malcolm Butler, On roster

One of the bigger stories recently had been the discontent of Butler, the Pats #1 CB and Super Bowl hero. Butler is set to make under $4 million this year if he signs the transitional tag, which is a big raise, but still makes him vastly underpaid (see Gilmore’s deal). The Saints may be interested in his services leading to a potential trade in the near future. Stay tuned.

QB Jimmy Garoppolo, On roster

Will they or won’t they trade Garoppolo? No one really knows, but the Browns remain the most likely landing spot for the Pats back-up. The Pats don’t have a 1st or 2nd round pick this year, so a trade with the Browns could solve the pick deficit for Belichick. My opinion swings daily on if this will actually happen.

Patriots Trade for TE Dwayne Allen

AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

A day before the NFL free agency period begins, the New England Patriots made their first move. They traded a 4th round pick to the Indianapolis Colts for TE Dwayne Allen and a 6th round pick. The move comes with the knowledge that TE Martellus Bennett is leaving the Patriots after 1 season in Foxboro to get a big payday from another team (seeking $9 million a year – no thanks). Bennett had a nice year for the Pats, but injuries slowed him down as the season wore on.

Allen is the perfect fit for the Pats. He is primarily a great blocker and an decent receiver, exactly what Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels want in their TEs. It’s clear the Pats need protection for when Rob Gronkowski inevitably gets injured and when Gronk is healthy, they need a strong 2nd TE for deception and blocking purposes. Allen has a solid history of making plays in the red zone, another key area for the Pats.

Like every other TE the Pats bring in, Allen has a spotty, injury-ridden past. Since a breakout rookie campaign in 2012 (45 receptions for 521 yards and 3 TDs), Allen hasn’t played a full 16-game season. He missed nearly the entire 2013 season and has missed 8 total games the past 3 seasons. The upside is that Allen just turned 27 and is under team control through the 2019 season at a reasonable salary ($5 million for 2017 and 2018, then $7.4 million in 2019). If he can stay relatively healthy, he’ll be a solid #2 TE for the next few years.

Overall, I give the trade a solid B. Allen is still on the young end, under team control, and he cost the Pats very little (a 2-round drop in the draft). He has the potential to be a very solid player for the Pats, but there are obviously some question marks. A classic Bill Belichick move.

Super Bowl LI: One Month Later

Barry Chin/Boston Globe

In the days following Super Bowl LI, my mind was racing with reflections, observations, and questions. I was in shock and still trying to grasp the gravity of what had happened. That moment almost forced me back to writing after my hiatus, but I decided to catch my breath and reflect on the game during the following weeks. Now, one month later, I can finally take a step back and work through my emotions during the greatest Super Bowl comeback of all time.

* * *

Leading up to the game, it felt like destiny and redemption were on the Patriots side. Deflategate had been the top Boston news story for a year and a half and the Pats began the season without their superstar QB Tom Brady thanks to a questionable (I’m being kind) 4-game suspension. The team played well without him (3-1) and when he returned in week 5, he was on a mission. He lit up the league and appeared to have an extra level of motivation (if that’s actually possible). In 12 regular season games, Brady finished with over 3,500 passing yards, 28 TDs (7th best in the NFL), and just 2 interceptions. He had the 5th best completion percentage in football (67.4%) and finished 2nd in the NFL MVP voting (just 4 votes behind his Super Bowl foe, Matt Ryan). Brady led the Pats through the playoffs with relative ease and into the biggest game of the season poised for success.

With Brady at the helm and excitement growing as the game grew near, I felt pretty confident as the ball was teed up for kickoff.  I was ready to finally have deflategate put to bed and watch Roger Goodell painfully smile as Bob Kraft, Bill Belichick, and Tom Brady hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. All those happy feelings began to drift away when the game started and the dream of a 5th ring appeared to be slipping away in embarrassing blowout fashion.

