Two things before we get started with this week’s mailbag ...
1. A disclaimer: There’s going to be a lot of talk about the fourth-down attempt against the Colts, so if you want to avoid any talk of going for it, why Bill Belichick decided to do what he did, and Peyton Manning, I’d suggest you move along. (However, if you like a good Herm Edwards reference or two, then by all means keep reading.)
2. If you are a regular subscriber to my frantically updated Twitter feed, you know I said something about Kevin Faulk before Sunday night’s game. My only rejoinder is that even a broken clock is right twice a day.
As always, don’t be shy — send your e-mails to email@example.com. We do this every week, people. Let’s get to it.
This one may need some help from Gary in N.C., but how does Coach Belichick rank with other coaches (all-time) as far as going for it on fourth down? Bill seems to be aggressive when it comes to fourth down. And, did Bill learn the fourth-down strategy from The Big Tuna?
P.S. What was Matt Stover doing patting Bill on the back as they left the field? Any history there?
A: Looking up info this week, I was not able to find how aggressive Bill Belichick compares historically to other coaches, but since he took over the Patriots he’s been one of the most aggressive coaches in the league when it comes to going for it. In five of the last seven seasons, New England has been in the top 10 in total fourth-down attempts. This year, the Patriots are tied for ninth in the league with 11 attempts and have converted five of them.
As for where he got the strategy, Belichick freely admits he plucks different ideas from different coaches, so some of it could be attributed to the fact that historically, Parcells was more aggressive than most when it came to going for it on fourth down. But I have to believe that a chunk of it came from an economics professor at Cal-Berkeley named David Romer. My story on his connection with Belichick is here.)
And Stover and Belichick go back a ways — he was drafted by the Giants in 1990 and moved on to Cleveland and kicked for Belichick in the early 1990s.
You go with the style of decision-making that’s brought you the success you’ve had. You don’t all of a sudden choose the conventional decision and play it safe. We’ve all celebrated his being a maverick, and now everyone’s going to pile on Belichick. Bad form. Stuff happens, folks.
Was their clock management at the end of the game horrible, yes. Very atypical of this Patriots team to use all of its timeouts before the two-minute warning. Was their play call for the fourth-and-2, or their execution of it, questionable? Yes. Could the spot have been more favorable to the home team? Maybe. Go back to clock management and not having the timeouts to challenge the call.
Rodney Harrison said at halftime that Belichick was going to tell his team “that we need more points because you know Manning and his receivers will get hot.” The Pats scored 10 points in the second half (could have been 17 without the [Laurence] Maroney fumble) and Manning got hot. The odds are better to go for the two yards and close out the game rather than taking the risk of a) shanking a punt or getting it blocked, or b) giving Manning two minutes to put up another touchdown. An eternity to guys like Manning and Brady.
A: Well said. No matter what you think about the decision, you have to agree that Belichick is consistent in his decision-making. As I stated previously, he is always been one of the most aggressive coaches in the league when it comes to going for it on fourth down, and Sunday night was no exception. Because they usually convert (according to ESPN, since 2001, on fourth-and-2 or less, the Patriots had converted 76.4 percent of fourth-down plays), there had to be a high level of confidence on the New England sideline, no matter the situation.
One thing that was out of character for this team is the misuse of the timeouts. The Patriots left themselves shorthanded by burning their last timeout, which meant they couldn’t challenge the play — or, even after they got the ball back with less than a minute left, call a timeout on their final series. I understand that you wanted to get the play right — measure twice and cut once — but that made a colossal difference.
Was defensive coordinator Dean Pees at the game against the Colts? I did not see him once on TV. Every time the cameras were on the defense on the sidelines after a defensive series I only saw Bill Belichick and linebackers coach Matt Patricia going over the plays and talking to players. During game action, I never once saw him at all in his customary red jacket. It was always Belichick in the camera lens.
