Following New England’s Super Bowl XXXIX victory over Philadelphia, Bill Belichick memorably embraced Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel, his offensive and defensive coordinators. Both men were off to head coaching positions – Weis to Notre Dame and Crennel to the Cleveland Browns. Both were great coordinators and ultimately awful head coaches.
Today, as the Patriots prepare for a run at a historic sixth Lombardi Trophy, they again face the same prospect. Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia are both likely to receive one or more head coaching offers. Linebackers coach Brian Flores is also being considered for the Cardinals defensive coordinator position. (SBNation)
Closing Window of Opportunity
Even with Brady in his prime, it took New England ten years to win a Super Bowl after Weis and Crennel left. Brady doesn’t have ten years left. If his avocado ice cream and magic $200 jammies keep him healthy, he has maybe three high-quality seasons in him. And, after trading Jimmy G, we have no heir to the throne.
This is a flawed team. They can’t pressure the quarterback on defense and can’t protect our own on offense. The weakness of the defensive line forces the secondary to cover receivers for five to seven seconds on every passing play. Nobody can consistently do that. That’s why players as talented as Gilmore and Butler end up conceding monster yards almost every game. Make no mistake, the Pats secondary is one of the best in the league. They’re just asked to do the impossible every week.
The struggles of the OL have been obvious for a couple of years. They manifest themselves in sacks, hurries, hits, and poor QB decisions resulting from a desire to get rid of the ball. It is not a coincidence that Brady struggled down the stretch against Miami, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo – all teams who can bring pressure without blitzing. Brady was sacked 35 times this year, which is almost double last year’s rate (15 in 12 games).
Brady has been as good as anyone could ask in what should be his third MVP campaign. In addition to leading the league in yards and throwing 32 TDs against 8 INTs, he and Alex Smith are the only quarterbacks this year with a passer rating over 100 who’ve been sacked more than 28 times (pro-football-reference). We couldn’t ask for more from Tom. And we can’t expect more in the future.
Despite their flaws and how poorly they’ve played down the stretch, this team is New England’s best chance at a sixth Lombardi for years to come. There is enough talent on this roster that the Pats should find themselves playing in Minneapolis on February fourth. Having the bye-week and home field advantage only help that cause.
The return of Hogan, White, Burkhead, and Mitchell will give Brady the options he’s lacked for a month. Those options will provide the over the middle safety net Brady needs to compensate for a weak line.
The addition of James Harrison (5 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble on 28 snaps this week) and the return of Kyle Van Noy (and hopefully Alan Branch) will certainly improve the front end of the defense. Branch’s presence should improve the run defense and free up linebackers to pressure the quarterback or help in coverage. Van Noy should return fully healthy from his Week 13 calf injury.
With an improved front seven finally helping the secondary on defense and more options on offense to mitigate the weakness of the line, this year’s Patriots should be legitimate contenders for their sixth Lombardi. They need to take this opportunity, because history tells us that in losing both McDaniels and Patricia, the next one might be a long time in coming.