Because I am a nauseatingly annoyingly optimist, I held a belief (although not strong) that this team could comeback, until the 8:36 mark in the 3rd quarter. After a weak drive to start the 2nd half resulting in a punt, Matt Ryan marched the Falcons down the field and threw a short 6-yard pass to RB Tevin Coleman for a TD, expanding their lead to 28-3. It was over. A 25-point deficit with 23 minutes left in the game is insurmountable. I could see the headlines in the papers the next day “Patriots Hopes Deflated”, “Patriots Embarrassed on the Biggest Stage”, “Patriots Redemption Tour Stopped Short”, and “Falcons Rip Patriots to Shreds” (yes, I know I’m a terrible headline writer…so sue me). Even the obnoxious pain-in-the-ass homer sports fan in me couldn’t see a way to victory and was giving up.

What followed next can only be described as the largest emotional roller coaster a sports fan can ever experience.

From the depths of despair, a tiny glimmer of hope began to emerge later in the 3rd quarter when RB James White caught a 5-yard TD pass from Brady. Some life. A heartbeat. Maybe they can at least make this game competitive. Then, just as quickly as the glimmer arrived, it left when Stephen Gostkowski missed the extra point. Was that not the perfect example of how the game had gone for the Pats? If they couldn’t even do the little things right, then there was certainly no chance of a huge comeback. The missed extra point error was compounded by the next play; a botched onside kick that Gostkowski himself ran into before it went 10 yards. No one knew it at the time, but the sequence of events following that botched kick would turn the game around for the Pats.

The Falcons began the drive essentially in field goal range, especially with their kicker, Matt Bryant‘s incredible leg.  So naturally, you would expect Atlanta to shorten the game by running and taking some time off the clock. Right? Wrong. They pass on first down to TE Austin Hooper for a 9-yard gain.  Ok, I’ll give them that one; a nice pass to pick up a solid chunk of yards while catching the defense off balance. Now they could stick to the ground game, waste some clock, and go to Mr. Automatic for a field goal to increase the lead to 22. Thankfully for the Pats, after a 2nd down run that resulted in a holding penalty on T Jake Matthews, the Falcons decided the passing game was the bees knees. After the penalty, 2nd down and long, the Falcons decide to try another pass to Hooper, but this time the result was basically no gain, bringing up 3rd down. Still in long field goal range, offensive coordinate Mike Shanahan dialed up another passing play that ended with Pats LB Kyle Van Noy and DE Trey Flowers planting Matty Ice into the turf for a massive sack that pushed Atlanta out of field goal range.

After that disaster of a possession from the Falcons, the slivers of hope began to grow and gain momentum. With 9:48 left, Gostkowski hit a short field goal to bring the deficit to 16 points (just 2 scores). Despite being frustrated with just a field goal, the optimist in me began to return. “This is just a 2 score game…How the hell is this just a 2 score game?” Just a little over a minute of game time later, my mood shifted from optimistic to legitimate excitement and anxiety. With Matt Ryan once again back to pass, LB Dont’a Hightower came around the edge and got a clean shot on him knocking the ball out, a fumble recovered by DT Alan Branch.  All of a sudden, it seemed like this comeback was a real possibility. All of the stars were beginning to align. Could this really be happening?

I don’t need to narrate the entire game, we all know what happened. The Pats went on to grab 2 scores and 2 2-pt conversions in the final 6 minutes of regulation to force OT in dramatic fashion. Once the game got to OT and the Pats won the coin toss, the game was over. Just like the 2004 Red Sox after they finished the incredible comeback against the Yankees in the ALCS, no one was going to stop them from winning the championship at that point. I saw no way the Pats defense was getting back on the field. There has been no greater QB in football history with the game on the line than Tom Brady. As the Pats drove down field, my anxiety level was sky-high, despite feeling like the game was under control. When Super Bowl hero James White crossed the goal line to win the game, the emotional roller coaster was at it’s peak. From confidence, to sinking feelings of embarrassment, to hope re-emerging, to high-wire anxiety, to child-like joy, this game had it all. Heart attack city. It was so emotional and I was in such shock that it took until this past week, nearly a month later, to fully grasp what I witnessed on February 5th. That was the definition of a game to remember.

