Kickoff Rule Huge Advantage for Patriots
The New England Patriots, as usual, are being mentioned as a Super Bowl contender.
And one of the key yet subtle elements that stacks the odds in the favor of the Patriots for the 2011 NFLseason could become a conspiratorial magnet for the mass of Patriot haters out there in football nation.
Previously, the Spygate scandal cost the Patriots a first round draft choice and a pile of money despite the fact that the team didn't violate the actual letter of the law as it was written.
That time, the data the Patriots collected was public information that anyone and everyone had access to. Regardless, the controversy provided fuel for each envious non-Patriots fan looking to burn down the greatness they so envied and wanted for their franchise.
This season, the potential scandal has no merits to tie back to New England. The competition committee of the NFL consists of the following people:
Rich McKay (Falcons)
Stephen Jones (Cowboys)
Marvin Lewis (Bungles)
John Mara (Giants)
Ozzie Newsome (Ravens)
Bill Polian (Colts)
Rick Smith (Texans)
I don't believe there is anyone on the sub-committee with ties to the Patriots.
The competition committee has shattered their precious parity goal. They have taken a handful of teams and given them an advantage towards winning the Lombardi Trophy this season. Here is why the Patriots are the likely Champions:
This way to our next title
Sal Palantonio reported this morning on Sirius NFL radio that drives that start at or inside the 20 yard line result in a score only 12% of the time!
This sheds some light on how parity works in the NFL. Besides draft order and strength of schedule, the most important on-field factor towards parity is the kickoff play.
The kickoff is the wild-card play. It is where the playing field is leveled. It is where coaching has the least impact. It is where young athletes run wild with reckless abandon to make a name for themselves. It enables bad teams to start drives in good position. It is why a team lead by Rex Grossman can make it to the Super Bowl.
The Patriots have a well-balanced offense led by the best quarterback in the game. Their offense is efficient and adaptable, and lead the league in scoring last season. Based on the maturity of their young talent and the improvements at running back and receiver, it is anything but bold to predict they will lead the league in scoring again this season.
Next season, the NFL will either put the kick-off back to the 30 yard line or eliminate it entirely. You can bet the rule change should be called the 'Patriot Rule'.
Best ball control Quarterback
The premise is that teams will have to control the ball longer to score points. Common sense dictates this as do the facts. Only 12% of drives that start at or inside the twenty result in a score.
Tom Brady is the best decision maker in football. This translates into the fewest mistakes. He owns the NFL record for pass attempts with out an interception last year leading his team to a 14-2 record. The Patriots led the NFL in scoring, and Brady threw only 4 interceptions the entire season.
Ask yourself this question: "If every team started all their drives at the 20 yard line, which team would you pick to have the most scoring drives?"
Answer: New England Patriots.
The best owner in football
The Patriots have the best quarterback in football and the best coach in football - Bill Belichick. He, like anyone who competes, can be beaten on any given day.
However, from season to season, considering all the factors of team building, decision making, experience, and coaching, Belichick and owner Robert Kraft have been the best.
Given the shortened off-season and all the unique challenges that has brought to the teams, it is logical to conclude that the teams with the most experienced decision-makers will be those least impacted by these challenges.
The New England Patriots will have an advantage that will show up more as the season goes on due to this factor.
Kraft not only retained key personnel like Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork, but also cleaned up a lot of contract situations going into this off-season, in anticipation of the post-lock out frenzy.
He and Belichick took actions to minimize the impact of a potential lock-out by taking care of a lot of their business ahead of time.
As a result, the depth the Patriots have is tremendous, and its already showing up in preseason as not only are the first team players dominating, but the rest of the roster is beating the competition.
As the long season wears on, and poor planning and lack of depth start taking a huge toll on teams, the Patriots will very likely fare better than most.
Attack style defense
While over the last decade many teams have migrated to the 3-4 personnel to emulate Belichick's success, the hooded genius is migrating away from a pure 3-4 to playing more snaps from a 4-3 look.
This is being done somewhat to match the talents of the personnel, but it also required the forward thinking of Belichick.
Knowing nothing is by accident with Bill Belichick, it makes sense that he was anticipating the rules change on the kickoff and was prepared to adapt to it. Over the last several seasons Belichick has played the 3-4, bend but don't break style of defense.
Now, though, knowing that teams are likely going to have to go 80 yards on most drives, the cautionary component of the bend but don't break philosophy is built into the situation. Having 80 yards of turf behind your defense is comforting.
The Patriots defense will attack teams this year. They will be blitz-happy, knowing that it's very likely teams will make mistakes and not be able to score having to go 80 yards on most possessions.
What's the logical approach? Attack! Force the mistakes knowing the team has a long field to traverse to get a score.
By all signs it looks like the Patriots defense will be immensely improved from last year with the additions they have made at the defensive front, including Andre Carter, who looks fantastic, and likely with the play from Albert Haynesworth and Saun Ellis.
You can put him in Canton already
The continuity of the Patriots offensive line is a huge factor for their potential success this season. Signing Logan Makins and Matt Light was crucial.
Given that, it is likely we will see what we have never seen before in the NFL. The unique capabilities of the two second year tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, along with a ball control, power running attach the Patriots will have this year, will simply overwhelm defenses.
The key is the multiple tight end sets. Although that is not a new concept, having two tight ends who will be able to play every down, who can block, and who can attack the entire field at an all-pro level will create mismatches that defenses won't be able to handle.
Defenses won't know if Gronkowski is going to pancake someone blocking for a run, or whether he's going to mismatch a linebacker over the middle or a safety deep.
Hernandez can block, or beat your defender anywhere on the field, or run a reverse. Wes Welker is already uncoverable.
And with the tight ends, Welker, Deion Branch, a powerful running game, a screen and draw game, and deep threats in emerging wide-out Taylor Price and newly-acquired Chad Ochocinco, your biggest concern is there aren't enough balls to go around.
A diverse attack is a huge advantage in any season, but especially when you have to go 80 yards each drive.