Clint's Corner Archive

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The source for back issues of Clint's Corner. Forget a trade? Were Clint's predictions correct? Here's every edition, verbatim.

For 10/30/2000

So far, no good...

After the first 8 games of the Bill Belichick era, the Patriots have as many wins as they achieved in the final 8 games of the lame-duck Pete Carroll regime. This notion of a honeymoon or grace period is crap. Bill Belichick and his staff have failed miserably to achieve what they were brought here to do, and that was to "win now."

His defenders will say that he inherited a team "in decline." The Patriots have drafted very poorly in recent years and are a shadow of the '96 team, but the 1999 Patriots under Pete Carroll were two missed 30-yard Vinatieri field goals (at Kansas City & Buffalo) away from being 10-6 and making the playoffs. Decline? Belichick did not exactly inherit the San Diego Chargers or Cleveland Browns.

In Miami, Dave Wannstedt took over a 9-7 team that for the first time in 17 years didn't name a starting QB until just prior to opening day. Wannstedt has ridden the arm of 1st year starter Jay Fiedler to a 6-2 start. In New York, Al Groh was the "2nd choice" to succeed Bill Parcells as head coach, with the #1 choice taking many Jets assistants with him to New England. Like New England, the Jets were coming off an 8-8 season. In addition, Groh had the challenge of scoring points after losing arguably the best player in the NFL in Keyshawn Johnson. The Jets are off to a 6-2 start, and have swept the Patriots.

The Patriots - a team in decline? That's nothing short of an excuse. Personnel wise, how is this team any worse than the '99 team? What luxuries did Pete Carroll have in going 8-8 that Belichick does not? Ben Coates? Shawn Jefferson? An offensive line? Coates caught a total of 32 balls and 2 TD's last year. Bjornson thus far has caught 20 balls and already has 2 TD's. (Ben Coates now has 5 catches in 8 games on a team without a TD in 20 quarters). Troy Brown has managed to fill the departed Jefferson's shoes for the most part, although their styles are quite different. The offensive line really misses RT Zefross Moss, but otherwise is really not any worse, just a lot less expensive. Are you going to tell me that Rucci and Lane are any better than Andruzzi or Isaia?

On defense, the Patriots are arguably more talented this year than last. Tebucky Jones is a much better safety than was Chris Carter, and veteran Otis Smith, while flawed, has not played any worse than the departed Ricky Reynolds. Ted Johnson is back at near full strength, a luxury Pete Carroll did not enjoy at all last year. So where's the evidence of rebuilding? This team is every bit as talented today as it was going into 1999, and for some reason is performing much worse. Inheriting an 8-8 team is no excuse to be 2-6. Jim Haslett took over the 3-13 New Orleans Saints and is off to a 5-3 start, good for 2nd place in the NFC West behind the Rams.

Aside from Bill Belichick, new coaches entering week 9 lead a total of 8 teams in the NFL. The below table shows how they're all doing.

Team New Coach 1999 PCT 2000 PCT +/-
Jets Al Groh 8-8 .500 6-2 .750 .250+
Dolphins Dave Wannstedt 9-7 .563 6-2 .750 .250+
Rams Mike Martz 13-3 .813 7-1 .875 .062+
Cowboys Dave Campo 8-8 .500 3-5 .375 .125-
Packers Mike Reilly 8-8 .500 3-5 .375 .125-
Saints Jim Haslett 3-13 .188 5-3 .625 .437+
Bengals Dick LeBeau 0-3* .000 2-3* .400 .400+
Cardinals Dave McGinnis 2-5* .286 0-1* .000 .286-
51-55 .481 32-22 .593 .112+

*Denotes 2000 record previous to and after coaching change.

As you can see, the average new head coach inherited a .481 team, not at all dissimilar to the 1999 New England Patriots. The average across the board shows the coaching changes have resulted in slightly more than a 10% improvement in winning percentage. Over a 16 game schedule, that's just about 2 more games (1.79) in the win column, which seems to strengthen the general consensus that over the course of a season, your coaching can be the difference in at least two games.

When compared to the other 6 new head coaches who began the 2000 season, Belichick rates dead last in +/- winning percentage when compared to his predecessor (.250-). The 5 new coaches (to be fair, let's exclude Mike Martz) who took over teams similar to or worse than the '99 Patriots have gone a collective 23-17 while Belichick's Patriots are 2-6. There is no excuse for this whatsoever. Wins and losses measure success, and midway through the 2000 season, the Patriots are the worst team in the NFL with a new head coach. To make matters worse, the Patriots are the only team in the bunch to have surrendered a #1 pick, or any draft pick for that matter, to secure their man.