* * *

Jim Davis/Boston Globe

In the days following the game, a lot was made of where this sports moment ranks in the landscape of Boston sports lore. Boston fans have no shortage of amazing teams, memories, and comebacks to draw from, but for me, it was an easy choice: #2 behind the 2004 Red Sox. The 2004 Red Sox will likely never be surpassed in my mind. Breaking an 86-year curse and coming back from the brink of elimination in the ALCS against your most bitter rival is sports perfection and invoked an emotional reaction that sticks with me to this day. Besides the 2004 Red Sox, Super Bowl LI is without a doubt #2. As a game, most of it was not a particularly well-played game or entertaining to watch, but from midway in the 3rd quarter to the TD in OT, the mounting comeback is as an intriguing a story as there is in sports. The twists, turns, and big moments were almost too many to count. Add in a little deflategate redemption and the moment gains even more weight.

For some reason, the Patriots and Super Bowl dramatics go together like frosting and a cup cake. You can’t have one without the other.

Trick or Treat: Belichick Pulled a Trick

Winslow Townson/USA Today

Winslow Townson/USA Today

As most people were getting through their Monday work day in anticipation of an evening filled with scary masks and candy, Bill Belichick was hard at work scaring Pats fans by trading away an All-Pro linebacker. Bill sent Jamie Collins packing in exchange for a conditional 3rd round pick from the Cleveland Browns. The move sent shock waves throughout the NFL and sent the Patriots fan base into a tizzy. A Patriots team without Collins is not surprising given he will be a free agent at the end of the season and is reportedly asking for Von Miller money (6 yrs, $114.5 million), but the timing of the trade is very curious.

Going into their bye week, the Pats are 7-1 after having avenged their only loss of the season to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. The defense has been under-performing as a group leading to Belichick calling them out to the media saying he was “disappointed” (full quote below). Clearly he felt like a message needed to be sent to the defense that if you don’t work as hard as you can at every practice and during every game, you may be shown the door, regardless of your talent, contract, etc. Collins has had a roller coaster year, looking elite in a few games and disappearing for long periods of time in others.

“I think overall, we had our ups and downs. At times we played well defensively and at other times, not so well. It was good enough to win. It was good at times and then at other times I think we really – I think we’re all disappointed, so we really just need to do a better job. That’s pretty much across the board – the running game, the passing game, everything. I mean there were some things that just, we need to do better.”

In order for Bill to make the move now, there has to be another reason. The more I think about this trade the more I believe there were other factors involved in sending Collins away so early in the season. There had to be. My guess is that Collins was not working as hard as he should and has not given 100% effort in every practice and game. Belichick is not about to tolerate a player half-assing it on the field and I could easily see that scenario resulting in this type of trade. Seeing the emergence of Elandon Roberts as a solid linebacker may also have helped Bill decide that Collins was an expendable piece. Roberts is no Collins, but I, for one, am excited to see him get even more playing time now.

Where I struggle with this trade the most is in the return, not the player. I know Collins is a “rental” player because his contract is up at the end of the season, but there are enough teams in football with enough cap money to sign a player of his caliber longer term. There really wasn’t a sign and trade deal out there that would have given the Pats more than a 3rd round conditional pick? Was Collins that toxic to the team environment that he had to go to any bidder just halfway through the season? Is there another move brewing for Belichick?

In Bill We Trust. In Bill We Trust. In Bill We Trust.

Just keep saying it over and over again, because that’s the only redeeming piece of this deal.

Don’t Poke The Bear (i.e. Patriots)

AP/Elise Amendola

AP/Elise Amendola

Earlier this week, the Pittsburgh Steelers Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler spoke to the media in advance of their matchup with the Patriots this Sunday. These press conferences happen every week and not much is usually said and not many headlines are made, but this week was a little different. Butler said the Pats do things “on the edge of being legal” and the offense doesn’t “do anything special”. That’s bulletin board material for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Either the comments were a mistake and taken out of context or Butler is an idiot. If you are an opponent of the Patriots, why the hell would you poke the bear?

If there is one thing we know about the Patriots, it is that Belichick and Brady are supremely motivated and passionate people (inwardly in Bill’s case). They are driven each week in the impossible pursuit of perfection and are tough to beat, even with major pieces not on their field. The last thing an opponent of the Patriots can afford is a mad and motivated Belichick and Brady. By making stupid comments about the Pats offense and the way the team plays the game not only won’t unnerve the Pats, it will give them extra motivation to beat the living crap out of the Steelers. Why hand the Pats an extra layer of motivation? It just makes no sense at all.

