Showing posts with label Anquan Boldin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Anquan Boldin. Show all posts

Thursday, January 30, 2014

What the Patriots Need Besides Wide Receivers

For going on 2 weeks I've heard it and read it everywhere: The Patriots need wide receiver help. I couldn't agree more.

That being said, most of you sound like whiny little kids in the checkout line at the grocery store, pleading with their parents to buy them candy bars from the impulse item rack or else they'll throw a temper tantrum. "I want Larry Fitzgerald now!" "We want Anquan Boldin!" "Give us James Jones!" "We need Emmanuel Sanders!" and so on.

I want better receivers too and hopefully the Patriots get some. There are, however, other areas of the team that if improved, will dramatically increase the likelihood of another Patriots Super Bowl win...

#1 The Pass Rush
I'm surprised that after the Pats lost to the Broncos in the AFC Championship game nobody complained much about the complete and utter lack of a pass rush on Peyton Manning. I'm not talking about sacks. I'm talking about reducing a great quarterback's time to find open receivers. Manning had all day on almost every snap.

The one play Manning was truly pressured, he lobbed a ball to a double-covered Wes Welker. Had Kyle Arrington turned around to play the ball, he would have at least batted it down, and could have intercepted it. Pressure created a playmaking opportunity.

A pass rush forces bad passes, throws out of bounds, shorter routes. It makes coverage more manageable for DBs and lets them be more aggressive. It can reduce the effectiveness of a good/great QB (the type you meet in the playoffs), and can force a mediocre/poor QB to make game-losing mistakes. When the Patriots defense owned Manning back in 2003-2004, it was because the pass rush pressured him. When the Patriots went 18-1, it was a pass rush that defeated them.

How to improve the pass rush? Getting Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo helps, as these are guys who occupy attention and allow others to make plays in the backfield. Chandler Jones recorded 11.5 sacks, tied for 7th in the NFL. He's doing his job. Add another guy on the edge and not necessarily a guy who's going to get 10+ sacks. Just someone strong and fast enough who will put a clock in the QB's head and force him to get rid of the ball sooner than he'd like.

I'd also like to see the Patriots change their mindset on defense and be much more aggressive. They've tried the bend-don't-break approach for years. It does reduce opposing points, but it also lets the opponent stay on the field for far too long. It puts all the pressure on the offense to score points in fewer drives that start from poor field position.

I think the defense, with Mayo, Wilfork, Jones, and an improving secondary, is good enough to be given a longer leash. Let them loose, let them go after the quarterback.

#2 Another Experienced CB
Aqib Talib is the most irreplaceable defensive player on the team. And even if you retain his services, you still have to hope/pray he remains healthy down the stretch.

When Talib is out the Patriots miss his skills, but they also lose a guy who knows what he's doing. The Pats have a crop of talented young DBs, but you can't draft wisdom or coach experience. I'd like to see the Pats add another experienced corner. He doesn't have to be amazing. Just someone who's been around a few years and knows what they're doing. Someone who knows his own capabilities, knows how to play the position, won't get tricked, won't make stupid decisions that lead to big plays.

And if Talib gets hurt, the veteran can assume Talib's coverage responsibilities. He'll probably get burnt, but at least everyone else can stay with their planned assignments and losing one DB won't result in 3 mismatches (as it did against Denver this year and Baltimore last year). It's better to be burnt by one guy than toasted by an entire team. And if you have a smart player, at least he'll know what he's doing, and (in theory) won't be burnt as badly.

And obviously if you don't retain Talib, you either need to replace him or dramatically improve somewhere else, like the pass rush.

I know adding an average, veteran cornerback and reducing the time opposing QBs have to throw by half a second isn't as exhilarating or as emotionally satisfying as acquiring a 1,000+ yard wide receiver. It's sort of like getting socks for Christmas compared to an X-Box. But the Patriots need both. They need playmakers on offense, and on defense they need guys who can limit opposing playmakers.

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.

Monday, February 04, 2013

The Ravens Win

I found myself confused at the end of this game. Initially, I wanted the 49ers won win, because I didn't want Ray Lewis or Joe Flacco to achieve any further glory. But then, as the 49ers played the first half from a Foxhole, I lost all respect for them. So I was forced to choose between a team I didn't like, and a team I didn't respect.

The Ravens won, and they deserved it. It's remarkable how one brother could be so much more aggressive than the other. Sigmund Freud would have a field day.

One thing the Ravens had on offense that the Patriots didn't was a strong receiver. Rob Gronkowski was out. And the Patriots' WR corps was small and not as physical as Baltimore's DBs. Meanwhile, Baltimore's receivers outmatched the Patriots' safeties.

Imagine what would happen if Anquan Boldin were on the Patriots roster. How much would Brady rely on him? How many receptions, how many TDs would he haul in? The Patriots could really use a large WR that can win battles in difficult situations.

Baltimore deserved this. As much as we can mock Ray Lewis for consuming deer antler velvet like some drunken and lonely Mainer, just about everyone in the NFL is on PEDs. So let he who supports a team without sin cast the first stone.

The Ravens played a game of football. The 49ers tried to play the Super Bowl. And in doing so they failed. The 49ers were conservative, tight, nervous, locked-up, not aggressive. They dug their foxholes from kickoff to the final whistle. And that's why they lost. The Ravens played football, and played it well.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Marcio Sanchez