The entire time I spent writing that last post, a little voice in my head was shouting, Why don't YOU do something about it? Why don't YOU try to write better about football? And I can and will try; but there are things I simply do not understand, and need help to understand better. I need resources, and they are less than forthcoming. Hence my frustration.
For instance, I want to understand why the Patriots find themselves just barely above .500 this year. I want to know what's different. "They don't have a regular team!!!" my father shouted at me the dozenth time I approached him with the question. "They got guys hurt left and right!"
True. But it's not as if that hasn't been the case the last two times the Patriots blew away the competition, ascended to first place in the division, notched a 14-2 record, and won the Super Bowl. It's not as if key people have not been injured before. Ty Law last year, for example. Tedy Bruschi the year before. Our secondary was for shit going into the Super Bowl against the Panthers. We've lost people to injury at every single position every single year. That's the nature of football. Maybe it's just me, but they most often show hits in slow motion, whether in replays of games or in NFL-films; but the few times you see a replay of a hit at full speed, you wonder how anyone survives a game. Injuries, like the poor, will always be with us. And this is something Bill Belichick and his system understand, embrace, and plan for.
In the "CEO" article linked below, Jack Welch disputes the notion that the system renders "key players" a thing of the past. "I don't think anyone can take 6-footers and make them 6 feet 8," were his exact words.
Or, as my father puts it, "You can't make chicken salad out of chicken shit."
But what I'm trying to understand is what makes this year's team "chicken shit" and the past two years' team, just as plagued by injury and irregularity, "chicken salad." Or, perhaps more accurately, how has Bill Belichick managed to make chicken salad anyway these past two years, but this year's materials persist in stinking?
Is it something else entirely? Is it also losing Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis? Is it an attitudinal problem? Is it something none of us here on the outside have heard about?
Which is the correct question? I don't even understand that much.
Without understanding the essential realities of the situation, at least to my satisfaction, it's hard to know how to set my expectations for Sunday's game. If only I could simply develop a hypothesis like "The system can't overcome the injuries without two out of three of its chief architects," stick to it, and plan accordingly. But I can't. That may not necessarily be the case. There are any number of arguments that could be made against it, arguments I can't help but agree with.
Hence, it's difficult to plan for and / or preview the game this Sunday, aside from the grocery shopping for tailgating supplies I still have to get done today (yep, finally getting to go to Gillette this year!). Granted, the New Orleans team is, as usual, by all accounts a travishamockery: 2-7, dead last in their division after playing a typical schedule, while the Patriots, despite the twists of fate, have crawled their way to first place, over-.500, and a place in contention. It's clear which is the better team.
But if there's one key axiom to the Belichick school of thought, it's the embrace of "On any given Sunday..." It's something the Patriots brass has been parroting to the media over and over and over and over again for the past five years: On any given Sunday, any given team can win.
For example: according to The Sports Network, Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks is sporting a kicky 66.6 passer rating so far this year. Were this the last two years, I'd be licking my chops as a fan: I'd salivate at the idea of the silver and blue eating this guy for Sunday brunch. But, this year...this year...
This year, concurrently, the Patriots rank 31st in pass defense.
There are only 32 NFL teams.
Who's worse than the Pats? Not the Saints. They're ranked an impressive fifth in pass defense.
The Saints are 30th against the run--but, unfortunately, the Patriots are 29th in running offense, and their corps of running backs has been bitten as hard as the ragged secondary by the injury bug.
(By the way, as much a bookmark for myself as anybody: The Sports Network has an excellent, excellent stats page.)
Ultimately, of course, the general consensus is still a Patriots victory--but this may be a more even matchup than anyone suspects based on record and / or legacy. And if we were dealing with a less mentally disciplined coaching staff, I'd be shaking in my boots for sure.
Another thing I want to note: My personal Key to the Game if you will. The offensive line must, must, must, must, MUST tighten the eff up, right the eff NOW. Maybe I've just been paying more attention this season; maybe it's the loss of veterans Joe Andruzzi to Cleveland and Matt Light to injury; but for the love of God, boys, please try to keep No. 12 clean and upright for once this week, eh? His sacked stats are pretty much on pace year on year, but it's not just sacks I'm talking about. This is obviously just anecdotal, but it seems like he's getting hit more often, and hit harder, this season, regardless of whether or not he has the ball in his hands. And you can see it. You can see him peeling himself off the turf this season more often than I can remember, tucking sprung shoulder pads back under his jersey, rolling his eyes.
It makes me deathly afraid, this at least perceived trend. Because while for virtually every other position on the field, I can accept the system-over-player wisdom, Tom Brady is the singular exception. He's it. He's the franchise. He's the hub around which all the rest of the spokes rotate; without Tommy, we are just another team, if not a worse team than most--Brady may in fact be what's carrying us, the reason we are not 2-7, possibly more than he's ever carried the team before; he is in the midst of far and away the best statistical season of his career--he leads the league in total passing yards, a number (2560) almost even with last season's total, after just 9 games.
Don't you dare let him get broken, Hogs. Don't you goddamn dare.
P.S. Chris makes a good point, too, one I'd forgotten about in my New England myopia:
All season long leading up to the Patriots-Indianapolis game, we were hearing about it being the game of the season. But all that hype was based on last season, on things that had happened before and not on things that were happening now. The Patriots are, admittedly, not their former selves. And there was almost no way they were going to win against Indy. The game turned out to be just the sort of coronation for Peyton Manning that NFL advertising execs and pundits across every network had been dreaming about. Sure, that game will go down in history as the one where Peyton finally got the monkey off of his back. But this week’s Indy game, against Cincinnati, is the game that I would argue will be the game of the year.
And I won’t be able to watch it.
Normally, I’d want nothing to do with an Indianapolis game, my hatred for the Mannings being well-documented. But I’m dying to see what the Colts do against another of the league’s rising teams. The Bengals have a chance to really solidify themselves as one of this year’s top-tier organizations. They have a chance to give the Colts their first loss of the season, to prove that Peyton is human (which used to be the Patriots’ job) and I think they’ll do it. I just wish I was going to be able to watch that game instead of whatever pointless contest CBS will be broadcasting locally after the Pats contest.
I'll never understand the behavior of the major networks around sports. Between the infamous split-screen with the Red Sox this year and their decision for us about which football games we'd like to watch, I wonder how such otherwise successful broadcasting companies can be so completley boneheaded and out of touch.