I don’t know anything about Butler except what I have read this week, so can’t speak to the man’s character, but his tactics are idiotic. If we give him the benefit of the doubt and assume his comments were strategic, I imagine he was trying to call the refs attention to the Pats play with the first comment and their play being on the edge, maybe trying to grab an extra call or two Sunday. The second comment, I assume he thinks it will force Belichick and Josh McDaniels to react by changing up their offensive plan and getting them to play outside their comfort zone. If that’s the strategy, then he is completely oblivious to how the Patriots organization works. All the comments did were encourage the Pats to run up the score and show no mercy if the situation arises.

Despite having a great roster of very talented players, the Steelers are in trouble without QB Ben Roethlisberger. They have enough weapons to keep the game close, but a W would likely mean the Pats made some critical mistakes and gave the Steelers some key opportunities. With these comments Butler made the likelihood of a Steelers upset even more difficult and unlikely. When will people learn not to poke the bear?

Player Spotlight: LB Elandon Roberts

2016_elandon_roberts_headshot_0

The Patriots rookie linebacker Elandon Roberts played in place of injured Jamie Collins on Sunday against the Bengals. He looked very good early on in the game, making tackles all over the field and had a few really nice hard hits. For those who are unfamiliar with Roberts, which I imagine is most of you, here is some background on the young linebacker.

Basics

Age: 22 years old (Rookie)

Height/Weight: 5’11”, 235 lbs

Hometown: Port Arthur, TX

College: University of Houston

Drafted in the 6th round (214th) in 2016

College Career

Roberts began his college career at Morgan State, where he had 107 tackles his freshman year (2nd best in school history). He transferred to the University of Houston where he played in 8 games during his sophomore season, playing mostly on special teams. In his junior year, Roberts got significant playing time at linebacker and recorded his first sack and 3.5 tackles for a loss in 12 games. He recorded 9 tackles in the Armed Forces Bowl victory that season. He blossomed in his senior year leading the team with 88 solo tackles (best in FBS) and 142 total tackles in 14 games played (50 more than the 2nd highest tackle total on the team). He helped lead Houston to a 13-1 record (only loss was against UConn) and an 8th ranked finish in the final AP Poll.

One of the main reasons Roberts dropped so far in the draft was his size. He is an undersized linebacker, which scared teams away. The Patriots liked him for his leadership skills and his extensive special teams experience (Bill loves special teams guys). It didn’t hurt that Roberts showed some serious speed at the NFL Combine (4.62 40-yard dash).

The NFL graded him a 5 out of 10 (“50/50 chance of making the roster”) for the draft. Although it’s very early in his career, his potential definitely looks greater than a 5.0 at this point. Under Bill Belichick, he will have a chance to learn and grow behind one of the best line-backing cores in football.

NFL Career

Roberts has appeared in 3 games (1 start) for the Patriots in 2016 and has recorded 7 solo tackles and 8 assisted tackles (the majority in the last game vs the Bengals). With the revolving door of linebacker injuries this season for the Pats, Roberts should get a decent chance to showcase his skills and continue to earn playing time. Any time he gets on the field this season is bonus learning experience for the future. If he keeps performing well and earning time, he could be a consistent rotational player as early as next season.

Who Deserves the Most Credit for the 3-0 Patriots?

AP Photo

AP Photo

After what can only be described as an ass-kicking on Thursday night against the Houston Texans, the New England Patriots are 3-0 on the young season. They were without their QB1 and franchise guy Tom Brady and their QB2 and heir-apparent (maybe) Jimmy Garoppolo, so they relied on QB3 and rookie Jacoby Brissett. Even obsessive Pats fans would give the team some leeway if things didn’t go perfectly on a short week, but instead, the Patriots showed the NFL who’s really boss with a 27-0 victory. After 3 weeks, who deserves the most credit for this team’s success? Let’s explore.

