BY KEVIN FLANAGAN
Any Bruins fan of a certain age can tell you just how frustrating it was in the late ’80’s and early 90’s when the team was very good but just needed that last piece to the puzzle to make them championship caliber. However Harry Sinden’s unwillingness to open his wallet to do what it took to put his team over the top and his headstrong way of trying to show the league that he was smarter than anyone else in the game resulted in a lot of Adams Division banners and zero championships.
Hey Patriots fans, is this starting to sound familiar?
Look there is no doubt that the Patriots are a good team and that Bill Belichick is too good of a coach for what we have seen over the first two games of this young season to continue. Or is he?
Ever since Bill Polian grew weary of having his offense in Indianapolis physically beaten to a pulp when they faced the Patriots in the playoffs in the early to mid 2000’s, a stretch that inspired him to use his influence on the NFL rules committee to greatly decrease the physical pressure that defensive backs can apply on receivers the once great defensive genius has had a hard time adapting.
The Super Bowl winning Patriots teams of the early 2000’s played smash mouth defense. While they were prone to give up yards between the 20 yard lines they would shut teams down in the red zone by jamming their receivers at the line and punishing anyone who caught the ball in the middle of the field. They were good, they were tough and they knew it. Their opponents did as well.
Since the near perfect season of 2007 the Pats pass defense has fallen flat. Ranked 6th in ’07 they subsequently dropped to 11th in ’08, 12th in ’09, 30th in ’10, 31st in ’11 and 29th in ’12. The most precipitous drops occurring when he began to lose the defense he inherited and the early free agents he signed replacing them with his own draft picks.
While the offense during that stretch of time was one of the most prolific in the history of the game Belichick’s inability to draft wide receivers and his unwillingness to re-sign Wes Welker or pursue the likes of Anquan Bolden in free agency have handicapped one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game when his peak years are coming to a close.
To corrupt a great Bill Parcells line, Belichick is not that great at picking the groceries. At least he hasn’t been when it comes to selecting skill positions on both sides of the ball.
Since drafting WR Deion Branch in the 2nd round in 2002 Bill’s picks at the position have included the likes of Bethel Johnson, PK Sam and the immortal Chad Jackson all of which are now working for UPS or selling insurance. At least Matthew Slater and Julian Edelman have been able to make some contribution even though one is strictly a special teamer and the other is made of glass.
Since the 2000 draft Belichick has selected enough defensive backs to start a small village the best of which, Asante Samuel in 2003, he refused to pay and let go with no reliable replacement in place to free agency after the first Super Bowl loss to the Giants in February 2008. Of the assorted flotsam and jetsams he drafted since Samuel only Devin McCourty has played a significant role for any period of time with the team and even he has shown to be best suited for the safety position.
When you swing and miss so often at the draft table at the same positions your only choices are to pay free agents or make effective trades. Belichick has been reluctant to do either. Instead he has taken flyers on high risk players and more times than not has been burned in the process. Since nearly winning it all in ’07 this team has been good to very good but they never have been great again.
Much like Harry Sinden some 25 or so years ago it seems Bill Belichick cannot see the woods for the trees. He has dug his heels in with his “my way or the highway” approach and you have to wonder if anyone within his own organization is willing or in a position to challenge him when it comes to personnel decisions.
Both men know talent, both showed over their careers that they had superior minds for the game. Harry Sinden let his unwillingness to change keep him from making very good teams great. Bill Belichick seems to be headed in the same direction.
Not so smart if you ask me.