Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What Price February Glory?

Here's a thought experiment for Patriots fans here in Boston, and I trust they'll answer it with the intellectual honesty expected of NFL champions.

It's second and goal from the one with 55 seconds left in the Super Bowl, and in a flash of brimstone, temptation appears in the form of Mr. Applegate in "Damn Yankees." He has a proposition.

"You can let this play its course and Marshawn Lynch scores on the next play and you lose. BUT, it won't snow in Boston for the rest of the month," says the man of wealth and taste. "Say the word, and I'll cloud Pete Carroll's mind and he'll call a pass and you win. After that, you take your chances with the weather, but I'd advise buying some extra shovels."

Which would you choose? Which would you choose if we get that blizzard for the weekend the weathermen are freaking about?

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Defensaurus Rex

In keeping with NFL tradition, Rex Ryan was fired as coach of the New York Jets the day after the team finished its dismal 4-12 season. Somewhat less traditionally, Ryan was unemployed less than two weeks before being named head coach of the Buffalo Bills.

It's too bad for the Seattle Seahawks that Ryan found work so quickly. Had he not, Pete Carroll could've put him on the franchise payroll as a consultant for the Super Bowl. Ryan has knowledge the Seahawks would put any price on come around 6:45 p.m. this evening.

The Jets were a terrible team in 2014 that did one thing well. They were able to play the Patriots very tough. New England won both of its games with the Jets, but they were the closest games of the Pats' season, decided by 27-25 and 17-16 and each contest in doubt until either the final play or damn near. Considering the talent gap between the two teams, the Jets overachieved on the grand scale. New England had only two other games decided by less than a touchdown, and only the Ravens in the playoffs came as close to the Pats without beating them.

So how'd the Jets manage to be a quality NFL team against the Patriots when all the rest of the year they weren't? A glance at the box scores reveals one reason Ryan had little to do with. In each game, Geno Smith played like an actual pro quarterback. He wasn't Aaron Rodgers, but neither was he the Geno Smith who's the main reason Ryan has relocated to Western New York state.

The other reason the Jets gave the Pats fits is attributable to Ryan. It's the knowledge the Seahawks would sell Richard Sherman's so-far unborn child to get. The Jets defense was able to do what no other Pats' opponent could from October 1 to today -- contain Rob Gronkowaki. The unanimous All-Pro tight end was competent but no more in his two encounters with New York.

In the first game at Foxboro, Gronkowski had five receptions for 68 yards, decent stats, but hardly overwhelming. In the rematch in New Jersey, with the Jets playing out their miserable string, Gronkowski had six catches for 31 yards and one touchdown.

The relationship between Gronk's individual performance and that of New England's overall offense is an established fact. The better he does, the more points they score. I daresay that if you let Carroll know Gronkowski's stat line tonight would be a duplicate of the line from that second Jets game, he'd very much like his team's chances tonight. So would everybody else.

What's Ryan's secret sauce for Gronkowski? There aren't many actual secrets in football, so I'll guess his "schemes" relied on the fact the Jets' linebackers are quick enough to cover Gronkowski and (the hard part) big and strong enough to tackle him. Still, Carroll and his staff surely would have found film sessions and chalk talks with Ryan a comfort over the past two weeks.

NFL coaches cherish what they regard as secrets. It's extremely unlikely Ryan would blab away his methods for defending Gronkowski to some rival firm. He has his own reputation as a defensive wizard to maintain, after all.

But when it comes to the Patriots and Bill Belichick, Ryan loses whatever balance he has. Considering how he feels about his once and future divisional nemesis, the Seahawks should at least have given him a phone call last week.