First things first, let’s put aside the F U Roger Goodell revenge element of this 3-0 run. It’s absolutely a factor and if you think it’s not, you’re an idiot. Nothing drives Bill Belichick more than being slighted or insulted, so that certainly plays a role, but this argument is about performance, regardless of motivation. Let’s look at and grade the performance of key people on the Patriots roster/coaching staff and perhaps come to a conclusion around who is most responsible for the 3-0 start.

Bill Belichick – A

The buck begins and ends with Bill. He is responsible for all aspects of the play on the field and personnel decisions, so he’s the easiest person to give credit. He has obviously worked hard to build a winning culture in Foxboro and created the “Patriot Way” and “next man up” which is clearly a factor this season. I’m sure he has had a role in both the offensive and defensive gameplans, which is where it gets hard to distinguish how much of the credit is this versus Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia. I have a feeling he gave some direction on an overall feel/approach, but some of the creativity around specific plays and reads is a credit to McDaniels and Patricia.

Josh McDaniels – A

Gameplanning, gameplanning, gameplanning. Adjust to the players on the field and play to their strengths. In that regard, Josh McDaniels has been outstanding in 2016. With Jimmy Garoppolo he adjusted the playbook down a bit from Tom Brady and simplified some of the reads, making it easier for Jimmy G to make the right throws and get the ball out quickly. With Jacoby Brissett, McDaniels cut the playbook back even further, but didn’t get dull and predictable. He was still able to add in some new twists (wildcat, Julian Edelman lining up in the backfield) to keep the defense honest and protect his young QB. He put his offense in a position to succeed, which is the key element of a good gameplan.

Matt Patricia – B

The Patriots defense was good in weeks 1 and 2, but stellar in week 3, bringing Matt Patricia up to a B. The Texans game was a perfect example of adjusting to what the other team is doing. Early on the Patriots secondary was strong and Brock Osweiler kept opting to throw to his check-down options and not deep, so the defense adjusted covering the short throws knowing Osweiler was keen to check down to the short route. Now to be honest, I think it’s as much of a terrible offensive gameplan for the Texans as a good plan for the Patriots (which is why he’s only a B), but give Patricia credit for understanding the situation and putting his guys in the right places to make big plays.

Jimmy Garoppolo/Jacoby Brissett – A-

If you had told me before the season that the combination of Jimmy G and Jacoby B would be 59 for 87 for 691 yards with 4 TDs and 0 interceptions through 3 weeks I would have been more than happy. Well guess what…I’m more than happy. The 2-headed QB monster for the Pats has performed better than even expected. Not because their stats are off the charts, but rather because their stats aren’t off the charts. They have both been great game managers, making smart decisions (for the most part) and not taking too many unnecessary risks. For young QBs, that’s usually the hardest thing to learn. Jimmy G put up better numbers and is clearly closer to being ready to start in the NFL, but the combination of both of them has been excellent.

LeGarrette Blount – A

Who expected LeGarrette Blount to be on this list in the pre-season? Not me. Blount has been more than just a stable force, he has been a strong contributor to the Pats success. By having a balanced offense that is a bit more run-heavy than in the past, it has opened up the passing game and taken significant pressure off the young QBs. For that reason, he belongs on this list and in the conversation for most impactful person. He has carried the ball 75 times for a 298 yards (league leader in both categories) so far in 2016, averaging 4 yards per carry. Those numbers surely won’t continue all season, but for now, he’s an incredibly powerful offensive weapon.

Jamie Collins/Rest of the Defense – B

I think Jamie Collins is actually the best of the defensive group so far. He has 2 interceptions already this year and has been a force all over the field. Collins has just 1 sack, which I was hoping would be a touch higher by this point (nit-picky, I know), but has collected 23 tackles (17 solo) to lead the team. As a team, the defensive line hasn’t gotten a tremendous amount of pressure on opposing QBs, just 5 sacks, but have been good enough to hold opponents down. They have been very good, but could be better, especially with their pass-rush.