Am I being too hard on Belichick? Based on the expectations for the 2000 season communicated by the players and ownership, not at all. "Win now" is what we were told when the Patriots handed over the 16th pick in the draft to the New York Jets. Here's why:

  • Belichick is a "defensive genius": The Patriots have given up more points on defense (164) than any other team in the AFC East. The Patriots defense ranks 10th among the 16 AFC teams, worst in it's division.
  • Belichick knows the AFC East, and how to win in the AFC East: The Patriots are 1-4 in the division, and 0-2 against the team Belichick spent the past 3 seasons with.
  • Belichick was here in '96 and knows the team: Of 22 starters, just 9 started Super Bowl XXI in New Orleans.
  • Belichick was the players choice: Were these the same players who couldn't wait to prove they could win under Pete Carroll in '97?
  • Belichick will bring much needed discipline: Discipline has won 2 of 8 games.

Now let me explain...

Am I off the bandwagon? Do I think Bill Belichick was the wrong choice? Do I think Pete Carroll did a better job than Bill Belichick is doing? The answers are an emphatic no, no, and no!

My harsh criticism of Bill Belichick and the Patriots organization is based solely on the expectations they themselves communicated when Belichick was hired, and that was to "win now." Although everyone from Bangor to Newport could see that the Patriots were not positioned to "win now," since that is what the Patriots set as their goal in training camp, that's my barometer. When your goal is to win and you're a .200 team midway through the season, you have indeed "failed miserably" to achieve your own goals.

For the first time since I can remember, the expectations of the fans and media were far less than the expectations of the organization. When Bill Parcells took the podium in 1993 the day he was hired as head coach and general manager, he clearly stated his realistic goals. Number one was to make the team competitive, then to gradually build up the talent, and eventually compete for a championship. Granted Tuna inherited a 1-15 team, but we all knew that Bill Belichick would have his work cut out for him to get back to the level of play where we fans and the organization could realistically hope to compete deep into the playoffs, and ultimately for a championship. Now I'm not saying the Patriots should have publicly "mailed in" the season before it started, but don't try to pass off the hiring of Bill Belichick to "win now."

Back in the preseason, and you can check my archives, my feeling was that this team was a .500 ball club. Here, verbatim, is what I wrote in my August 13, 2000 column:

"While I feel overall the team will be more competitive this year (i.e. no laying down on the road to the Philadelphia Eagles), I am not so convinced this improvement will show up in their final record. Looking at the schedule, I'd be pleasantly surprised with a 9-7 season. A few good bounces and they could certainly be 10-6 and make the playoffs, but a few bad ones and this team could easily slip to the 7-9 or 6-10 than many of the national publications are predicting. Their first 8 games before the bye week are brutal, and will be very telling. If they can the break even at just 4-4, they have a great shot to make the playoffs. If they stumble out to 2-6, the season is over."

Based on my own (realistic) expectations, I do think Belichick is doing the best he can. I did feel the defense would be a lot better than it is, but overall there are just too many things wrong with this team that Bill Belichick could possibly fix in one year.

Grading against expectations of "win now", 2-6 can be no more than an "F." How is Belichick doing at molding a team for success in the future? I'd give him a B+. Personally, I'm excited for the type of team that Belichick will have on opening day in the new CMGi field in September of 2002. For me, this deal is just like the Mo Vaughn free agency situation here in Boston a couple of years ago. Mo, we'd respect you a lot more if you'd just tell the truth, it IS about the money. I just wish the Patriots organization had been more honest back when Pete Carroll was fired - the team was headed in the wrong direction, and needed new leadership to get them back to where Patriot Nation would love them to be.

So now what?

At 2-6 the season is all but officially lost. However, I strongly disagree with those who believe the Patriots should now be focused on a top 5 draft pick. Losing games one season is the worst way to try to win them the following season. The only remedy that begets winning is winning, and the Patriots need to start next Sunday at home against the Bills. Should the Patriots play plus .500 ball the 2nd half of the season, they still won't make the playoffs, but it will show what they're made of, and it will give Bill Belichick a lot more credibility going into the offseason than he has now.

A year ago at this point, the New York Jets were 2-6. Rather than fold their tents and go home, they surged to a 6-2 finish and damn near made the playoffs. Had they made the playoffs, they would have entered as the hottest team in the AFC. The 2nd half effort dropped the Jets way down in the draft order, but that effort and attitude has clearly carried over to this season. The 1993 Patriots were 1-11 before winning their final 4 games of the year. They damaged their draft position yes, but followed up the '93 season by making the playoffs in '94 for the first time in 7 seasons. As a fan or as a player, you should never hope that your team loses a game. Should the Patriots enter the final week of the season at 2-13, I'll still be there in the cold cheering for them to win, not for the #1 pick in the draft.