Is [Brandon] Meriweather hurt badly? It seems like he was not on the field for a good portion of the game. Once James Sanders was in, he got burned for a TD in the first half when it seemed like he did not provide inside help on a play that was all in front of him. After that I did not see him again and noticed [Patrick] Chung in the game. What has happened to Sanders? I though he was a serviceable safety the last couple of years, but it seems like he’s been in the doghouse the entire season.
Maybe part of Bill’s decision to go on fourth down was that on defense he was short at safety with Meriweather hurting, no confidence in Sanders, and not comfortable enough with Chung on the big stage (i.e. fourth quarter on the road against Peyton Manning).
Again, was Dean Pees at the game? Perhaps up in the booth as opposed to being on the field?
A: Alex, Dean Pees wasn’t on the field Sunday night because he’s actually spent a considerable chunk of the season working from the press box. In one of our weekly conference calls with him, he said the view from up top has given him an advantage when it comes to seeing the field.
“I think the advantage of it is the ability to see the game and see the personnel changes and see the formations — just to see the game, period,” Pees said earlier this month when he was asked about the move. “Also, I feel very comfortable with the guys down below to make adjustments and for us to communicate and them to talk to the players. They’ve been doing a very good job of doing that and obviously Bill is down there, too, and can make adjustments and tells guys certain things. I think so far it’s worked pretty good.”
It appears that Patricia — on whom the organization is very high — is handling many of his sideline duties. He’s the one in red on the sidelines, usually an indication that he’s the one that defensive players are looking for. As for Meriweather, he has been hampered by a foot injury of late, which definitely limited his snaps on Sunday. The problem is that Sanders (who I believe is in the doghouse) has struggled as of late, which means the Patriots have turned to Chung for serious contributions a little earlier than they had hoped to. However, Chung has responded nicely to the additional workload. I’d look for more of the rookie down the stretch.
Any news on the multiple defensive injuries suffered during the game? How do you think [Jonathan] Wilhite and Darius Butler performed. I saw Wilhite up close on the line with [Reggie] Wayne at times, something we didn’t see with [Ellis] Hobbs — big upgrade on them both in my opinion.
A: No word on the defensive injuries yet. Two things for us to look for on that point, Paul: First is what the locker room is like when we get in there on Wednesday morning. My experience is that if guys who got banged up are available to talk, chances are good they are going to play. If they are out of sight, chances are good that the injuries might limit them the upcoming week. Second, there’s always the injury report — the first one of the week will be released on Wednesday at 4 p.m.
When it comes to Wilhite, he had a good night against the Colts, and Belichick agreed with your assessment. Saying he played “well and covered [Wayne] well,” there were just certain things that Wayne was able to do some things that would have given any cornerback trouble.
“They were great routes, great catches and a couple great throws to go with it,” Belichick said of Wayne’s effort. “It would be hard to say much to Wilhite. He did about all he could do on a couple of those plays.”
This may not seem much of a question for now (though it is impacting us now), but it may make an impact next year and beyond. When the heck are the Patriots going to get rid of Dean Pees? Ever since he’s been the defensive coordinator on this team they’ve been dreadful in the red area. And, unfortunately, as illustrated in the game against the Colts, it’s not getting any better. It may be Bill’s defensive scheme, but there’s been nobody here to call the right plays since Romeo [Crennel] went away.
The offense has been great, but this proves all the more — defense wins championships. Either Bill needs to take over the defensive play-calling or they need to get someone in. Do we think that will happen this year?
A: I don’t think the Patriots are going to fire Pees anytime soon. He is well-respected throughout the organization and in the locker room. I think there have been some defensive breakdowns and missteps over the year, but nothing that would be cause for firing, at least in my mind. It’s also important to remember that when it comes to running the defense, it’s a collective effort. While Pees handles much of the responsibility, Belichick is still very clearly calling the shots when it comes to many apsects of the defense.
I really don’t have a problem with the call, but I would have liked to see what the Pats defense could have done. I really don’t think the Pats should have even been in the situation, if Brady doesn’t throw that interception in the end zone and Maroney doesn’t fumble in the end zone.
