Flipping around while on the elliptical on Monday, I had the misfortune of encountering one of those interchangeable ESPN shows in which the all-too-imitable Skip Bayless yells at people. Having been famously been pwned by Richard Sherman in the past, it wasn’t surprising to see him getting into full pomposity mode: “How would Bill Belichick have reacted to [the trash talking that destroyed America]? How would Tom Coughlin have reacted?” Well, it’s frankly hard to imagine any bad acts being committed by players under the tutelage of these peerless judges of character. But sticking to the football rejoinder, Pete Carroll found the best cover corner in the NFL with a 5th round pick. Bill Belichick paid Klye Arrington $4 million per annum to exhibit coverage skills somewhere between “pylon” and “cement block.” If Carroll is spending more time trying to find and develop football players and less time making sure his players are current on their Emily Post…uh, good? (In this context, I can’t resist noting the one thing that can make the Patriots pass defense look good in a playoff game: playing against Tim Tebow. What a fitting end to his career as a starter that was.)
As Barnwell says, the decline in the quality of personnel in New England was pretty striking on Sunday:
New England can’t help the injuries to its front seven, but it can blame only itself for being stuck with bad players in the secondary after Talib. The Patriots are the ones who drafted the likes of Ras-I Dowling and Darius Butler in the second round, failed to develop them, and moved on. They’re the ones that are stuck with rookie Logan Ryan and 2012 seventh-rounder Dennard as their corners behind Talib as well as Arrington — given a four-year, $16 million deal for reasons unknown. With no pass rush and one of the greatest offenses in football on the other side of the field, it’s no surprise the Patriots secondary looked more like a welcoming committee than a group of defenders.
And Brady has been surrounded by an increasingly weak receiving corps too, and it’s beginning to show up in his numbers.
The flipside of this is that despite his long tenure his abilities as a coach qua coach appear to be undiminished. It’s striking how much less talent he had to work with than the other three remaining teams, but he still went 12-4 and still won a playoff game. But unless their ambitions extend no further than “staying ahead of the Jets and Bills and then getting utterly destroyed when they face a real team in the conference championship game in the years when they don’t lose to Mark Sanchez at home,” he needs help with personnel. Don’t talk to me about injuries: the Broncos were missing their best defensive player as well as one of their best corners, but they have enough depth that it’s not devastating.
The Super Bowl-relevant takeaway, as Barnwell notes, is that the AFC title game was not remotely as close as the score suggested. I’ve seen a line of logic something like “if the Broncos can only score 26 points against a feeble Pat defense, the Seahawks shouldn’t have a problem.” Don’t the point total fool you: they moved the ball nearly at will, and I wouldn’t bet on the red zone inefficiencies holding up on their own. The Seahawks can certainly win, but it’s going to be a formidable challenge, and I think the public is right to make Denver mild favorites. The one reason for optimism is that Brady wasn’t very good above and beyond his lack of weapons; he had a lot of open targets. Hopefully the pedestrians will prove me wrong again.