Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Endgame 2011 - New England Patriots

With the wild card round over, let the REAL playoff previews begin...

It’s a hangover, is what it is. The rest of the league makes mistakes, and the Patriots keep exploiting them, and we all pay for it for years and years. Tom Brady drops out of the sky in the draft, the Dolphins release Wes Welker, the Jets release Danny Woodhead, the Seahawks trade for and then trade back Deion Branch; it just never stops. It doesn’t feel natural, the way this organization has become a sort of king vulture, eating the stragglers and growing stronger while they feast. Yet it works, largely because of the hyper-talented combo that acts as the collective mind of the system on and off the field, with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick combining their mutual gifts for tactics and burning indignation and perceived and real slights to drive the team to new heights. The result is perfection built on imperfect athletes, which is frustrating to no end for me as a fan of elite athletes being unleashed, but is certainly commendable in the creativity it achieves in succeeding despite (and, for this system, because of) the lack of multiple rare, unique talents on either side of the ball. Because as much as I criticize this team for never allowing stars to develop outside of Tom Brady, there really are no weak links on this team, the result of it’s successful poaching of the missed opportunities of other teams.

Indeed, the flexibility of the system, allowing its humble talents to “do their job” makes it hellish to face in any single game, particularly given Belichick’s penchant for adjusting to his opponent on the fly and Brady’s refusal to accept that there is a defense he can’t figure out over the course of a game (that last Colts game sealed it; this dude is the new GOAT). You can’t crush this team because they (and the league) protect the quarterback, and stomping anywhere else is like stepping in a mudhole, a lot of force that just opens up more problems to deal with. Each offensive piece does a discreet job that requires attention, and each piece does that job to an elite level, particularly the tight ends Hernandez and Gronkowski, who are uniquely devoted to stretching the field for their position, allowing the receivers to outpace coverage underneath the defense.

The defense is similarly structured around one or two key pieces, the most significant being Vince Wilfork, who engulfs offensive linemen and allows the team’s standard pass rush and zone schemes to work. Equally intriguing is Devin McCourty, who has a Darelle Revis feel to him in the way that any receiver in his area seems to be consistently outmatched for position (watch how he embarrassed Braylon Edwards compared to how Edwards abused Darius Butler earlier in the year). With those two in place and Jerod Mayo swarming around the middle and free to use his athleticism to its fullest expression (which McCourty and Wilfork allow him to do), the rest of the defense simply needs to be in the right place, and as frustrating as that can be on offense, on defense it drives opponents insane, particularly considering the discipline with which the system is run under Belichick. Again, one hyper talented player doing his set job to an elite level allows other, less special athletes to succeed by merely executing to a pedestrian level.

To which I say: Is this our dream now? I know that we’re living in the era of LeBron James the villain and Tea Party driven “power to the people” and an NFL that has been rejecting new forms of critical thought and analysis for a solid decade, but what the hell happened to big dreams of amazing people doing amazing things? If all of that seems unfair, then maybe it is, and I can’t take anything away from what the Patriots do on the field in terms of success. And yes, it’s largely the result of a man who had what was a revolutionary vision in 2000 and stuck to it, but damn, we can’t move on to the next thing? We’re all either clinging to the idea that we can’t be better with more talent (hence the treatment of Randy Moss this year) or just throwing rosters without plans at the wall and hoping they work (cough...COWBOYS...cough). But this can’t be where the game ends, with talent being something to be feared instead of groomed and used to find new ways of doing things. So no, I won’t be rooting for this team this year, and while that has a lot to do with the Jets, it also is in the hopes that someone who is at least trying to build something different can knock off what has become either a rudimentary philosophy on talent to be worshipped, or an ideal that can’t be achieved due to “too many stars,” an idea that makes me squirm.


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