On another note, how many defensive linemen did the Pats have available for this game? Shouldn’t the Pats have brought up Titus Adams and Darryl Richard? Wilfork looked out of gas!
It would have been nice to win this game and go to 7-2, but the Pats still have a chance to get a bye and at least one home game, and if the Pats have to go back to Indy for the AFC championship then I will feel pretty good knowing our offense can score on them and that our defense looked pretty good for three quarters without Jarvis Green and Ty Warren.
A: Will, I agree with you on the turnovers. The Colts weren’t able to take advantage of a couple of New England miscues, but in the end, you give a good team like Indy enough chances, and they’ll make you pay.
You raise an excellent point on the lack of depth along the defensive line — the Patriots were without Jarvis Green and Ty Warren, and they had only four true down linemen dressed for the game. However, it really didn’t disrupt what they were doing. They ended up playing with just two down linemen throughout much of the night in mostly nickel packages, going with a rotation of Vince Wilfork, Mike Wright, Ron Brace and Myron Pryor, all of whom played well. It would have been a different story if someone had gotten hurt, but I think everything worked in their favor on Sunday night.
Going forward, I think Warren will be an important part of their defensive game plan against the Jets — they’ll need every available big body in there to clog up the middle against a good Jets running attack.
Bill is taking body blows from the local and national media, some portraying him as an idiot who has lost his edge along with his mind. This is playing into his grand scheme. Had the Patriots been awarded the first down (they did make it, as the side judge indicated a bobble, however, he did not see Kevin Faulk bring the ball into his chest before getting hit and brought down. Alas, no timeouts, thus no challenge), Bill would be called a “genius with big ones.”
A history lesson: When Belichick released Lawyer Milloy, the media called him an IDIOT and [ESPN's] Tom Jackson indicated he lost the locker room. What occurred then was the players and coaches rallied around their head coach, and the results were a Super Bowl season.
A history lesson: When the J-E-T-S blew the whistle on Spygate, Belichick was ridiculed and hammered by the national press. What occurred then was the players and coaches rallied around their head coach, and the results were an undefeated season and a Super Bowl appearance. I won’t guarantee a Super Bowl season this year, however, everything is pointing toward team harmony and team success. In Bill we trust.
A: Gary, I’m not sure that the loss was part of Belichick’s “grand scheme,” and I don’t know if anyone is calling Belichick an idiot for the move. But everyone in the locker room who talked after Sunday’s game had faith in the coach's decision to go for it on fourth down. There are few teams who can circle the wagons better than the Patriots, and I suspect that many of them will use the reaction from the incident as a rallying cry going forward the rest of the season.
Maybe I have a bit of a different take on the Colts-Pats game, especially that fourth-down play. In Belichick's WEEI interview, I believe I heard him say something along the lines of, “They were rushing six and covering our five with their five. We knew the ball would be coming out quick.”
I found that interesting because what I saw for most of the game, with each team rushing four on most plays, was a very comfortable Peyton Manning enjoying plenty of time and space, and a very “alert” Tom Brady, with his eyes open and the clock in his head ticking away loudly. (FYI, I define "alert’' as [Dwight] Freeney and [Robert] Mathis.)
While losing [Tully] Banta-Cain was not helpful, I doubt the Colts were game-planning for him. At the end of the day, to my mind, once again the old problem of no Pats pass rush has again reared its ugly head. I wonder how the game would have gone if Peyton was regularly looking around wondering when he was going to get hit next or knowing on a given play he was not going to have much time to throw.
And before you say it, yes, I would take the combination of Brady-Welker-Moss-Watson over Manning-Garcon-Wayne-Clark. If you disagree, you will have to admit as best the difference is negligible. Ditto for the offensive lines.
