Monday, January 20, 2014

Bill Belichick vs. Wes Welker Continues After Game, a.k.a. PickGate

Did Wes Welker set a pick on Aqib Talib? Clearly. Was it intent to injure? Only Welker knows that. Was it a targeted hit on Talib? Probably.

Bill Belichick seems to think so. And I'm inclined to agree. I know by agreeing with Belichick, that somehow invalidates my opinions. The cool thing to do is to disagree with him, and to side with Wes Welker. That's what people do when someone stands up to Belichick the bully. The media, the fans, they all side with the poor David of a player standing up to the Goliath of Patriot Management. Welker is like Bob Cratchit standing up to Scrooge, or the Ewoks from Return of the Jedi fighting against the Empire and Darth Belichick.

Welker's play was dirty. Maybe not an explicit intent to injure, but certainly an intent to hurt. I do think Belichick used some hyperbole in his remarks, making his comments sound like sour grapes. I've seen dirtier hits from defensive backs and receivers. Some of them wearing a Patriots uniform.

What makes me think Welker's actions were intentionally dirty is the timing, the players involved, and the potential benefits of hindering/hurting/injuring Talib. Not necessarily knocking him out of the game, but hitting him around enough so that he was less effective. The game-ending injury was a bonus for the Broncos.

The Broncos were held to 3 points in the 1st quarter (only the 19th time in 69 quarters of play that the Broncos failed to score a TD). Part of that was because Talib was covering Demariyus Thomas. Thomas had 1 catch for 29 yards in the 1st quarter. Once Talib was removed, Thomas exploded for 6 catches, 105 yards, and a TD. Without Talib, the Pats' coverage on other receivers also struggled, as everyone was forced to shift assignments.

It's something Welker witnessed first hand in last year's AFC Championship game against Baltimore. Talib left that game with a thigh injury. Anquan Boldin, whom Talib had been covering, took advantage of Talib's absence and scored 2 touchdowns. Meanwhile the rest of the Patriots' secondary struggled with their adjusted responsibilities. Talib's presence allows Dennard and Arrington to cover easier assignments. It also allows the safeties to give them more help.

Taking Talib off the chess board (or making him less mobile on it) would make things easier for all of Denver's offensive pieces to get open. Welker knew that.

I'm not saying Welker meant to injure Talib. But how often did we see him run into defensive backs like that while he was here? It didn't seem accidental. Maybe it was a mistimed block, which seems odd after the refs flagged New England for setting a pick.

Which is more likely, that Welker was setting an early block or that he saw Talib and saw an opportunity to make a hit on the Patriots' most important defensive player?

In hockey if a player hits someone away from the play like that, we assume there is an intention. If someone took a similar run at Zdeno Chara in a playoff game, for instance, everyone would know that it was deliberate and targeted. Especially if the team that took him out was struggling to score. So what was Welker's intention? To block? To send a message? To make an impact on a key part of the opposing defense which had done well to contain your high-powered offense?

Which is most likely?

Welker had motive: his team had been struggling to put up points and their best receiver wasn't much of a factor.

He had the opportunity as crossing plays are a big part of Denver's offense.

And he knew what losing Talib would do to the Pats' defense after seeing it firsthand against the Ravens last season and seeing how well Talib did against Thomas in the regular season (4 catches, 41 yards).

The most important defensive player was injured by an ex-teammate running into him away from the play. That's suspicious at the very least. It's probably intentional, and likely dirty. I think Belichick was a bit over the top in his analysis of the play. Then again, I'd be pissed too.

I don't think Welker should be suspended or fined or hated by Patriots fans for this. It was a physical play. He went after a key player on the opposing team. We've praised that type of play from the Patriots for years and criticized the lack of it when it's not there. Marginal dirtiness is something the Patriots are known for.

However, it is time to dismiss the childish fairy tale notion that Wes Welker represents the forces of Good fighting against Evil. It's time for media and fans to stop "feeling good" for Welker's success with the Broncos. He's a person, he's a football player, and he did something that was marginally dirty on Sunday. He injured the most important defensive player on the hometown team. Sorry, but that doesn't jive with the narrative that he's the good David fighting against the evil Goliath. He didn't use a slingshot to take down the Patriots, he used a dirty play.

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