Conclusion

It’s a cop-out, but I think it’s a three-way tie. The obvious answers are Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels and their masterful gameplans, emphasis on their gameplans. The reason I can’t separate them on this list is that I have no idea how much say Bill has in the gameplan details on a weekly basis. If he is mostly hands off, then McDaniels has had the biggest impact and is alone atop this analysis, but if Bill is involved more heavily as I suspect he is, than it’s a shared accomplishment.

The third person in this mix is the under-appreciated LeGarrette Blount. He has been the best running back in football through 3 weeks. Let me repeat that: LeGarrette Blount has been statistically the best running back in the NFL through 3 weeks. That statement may be the most shocking of all and one of the best storylines to this point. McDaniels and Belichick can create the most amazing gameplan, but ultimately the players need to execute. If it weren’t for Blount and a strong running game (with some offensive line help as well), the passing game would significantly suffer and we likely would be talking about more mistakes at the QB position and less offensive productivity overall. For that, Blount deserves more credit than he has been given.

Ultimately, I think the duo of Bill and Josh is a special match that doesn’t come around often in football. McDaniels is expected to take another stab at head coaching next year, but I suspect will struggle once again. He thrives in Belichick’s system and calling offensive plays, but when it comes to managing the entire team, I’m not sure the 2nd time around will go any better than his first in Denver (3-9 before being fired in 2010). My wish would be to have McDaniels stick around under Belichick under Brady retires to try and capture the remaining magic of the Belichick/Brady tenure. That would certainly give the Pats a great chance at another super bowl title or two.

A shout-out to my father-in-law Michael for prompting me to think about this. I gave him a gut reaction of Belichick, but then thought a lot more about it and changed my thinking a little.

Somewhere Goodell is Crying in a Corner

roger-goodell

No Brady, No Garoppolo, No problem. Despite every effort from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to screw the Patriots in 2016, they sit at 3-0 on the season after an absolute shellacking of the Houston Texans last night 27-0. With his QB1 (Tom Brady) suspended and QB2 (Jimmy Garoppolo) out with an AC sprain,  Bill Belichick handed the ball to his QB3 on a short week, rookie Jacoby Brissett for his first career start. It’s only logical to think that with Brissett as your starter and a short week to prepare against the likes of Vince Wilfork and J.J. Watt, it could be a rough game, but the F.U. Roger Goodell tour continued.

The Patriots defense was phenomenal on Thursday night and absolutely shut down the 2-headed receiving monster of the Texans in DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. They stuffed the run and finally looked like the shutdown defense we had been hearing all about during training camp. Not to take away from the defensive performance, but Andover, MA native and Texans Head Coach Bill O’Brien‘s gameplan was bad. His play-calling was conservative (running on 3rd and long) and his game management was odd at times (taking timeouts before the half when the Patriots had the ball), almost as if the spot-light was too bright for him.

Now there is just 1 more game before Brady gets his chance to wave 2 giant middle-fingers at Goodell from the field and not his couch. You know he’s at home hoping for a 4-0 start so he can come back week 5 in search of a perfect season and a chance to take the handoff of the Lombardi Trophy from Goodell. Now that would be the ultimate nightmare for the commissioner and the greatest F.U. the NFL has ever seen.

Huge Patriots W in Jimmy Garoppolo’s Debut

David Kadlubowski/AZ Central Sports

David Kadlubowski/AZ Central Sports

Going into Sunday night’s season opener for the New England Patriots my mind was racing with excitement and preparing for disappointment. Football season is here, but the Cards (get it?) were certainly stacked against the Pats in week 1. We all know the situation: the Pats are without Tom Brady until week 5, so this is Jimmy Garoppolo‘s team. Frankly though, that was the least of my concerns entering Sunday. The inactive status of offensive lineman Nate Soldier and TE Rob Gronkowski finally pushed me to expect a sizable loss to the Arizona Cardinals. You can’t expect a young QB making his first start to be successful without a very important veteran offensive lineman and arguably the best pass catching target in the league (forget all the other suspensions and injuries), right?

Overall, this was a massive W for the New England Patriots. This has the potential to be a very special team when everyone is healthy/no longer suspended. To win on the road against one of the best teams in football week 1 without countless important players is a testament to Bill Belichick and the heart of this team. I was excited for football before Sunday night, but after that performance (and a little help from the football gods) I’m pumped for the remaining 15+ games.