A: Mike, I believe the biggest reason Manning did have time to throw was that for most of the evening, the Patriots were in nickel coverage — two defensive linemen and two DE/OLB hybrids in Banta-Cain and Derrick Burgess at the start. When Banta-Cain went down (losing your best outside pass rusher does change the game), they went to Adalius Thomas and Rob Ninkovich. (If I were the Colts, I would have run the ball more than they did — at least early on — when they showed me that nickel package, but that’s a story for another day.)
On the other side, while the left side of the Patriots offensive line held up masterfully, the right side struggled, especially right tackle Nick Kaczur against Mathis. Sebastian Vollmer was able to keep Freeney in check — the same couldn’t be said for Kaczur on Mathis.
For what it’s worth, I agree with you on the offensive comparison.
Why not place the winning burden on this great veteran offense that owned Indy to gain a mere two yards vs. a reeling, rebuilding, inexperienced defense? Brady eyed Mr. Reliable, Kevin Faulk, from the snap and still connected. An even better choice would have been a wide-open Wes Welker. What I question is the spot of the ball, which was made by a ref who was not in position to make an accurate call and neither did he consult the booth for the most critical play of the game. As coach Belichick predicted, the defense could not stop Peyton Manning.
Is it possible that Kevin did get the first down but the refs blew it and hence the Patriots did win the game?
A: Johnny, I have seen screen grabs from Sunday night’s game that seem to point to the fact that Faulk reached the first-down marker. However, I don’t know if that took into account that Faulk was juggling the ball and clearly did not have possession. I have no problem putting the ball in Faulk’s hands in that situation. He is one of your most dependable receivers, and on a safe, short-yardage pass, he’s one of the best options you have. As for the challenge, because the play happened before the two-minute warning, the Patriots would have had to challenge — however, because they were out of timeouts, they couldn’t do that.
Despite Bill Belichick making one of the most outlandish calls in recent memory, the real goat of Sunday’s loss was Laurence Maroney. His fumble at the 1-yard line ruined a 13-play, 87-yard drive, which chewed up 7:51 of the clock in the third quarter, after which he gets stripped of the ball as he crossed the goal line. Moss’ second touchdown would then have made it 38-14 in the fourth quarter and a whole different complexion of the game.
An exhausted defense was why BB went for it on fourth-and-2 (I would have punted), and I submit that Manning gets the winning TD with less than 20 seconds left no matter if it were a 30-yard drive, a 70-yard drive or even an 80-plus-yard drive. But Maroney’s fumble was a backbreaker for the Patriots, instead of being a backbreaker for the Colts, and Maroney should wear the goat horns for the loss instead of Belichick.
Have a nice week,
I actually liked the call to go for it — in the words of Herman Edwards, “You play to win the game.” I’m putting this game on that [expletive] Maroney, if he doesn’t fumble, we get six. PLEASE, FRED TAYLOR AND SAMMY MORRIS, COME BACK!!!!!!!
The Maroney fumble in the end zone was the kick in the teeth. I liked Belichick’s call when he made it. Obviously, I wished it has worked out, but “you play to win the game.” Look, because it didn’t work, BB is the goat, but if Faulk had made the first down, he would be “the genius” once again.
Mike in California
A: Two Herm Edwards references in one mailbag? I can always get behind that. Now, I wrote that Belichick’s decision — in retrospect — backfired on him. However, Maroney deserves a sizable share of the blame for the defeat. As I wrote in my "Ten Things We Learned" column, the running back had developed into a dependable red-zone threat the previous few weeks (he scored 1-yard touchdowns against Tampa Bay, Miami and earlier on Sunday against the Colts), so when they gave him the ball in that situation, they did so with real confidence he could finish off the drive. But even the most ardent Maroney supporters have to admit that was a gaffe that played a considerable role in the defeat.
Maroney had played well in the three games leading up to Sunday night (he averaged 5.1 yards per carry in those three games), but that being said, he still remains the most polarizing guy on the 53-man roster. No Patriots fan I know is lukewarm on him. What happened on Sunday night will only add to that debate.