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 8/29/2001

Steady now...

One thing I've learned from watching preseason games over the years is that a team is never ever as good, or as bad, as they seem. The Patriots defense is not and will not be as dominating as they appeared to be in their first two games; stuffing the starting offenses of the Giants and Panthers. Conversely, the Patriots offense, although certainly not expected to be one of the better units in the AFC, is not nearly as inept as they looked in Tampa Bay last Saturday.

Different coaches approach the preseason games with far different agendas, and alter those agendas week to week. When one coach is intent on working on the running game, you aren't going to see him abandon the ground attack when behind 14-0 in the first quarter as one normally would in the regular season. On the defensive side of the ball, positional coaches may be placing more of an emphasis on individual match-ups or various defensive formations rather than concerning themselves too much with what the opposing offense is trying to accomplish.

This is not to say that coaches and players are not intent on winning, but the emphasis placed on winning when the games count is infinitely greater. In the regular season, winning means everything. In the preseason however, outscoring an opponent is more important to some than to others.

When Raymond Berry was head coach from 1984 through 1989, he would always say that the perfect preseason record was 2-2. In that case, the 2001 Patriots are currently one loss away from perfection. (Berry's 1985 AFC Champions were 1-3 in the preseason). On the other end of the spectrum is Jimmy Johnson. When he was head coach in Miami, Johnson was ultra-intent on winning in the preseason. When his 2nd and 3rd teams fell behind the Tampa Bay Bucs in the 2nd half of a nationally televised exhibition game, he re-inserted Dan Marino and the rest of the starting offense to catch back up.

If you're going to believe that the Pats are as bad as they looked last week, or that Tampa Bay is really that good, then how does one explain Tampa Bay's loss to the Cleveland Browns? Are the Browns Super Bowl favorites having knocked off the Packers and Bucs this preseason? Could the Oakland Raiders really be 2+ touchdowns worse than the woeful Dallas Cowboys on neutral turf?

To drive my point home here, if we can't get excited over the Patriots 23-8 victory in Carolina because the Panthers are so terrible, then how does one explain those same Panthers racking up 22 first downs and 327 yards of offense the following week? Sound fishy? Factor in that Chris Weinke was 15-25 for 190 yards in that game before he was pulled after playing one series into the 3rd quarter, and that the Panthers were 20-17 victors, in Baltimore, facing perhaps the only defense in the NFL superior to that of Tampa Bay's.

Beyond the box score...

In no way am I trying to sugar coat the poison pill that we all saw on the field last Saturday night, but I don't think the Patriots are headed for a 1-15 season either. If we can step back from the box scores of the past three weeks for a moment, we are able to get a sense of what the 2001 Patriots will be about.

