Bill Belichick the GM has been giving Bill Belichick the head coach a difficult time for a while now. The man who I believe is the greatest football manager of all-time – and by manager I mean decided on-field and off-field boss – has had his issues on the personnel front in recent years, probably dating back to the Chandler Jones trade and highlighted by the failure to get close to potential value for Jimmy Garoppolo.
No one, arguably, has been right more than Belichick, ever, but no one is right all the time. And now he find himself with a team once again with a bunch of unknowns on the offensive line and short on speed and devoid of much natural pass rush, and the Patriots seem to be more vulnerable than at any point in the Belichick/Tom Brady era. The reality is, once again, that this is not a great roster and it has plenty of holes, and there is only so much any organization can do in-season to alter the scope and direction of the campaign.
Then again, don't ever bet against Brady overcoming whatever limitations exist and don't ever bet against Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels finding a way to do more with less and coach their way out of some of those roster binds. Write the Pats off, again, at your own peril. I certainly would not. But none of that takes away from the problems that be.
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This is a team that has deficiencies at the skill positions and that lacks game-breakers on either side of the ball … especially game-breakers in their prime. Gronk looks cumbersome and slowed and has become more of a plow horse who tries to rumble and stumble through people after the catch than a freak-of-nature athlete who is going to separate from anyone before the ball arrives. There isn't anyone on defense who opposing teams have to account for at all times. The running back is decidedly by-committee and there will be a talent imbalance this team has to overcome on at least a quasi-regular basis.
One long-time football man who I routinely go back to in situations like this raised an interesting point: How many Patriots players are sure-fire starters on most playoff teams? Eight of the 53, maybe? And even that might be skewing high.
Could they use Brandin Cooks right now? Damn skippy. And Dion Lewis and, sure, left tackle Nate Solder too. But they would have been crazy to outbid other teams for the services of Lewis and Solder, and all hope is not lost. By Week 5, Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon will be running around in a Pats uniform and they will make a difference, individually and collectively, and the Patriots will take off. And Brady ain't done yet. You add on Gordon and Edelman – one on the outside and one on the slot – and all of a sudden even a slowed and lumbering Gronk is going to able to exploit plenty of slow-footed linebackers and safeties in single coverage through sheer catch radius and instincts alone.
If those two add anything close to even what we saw out of Gordon on a very limited basis in 2017, and what we saw of Edelman on a weekly basis in 2016, then you can add the Patriots to the Steelers and Chiefs on the list of teams that are capable of putting up 35 points a week in the AFC and making it look easy in the process. And, if that occurs, then you don't have to worry about the Pats' flawed defense, because, NEWSFLASH, the Chiefs and Steelers can't play a lick of defense either.
So, yeah, I still like New England to win the AFC East. But they had best take care of business against the Dolphins this weekend. I've seen this movie before, and I am inclined to believe it will end the same way. It's what Belichick (the coach) and Brady do.
Cowboys have a Dak Prescott problem
The Dallas Cowboys could find themselves in the quarterback market in 2019. I wouldn't be shocked. I know Jerry Jones loves Dak Prescott and wants to pay Dak, but can Dak do enough to make that transaction actually take place? I am not so sure.
I have long been a Prescott skeptic. Not that he can't be a winning quarterback and a functional game manager, but that I have yet to see evidence that he is a guy who can put a team on his back, elevate a supporting cast and make tight, downfield window throws that separate the good from the great. And, by golly, if I am wrong he had best prove me wrong in the next three months or the Cowboys are going to have a very difficult decision to make, because you best be a year too early making a QB move than a year too late.
He is now approaching 40 career starts – the point by which most quarterbacks are telling you who they are and who they will be – and he is not a guy who has been capable of pushing the ball downfield. In fact, the dirty little secret of this entire post-Tony Romo era of Cowboys football may well be the fact that Jones lacked the guts to give his team back to Romo late in Prescott's rookie year, when Dallas won 13 games, because if he had this team well may have finally won a divisional playoff game for the first time since their last Super Bowl season in 1995.
But here are the facts, again, for a player with the fewest attempts and completions on balls that travel 20 yards or more in the air since he came into the league: Besides the 64-yard bomb (fluke?) to Tavon Austin against the Giants, Prescott does not have a completion over 20 yards all season. His yards, yards per catch and touchdowns have all be trending down, significantly, since his rookie season. And as the Cowboys' pass-catching core has aged and departed, there has been no step up from the QB position to offset it.
It's time to start worrying, Cowboys fans. Especially because that offensive line is now anything but the best in the business. And Zeke Elliott ain't going to put a team on his shoulders, either. No running back is.
- I have my concerns about the Ravens, but they are 12-for-12 scoring touchdowns in the red zone this season, somehow, and while a regression is inevitable, there is lots of hope in this trend. Joe Flacco is scanning the field with more purpose and he has better weapons than he has in a looong time, and Baltimore's most impactful potential red-zone target, first-round pick Hayden Hurst, has yet to suit up for a game due to a foot injury, but he might by Week 5. Hurst, and fellow rookie Mark Andrews, could form a formidable duo to patrol the seams for the Ravens for a while to come …
- The Cardinals' inability to get the ball in the hands of David Johnson, despite getting literally nothing out of QB Sam Bradford for the first three weeks of the season, is hard to figure. It's downright baffling, really. Bradford couldn't throw the ball four yards downfield, yet the Cardinals have the fewest first-down rushes in the NFL, with 23. The league average is nearly double that (40). I know they trailed badly in the first two weeks by halftime, but come on. They also led deep into the game in Week 3 and they need to stop ruminating about getting the ball into the hands of their best player more often, and actually go ahead and do it …
- The Rams are converting 43 percent of their third-and-long opportunities thus far. That's crazy. We're talking third-and-six or more. That's supposed to be when you don't have a go-to play to call. Sean McVay doesn't care. The NFL average in third-and-long is 24.5 percent. The NFL average on third down, overall, is a 39.1 percent conversion rate (LA is at 54.1 percent on third down overall). I don't think they can keep this up, but if they can come close it should offset the loss of top corner Marcus Peters for at least several weeks, and Aqib Talib for the better part of the season …
- So no NFL team could use Eric Reid, eh? Seriously? What a joke The Cowboys and Chiefs and Saints and Steelers, to name just a few, could use secondary help, but this guy can't get a workout. Okay.