The Patriots Appear to Possibly Be Committing a Cardinal Sin of Football and I’m Terrified

So I’m about to nerd out about football pretty hard. If you’ve come for a dose of the rants of a mad man, that is coming much later on in this blog and I’m not sure you’ll make it. Some of this, or most of it, is going to get pretty dry. So you’ve been warned.

Free agency, or at least the most major moves, have come and gone, probably. As expected, the Pats made a couple small quiet moves that will help incrementally (Blogger’s Note: Mike Pennel is a bigger get than it seems. He is a hugely talented player who just can’t stay off the pot. Was a surprise cut by the Jets). They also, just as predictably, let a number of key contributors from last year walk (Trey Flowers, Malcolm Brown) or keep walking (Chris Hogan, Danny Shelton) as the Pats weren’t or aren’t willing to pay them what they saw or see as their worth. Such is life for a Pats fan, watching players come and go that to an untrained eye (SEE: rest of the NFL fanbases) seem indispensable or at least good enough to retain. But we make do with what we have, playing as a team.

On a semi-related note I’ll tie in later, the Patriots made the peculiar move of bringing in notable “defensive mind” Greg Schiano to be a member of the staff this season. Red wrote about why this is kind of odd earlier this year. Most notable is the fact that no one really likes Greg Schiano. He’s what you may refer to as an ass hat. He also hasn’t been terribly successful ever since he used his bringing the Rutgers program out of the basement in the late-00’s-ish as a launching pad for his pro coaching career. Anyway, a hiring of this kind in general just seems like an odd fit and overkill for the Pats. At this point, why don’t you just allow Belichick and another Flores-esque high ranking assistant to run the defensive side of the ball? I mean there’s a reason I’m not in the New England front office but as an outsider from  a high-level this doesn’t make a ton of sense. Basically, when you have a great defensive mind like Belichick in-house why bring in a guy with so many of his own…ideas?

And this is where I start to get scared. And where things get reallly dry for a second. (Skip if you are a football diehard)

I’ll make it quick and as painless as possible, but basically defenses in football have what one refers to as “schemes”, also known as “base formations”. To dumb it down, if someone who had never seen football before walked onto an NFL (or college, high school, w.e) practice field and a coach wanted to show them what the defense NORMALLY should look like, this is the position he would line them up in. These schemes are predicated upon the front-7, aka the linebackers and defensive lineman.

What kind of scheme you run pretty much defines the shape and look of those players. For instance, since outside linebackers (OLBs) in a 3-4 (3 down lineman, 4 linebackers – one of the more common schemes) basically serve as defensive ends on a significant number of plays, they have a size-range similar to a DE, say 6’2-6’4 and 250-265lbs. On the other hand, since the pass rush is covered by the DEs in a 4-3 (4 down lineman, 3 linebackers – the other more common scheme) the outside linebackers are a bit smaller and are used for chasing down ball carriers, making tackles, and covering tight ends and sometimes running backs. They go, say 6’0-6’3 and 230-240lbs (some teams recently, in this pass-happy NFL, have been experimenting with converting college safeties, like Mark Barron (6’1 214lbs), into linebackers with varying degrees of success. There’s just not as much need for the size anymore as there is not as much power running).

We used a mess of defenses last year, but mostly some sort of 4-2 alignment. This is basically the same concept as the 4-3 except since the league is passing so much, we skewed the third linebacker in exchange for an additional defensive back to cover someone. Sometimes this was Duron Harmon. Sometimes Jonathan Jones. Sometimes even J.C Jackson. The bottom line, and what I’m trying to get at now, is that there was always someone there to step up. Someone to slot in easily, although not always successfully. And you know what? Throw all the fucking stats you want at me (NEEEEERDS) but we won a Super Bowl while holding one of the most prolific offenses ever to 3 points. So I’d say our D was just fine.

This is what I’ve been leading up to. This is why I’m worried.

One of the CARDINAL sins of football is to try and change your roster/scheme to fit your coach, not the other way around. More accurately, you should never allow a new coach to twist and tweak your roster to fit his purposes. If you have the pieces, consistency, and hell, success in place then keep it. Tell any new coach that this is what he has to work with. To that end, maybe that is why the Pats have been so successful the last couple of decades. Ultimate flexibility. I remember when Belichick started bringing in 4-3 type players when he was known as a 3-4 coach people lost their goddam minds. “But but but he doesn’t fit!” Well ya dummy Coach just switched the defense up, no biggie. Sure he probably prefers the3-4, but he’s not married to it. The conclusion/thesis is a mixture of “if it’s not broke don’t fix it” and “work with the scraps you were given.” (2pac).

Belichick one in a million though. Especially when it comes to coaching philosophy.

Greg Schiano, and no I did not do research for this blog, I read up on this when we signed him, loves his defense. Fucking loves it. He runs a weird one, almost a 3-4 masquerading as a 4-3. I say this because his line is basically three DTs and one DE, much like how a 3-4 uses three jumbo lineman, in different proportions.

So were we ever giving Trey Flowers all the money he got? Nope, sure weren’t. Were we going to hold hostages to get Malcolm Brown back? Probably not after a down year. But could we suspect there may be reasons for letting two of our primary lineman go beyond cash? I think it’s fair. And that’s terrifying.

Because although it could be debated up and down whether or not Brown ever became “that guy” he was projected to be a truly Belichickian DT – big and stout against the run (6’2 320lb) but still able to put just a little pressure on the QB when needed. A swiss army knife,if you will. Probably 70/30 towards the run. Flowers is really a 50/50 guy (6’2 265lb, plays a lot bigger) – he plays the run really well but also excels in pressuring the QB. Sure he still hasn’t passed 6.5 sacks, but he is ALWAYS in opposing backfields. You know whose system doesn’t really seem to favor swiss army knife DTs? Probably Greg Schiano, as he has three of them and he probably wants them each to do different things. You know whose system probably doesn’t want a 6.5 sack run defender? Again probably Schiano.

So were we really saving money or were we truly cashing out? Is there a reason we re-signed John Simon to rush the passer and Pennel to clog running lanes? Is Belichick really going to let Schiano do the one. Thing. That. Never. Works and reconstruct the look of the Pats D to fit his scheme’s/ego’s needs? Fuck me if that is the case.

I’m all out of steam and out of love. Tell me I’m wrong in the comments or on twitter @300sjoeyb.

-Joey B

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