  • The running game will still be sub-par, but not as bad as last year when Kevin Faulk was the featured back in 6 of the first 7 games of the season, averaging just over 50 yards per game rushing. It appears as though Antowain Smith and JR Redmond will do the bulk of the work, and each is a big improvement over Faulk in the role of featured and short-yardage back. The duo of Marc Edwards and Patrick Pass appear to be a big upgrade in the Weis system over Tony Carter and Chris Floyd.
  • The offensive line appears to be just as bad, but cannot possibly be worse than last season. The difference here is that younger players such as Kenyatta Jones, Matt Light, Adrien Klemm, and Greg Randall will be gaining valuable experience for the future. Last season saw struggling veterans such as Max Lane, Sale Isaia, Grant Williams, and Bruce Armstrong get beat up week after week with no hope at all for brighter tomorrows.
  • The overall depth of the team has been improved. While we're not likely to see too many Patriots in Honolulu this February, there is much more competition for starting positions and playing time, and the 2nd and 3rd units have matched up well with the backups of preseason opponents thus far.
  • The physicality, mental toughness, and on-field discipline of the team have improved. Even when players or entire units are overmatched, they still seem to be in the right positions, hitting harder, finishing off their blocks, and swarming the ball carrier. There seems to be less of the "going through the motions" attitude on both sides of the ball.
  • The Patriots still have no tight end. Belichick and Pioli have had two offseasons and two college drafts to address this issue, yet Rod Rutledge remains the most complete tight end on the active roster. Ben Coates fell off the radar screen with just 32 receptions and 2 touchdowns in 1999, and the tight end position was even worse in 2000. Until the Patriots can find a tight end to cause defenses to defend the middle of the field, no one is going to get open on the outside on a consistent enough basis.
  • With still no tight end worth mentioning on the roster, the offense will sorely miss Terry Glenn. Terry Glenn's value to the offense was not just in his own numbers, but in what the other receivers were able to accomplish while defenses were focused on neutralizing Glenn's game-breaking abilities. The Patriots are certainly deeper at the wide receiver position this year, but there isn't a single receiver who will warrant the consistent attention of a double team.
  • The defense seems to be way ahead of last year's group of heart breakers. Not that the 2000 Patriot defense was terrible, but they had a habit of always being just bad enough. On the rare occasions the Patriots would build a double-digit lead, the defense would surrender the lead faster than Sadam's elite republican guard would surrender to camera crews. The only time they seemed to stifle an opposing offense was when the Patriots offense was held to 10 points or less. In particular, Otis Smith and Ty Law seem to have bounced back from disappointing seasons while the depth and experience in the secondary seems solid. This should help the nickel and dime packages run off the field passing the punt return team rather than the 1st down defense.
  • Terry Glenn and his agent both need their heads examined. To leave training camp for nearly two weeks as your teammates are preparing for the upcoming season is no way to protest your displeasure with the NFL's Substance Abuse program. Right or wrong in his stance regarding the 4 game suspension, Terry was foolish to walk away from his teammates and go into hibernation. Although the Patriots will sorely miss Glenn on the field this season, they absolutely did the right thing in informing Terry that his services for the 2001 season were no longer desired. Terry can send the entire a league a message that he's turning over a new leaf simply by firing James Gould as his agent.

Going on record...

Overall, I'm going on record predicting a 7-9 season. I'm thinking the Patriots are still not capable of sweeping an AFC East foe, and remain very susceptible to being swept by at least one of either the Dolphins or Colts (or both). If the Pats can manage a split with three of the four teams to finish 3-5 in the division, that will be a big step in the right direction after consecutive 2-6 divisional records. To get to 7 total wins, the Pats would then have to play .500 ball outside of the AFC East. If you factor in losses to the Rams and Broncos right away, the Pats would need 4 wins in the 6 games against the @Bengals, @Panthers, @Falcons, Browns, Chargers, and Saints. My thinking is that that's very doable.

To get to 8-8 or to borderline wildcard status, the Patriots would need to play at least .500 ball in their division while going .500 or better outside their division. That may be too much to ask of a team with no bona-fide talent on an offense already handicapped with one of the most porous lines in the league. One can also not assume that Drew Bledsoe, who has looked off his game in the preseason anyways, remains healthy enough to start 16 games as he approaches his 30th birthday at the end of the season. Any hope of 8 or more wins must start with a victory on opening day in Cincinnati (plug: I'll be there).

Based on how things went last season, I would consider 7-9 to be a step in the right direction heading into the inaugural season in CMGi Field with oodles of freed up cap-money to spend on impact free agents. While 7-9 is certainly not a good season, 5-11 teams can't be too cocky out of the gate.

The irony here is that Pete Carroll was run out of town following an 8-8 season in which Adam Vinatieri missed two would-be game winning field goals of less than 35 yards with seconds remaining in the game. Should the Patriots fail to meet even my less than stellar prediction, Bill Belichick will never coach a game in CMGi Field. Be mindful that Bob Kraft surrendered a #1 draft pick to the New York Jets for Bill Belichick so the Patriots could "win now." That, however, is another story.

As I mentioned in my last column, surprise teams in the NFL are as certain as the sunrise. Who that surprise team will be in each conference is the only question. As one prominent ESPN analyst wrote when summing up the AFC East "the Patriots right now are a mystery team with a favorable schedule." With the Red Sox beginning their annual late season fade, the mystery of the 2001 New England Patriots may be our next best hope for a Boston sports team in the playoffs.

Thanks for visiting GoPats.com. I will resume my normal weekly update schedule following the season opener. A safe and happy Labor Day weekend to all of you.