Posted on: December 1, 2009 12:06 pm
Edited on: December 1, 2009 12:08 pm

Emergence and Heart: The Saints are the Real Deal

<!-- @page { margin: 0.79in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in } A:link { so-language: zxx } -->

The Saints put on a dazzling display of football on both sides of the ball on Monday night, helping the vaunted Patriot's offense look mediocre and their defense look positively inept. Mike McKensie stepped in to cover for a Saints team without one starting corner, and ended up with an interception and numerous key stops, including denying Moss a fourth and 2 pass that would have kept a drive alive in the Red Zone to bring the Patriots within a touchdown.

“I don't feel like I shut down (Patriots WR Randy Moss ) like that. It was just one of those things that the coaches did a tremendous job with the game plan." The statement is kind, but there was something else going on as well. Not every team has a game plan that allows a player to so immediately make an impact after not playing for a year.

Meanwhile the Patriots looked out of position and bewildered. There were yawning holes in their defense into which Drew Brees was more than happy to take advantage. If we watched a quarter back at the height of his game, we also watched a team play defense that seemed befuddled by their own complexity.

On the Patriots side of the ball, quarterback Tom Brady may not be playing at the heady level of his pre-injury days, but to be fair he was hurried and sacked for much of the game.  It's also true that the whole team seemed a step slow.  Or has the league finally figured out Belichick's coaching style?  Successful teams find it difficult to stop fiddling in a never ending quest to improve. By now we wonder whether Belichick defense is over thinking itself. On the offensive side, the plays seem all too familiar.

No question we watched a muscular Saints team play an emotional and disciplined game. It is difficult to imagine them playing better, while the Patriots seemed anything but inspired. But when a defense with two players who haven't played in a year can shut down a muscular offense, Belichick must be asking himself whether his approach is too tired on the one side, and too intricate on the other.

The Saints played a flawless game.  Teams play best when their plans are in the sweet spot between simple and sophistication with the intelligence to adjust.  Watch out if they remain there.

Category: NFL
Posted on: January 23, 2009 11:39 am

The case of Ryan Clark

The great Don Cherry, past coach of the Boston Bruins and said to be the best color commentator in all of sports, made the argument that hockey would be much safer if they recalled the mandatory helmet rule.  Before helmets, players who got their sticks up above the shoulders could count on heavy physical harrassment on and off the ice from opposing players, and derision from their own team members.  Having played ice hockey for 25 years, with and without a helmet, I can say there is an undeniable truth to Mr. Cherry's argument.  We all have certain responsibilities to control our own behavior, on and off the sports field. 

But back to football.  My heart came up into my throat on Sunday, as I watched Willis McGahee lying on the field during the waning minutes of the AFC Championship.  No one is saying that Ryan Clark's brutal hit was illegal, even though it easily could have ended in paralysis for either player.  Similarly, neither was his hit on Wes Walker earlier in the year.  It is possible to argue though, that he wouldn't have made such a flying, shoulder high 'tackle' if he wasn't wearing a helmet, effectively turning his body into a battering ram.  After all, you don't see such hits in professional rugby.

To the argument that such physicality is in the nature of football, let me assure you as a hockey player that I fully understand.  For instance, the no contact rule made in many cities for youngsters playing either hockey or football is in my estimation a bad one, both for the kids' development and maturation.  And we are not about to once again make helmets in either sport voluntary.

But it is already illegal for helmet to helmet contact in those instances where a player can not be expected to see the oncoming charge, or is otherwise 'defenseless.'  Obviously the league is worried about the dire consequences of such hits.  And given those consequences, and the impenetrable psychology inspired by helmets,  it is at least worthwhile to investigate and debate the practicality of making ALL instances of helmet to helmet contact illegal.

Please share your thoughts.

Category: NFL
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or