Simply continuing to play hard and remain competitive despite being 2-6 will not in my mind reflect positively on Bill Belichick. He needs to win games, not just compete. There are those who still say the team quit on Pete Carroll at the end of last season, but in the season's final week, with a coaching change a foregone conclusion, the underdog Patriots played a solid game against the surging Ravens to send Pete Carroll out a winner. The Patriots are paid to play hard for 16 weeks, they shouldn't have to have a head coach remind them of that.

Making the grade...

Now that I've vented the frustrations of a 2-6 season on one man, here's how I feel about the rest team. Kevin Mannix of the Boston Herald is often criticized by the players for his weekly "Report Card". They say he doesn't know the plays, what's being asked by the coaches, or enough about the game in general to be considered "The Professor." I'll admit right up front that I'm not qualified to grade this team either, but I'm going to anyway.

When grading a player or unit, salary is a factor. Average play w/ average pay and you're a C. An average player making the veteran minimum jumps from a C to a B. Likewise, average play w/ a big contract drops you from a C to a D. For that reason, collectively the offense gets a B- while the defense gets a D+ even though they have both done their jobs equally well and equally not so well. The defense grades out much better individually than as whole, and that's a direct reflection on the coaching staff.

The offensive starters have just two players, Drew Bledsoe ($8.66 million) and Terry Glenn ($2.05 million), whose cap number for 2000 exceeds $2 million. On the other side of the ball, the Patriots have five starters over $2 million. Johnson ($2.9 million), Law ($4 million), McGinest ($3.7 million), Slade ($3.2 million), and Thomas ($2.4 million) are not giving owner Robert Kraft the bang necessary for the buck. A sixth defensive starter, Lawyer Milloy, is the highest paid safety in the NFL despite year one of his contract being cap-friendly ($1.3 million).

In short, here's how I feel about the key players at the midway point. Remember, salary is a factor!

Offense:

Player Grade Comments
Drew Bledsoe B- Good leader, low turnovers, but not enough plays for $42M.
Michael Bishop D+ "Option" does mean he's allowed to throw sometimes, right?
Terry Glenn C+ Disappears in the red zone. All yardage, not enough scoring.
Troy Brown B Clutch receiver, but not a deep threat. Excellent return man.
Tony Simmons D+ Can't catch the easy one's. Does not play to his speed.
Chris Calloway B More than a bargain price replacement for Vincent Brisby.
Eric Bjornson B Better than the '99 Coates at very little cost.
Rod Rutledge D Hard to believe Grier drafted this guy in the 2nd round.
Grant Williams C- $1M isn't a lot these days, but in this case it's a bit too much.
Sale Isaia B No drop off from Lane or Rucci. Getting better each week.
Joe Andruzzi B+ Same as Isaia, but a bit more consistent.
Damien Woody B Best overall player on the Oline, but that's not saying much.
Bruce Armstrong D+ One of greatest ever to wear Patriot blue has lost a step.
Greg Randall D+ What happened to this guy after the preseason?
Max Lane D- Lane has 8 games left to get some Patriots autographs.
Jason Anderson B- Lunch pail player who can play any position on the line.
Adrian Klemm Inc Doesn't exactly have a tough act to follow.
Tony Carter D- One of highest paid fullbacks in the NFL. Why?
Chris Floyd D+ Why can't this guy get PT ahead of Carter?
Kevin Faulk C+ Makes the most of his holes. Loses points for fumbles.
J.R. Redmond B+ Based on limited game action - watch for him in 2nd half.
Harold Shaw C- Good Special Teams player. Why not use him inside the 5?

Defense:

Player Grade Comments
Willie McGinest B A difference maker, but not often enough in crunch time.
Henry Thomas B- You'd notice him a lot more if he weren't there.
Chad Eaton A Dollar for dollar the best player on the team. Gone is '01?
Bobby Hamilton A- Dollar for dollar the 2nd best player on the team.
Brandon Mitchell B The lone survivor from the class of '97 holding his own.
Greg Spires B+ Great situational pass rusher. Fills in well for McGinest.
Ted Johnson B- Still not up to dominating form before 1st injury.
Chris Slade C+ Effective, but doesn't exactly keep offenses awake at night.
Tedy Bruschi B+ All over the field. A poor man's Zach Thomas outside.
Andy Katzenmoyer B- Fills his role, but doesn't make any big plays in the middle.
Ty Law D+ $50Million is all or most of the time, not some of the time.
Otis Smith C+ A classic example of "you get what you pay for".
Kato Serwanga D+ Played much much better last season under Carroll.
Lawyer Milloy A- Big paycheck, Big hitter, Big plays. Best player on the team.
Tebucky Jones C+ That drop in Indy cost him a B. A much better S than CB.
Tony George C- It was there for the taking in training camp.
Larry Whigham C Thank goodness for special teams.

I'll see you next week after the Patriots try to get their 2nd half off to good start at home against the 4-4 Bills. Remember, it's not midterms that matter, it's the final exam.