Maybe Bill Belichick did exactly what the rest of us would have done. He got himself a shiny, new toy and he couldn’t resist taking it out and showing it off. Tom Brady leading one of the NFL’s most prolific offenses was the toy. It was at its newest and shiniest in 2007 when the Patriots set a record with 589 points. Man, that’s a lot!
The toy was broken in 2008, but once repaired it was nearly as good as new. So, the boy with the toy showed it off some more, and the Patriots scored 427 points in 2009, good for sixth in the league, and then they led the NFL with another explosive season this past year with 518 points. What a show!
But there’s a reason why seven of the final eight teams in the post-season were ranked in the Top 8 in points allowed (only Seattle, ranked 25th, screwed up an otherwise perfect stat, but Green Bay and Pittsburgh are ranked one and two. So, that helps.) It’s because the one old adage that has always remained true is: defense wins championships. The Patriots had a first and second ranked defense when they won their last two Super Bowls, and a sixth ranked defense when they lost out on a perfect season. Instead of showing off their toy with all the bells and whistles, maybe the Patriots should take a page out of Theo Epstein’s playbook. Instead of run prevention, the Patriots should focus on point prevention. That works even better in football than in baseball.
It’s why the Steelers starting “pitcher”, Ben Roethlisberger is still playing, but Tom Brady is not. Teams with top defenses can survive when their quarterback is mediocre, even terrible, but the Patriots couldn’t. It’s why a guy like Mark Sanchez, a 12-game winner in baseball terms, can lead a team to the AFC Championship two straight years.
Of course, optimistic Patriot fans believe this year’s young defense showed enough to indicate it will be better next year simply by virtue of being older and presumably smarter. But is their really any evidence of defensive players getting significantly, or noticeably better? Most of these guys enter the league and make an impact right away or they don’t. Is Jerod Mayo suddenly going to become a much needed playmaker instead of just a tackle machine? Brandon Merriweather? Is Devin McCourty going to improve on his 7 picks? Will Vince Wilfork be better?
Let’s just say, I’m not convinced. Perhaps, it’s more likely that the Patriots need different players to become a better defense. And they can do it. They’ve got all those draft picks to work with and free agency to consider. But getting the defensive genius some tools to work with has to be the number priority as the Patriots prepare for Super Bowl XLVI.