Performance Rating 

Every week I’ll pull out a few individuals and rate their performance.

Jimmy Garoppolo – A

In his first NFL start he went 24-33 with 264 yards and 1 TD. It wasn’t perfect and there were moments that scared me a little, but how can you fault Jimmy G for that performance overall. He set the bar high, now can he continue to shine?

LeGarrette Blount – B+

It wasn’t an amazing performance from Blount, but just what the Patriots needed. He carried the ball 22 times and racked up 70 yards and a TD. It was just enough to keep the defense honest and opened up the passing game a little for Jimmy G. Solid performance from the big man.

Julian Edelman – B

After being involved in almost every play in the first half, Edelman disappeared a bit for stretches of the game. Overall, 3 rushes for 16 yards and 7 catches for 66 yards clearly showed his chemistry with Jimmy G early, which allowed the offense to settle in and just play football.

Devin McCourty – A-

Leading the team with 8 solo tackles and 1 assisted, McCourty made is presence felt on defense. All of last season he had just 1 game with 9 tackles, making his opening night performance even more impressive. He looked like the stable veteran in the secondary and is continuing to develop into a great safety.

Chris Jones – B+

In his Patriots debut, Jones got his first sack and 3 tackles. He frequently got pressure on QB Carson Palmer and looked like a force on the defensive line. The new #95 fit in nicely week 1.

Next up

Home Opener

Patriots vs. Dolphins – 1:00pm, Sunday, Sept. 18th at Gillette Stadium

Here Come the New England Patriots

patriots logo

To this point on Life of a Sportsaholic, I have written very little about the New England Patriots. It has been a conscious choice to avoid all deflategate and Tom Brady suspension news seeing as how every person in the sports world (and well beyond) has written ad nausea about the situation and their opinion on the 18-month process. I have plenty of opinions and as much as I try, many of them will probably emerge on this blog during this football season, but for now, I am putting aside all of that noise and focusing the the task at hand: the 2016 NFL season. Here is my very high-level initial look at this Patriots team.

The Patriots seem poised to have a strong season as they are basically every single year during the Bob Kraft/Bill Belichick regime. The offense looks solid to start the year despite the Tom Brady suspension (see, I couldn’t go 1 paragraph without mentioning it). Second year QB Jimmy Garoppolo is getting all the headlines, but many of the offensive skill players are returning this season. The offense is headlined by Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola in the wide-receiving core, Rob Gronkowski at tight end, and LeGarrette Blount and James White in the backfield. The addition of WR Chris Hogan could be critical for the Patriots, because he adds another dimension to the passing game and makes it more difficult for opposing defenses to key-in only on Edelman and Gronk. In the same vein, tight end Martellus Bennett could play a big role in the red zone for the Patriots, potentially balancing the coverage on Gronk in those situations and also providing some injury protection for the oft hurt Gronk. I will be looking out for rookie WR Malcolm Mitchell who despite being slowed by an elbow injury, has looked very good for a young kid this training camp/preseason. He could have a big impact by mid-late season.

The Patriots defense is positioned to shine in 2016. They have playmakers at all levels of the defense, highlighted by their linebacker core (Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, and Jonathan Freeny) who are incredible athletic and not afraid to give someone a big pop.  Up front they added former St Louis Rams DE Chris Long to replace Chandler Jones and have the impressive DE Jabaal Sheard opposite Long. In the middle Alan Branch and Malcolm Brown have the potential to be solid, but I need to see more to be convinced that Branch is committed after an undisclosed suspension this preseason. The secondary is solid with veterans Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty at safety and Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and rookie Cyrus Jones at CB. Jones is another guy to watch, because the rookie out of Alabama has looked good this preseason both in coverage and in the return game. With a potentially less powerful offense the first month of the season, the Patriots need their defense to step up and hold opponents down.

I’ll break down some of the positional strengths going forward and look at other story lines surrounding the team, but overall the Pats are set-up to be a strong postseason contender if they stay healthy and perform up to expectations (big ifs!). The opener is just 11 days away!

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