September 29, 2016

Curtain, Giants Drop on Pats

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

The Patriots finished their 2006 pre-season with a thud tonight, as both their starters and reserves were bettered by the New York Giants in a 31-23 loss at the Meadowlands.

New York piled up nearly 400 yards of offense while limiting Matt Cassel and the Patriots to their lowest output of August. The Giants were by far the more physical and aggressive club tonight, regardless of who was on the field.

As far as New England’s starters, you can chalk most of this up to the evening’s playing-out-the-string vibe. But for the reserves, many of whom were fighting to stay on an NFL roster, it was a disappointing performance. Particularly within the hashmarks, on both sides of the ball.

Giant backs averaged more than 5 yards a carry (Brandon Jacobs was a terror), and porker QB Jared Lorenzen kept the Patriots retreating with quick, accurate passes.

Matt Cassel had his moments, but he wasn’t as impressive as the lumpy lefty. He managed to lead the Pats on four scoring drives, but only one (the first) was a touchdown. Even with the bulk of the playing time tonight (and for the entire pre-season), Cassel remains young, raw and inexperienced. But he’s hit enough sharp third down throws, and extended enough scoring drives with playmaking runs, to get a passing grade for his first camp as the backup quarterback.

Steven Gostkowski was probably the offensive star, with three field goals – including a mindroasting 54 yard laser – that brought him to a perfect 9-9 on the pre-season. At the moment, the rookie is striping it. And 34 year old Adam Vinatieri is nursing an injury. You never know.

With 116 yards on six catches, Bam Childress proved he belongs with the big club. Like Cassel, he’s young, and you can see where experience will bring a certain needed economy to their game. But the raw materials are there. In the case of Childress, they come in a small package. It remains to be seen how he’ll fare against the front-line players, but he’s done everything that has been asked of him so far.

Patrick Cobbs led the Patriots in rushing (12-45-TD) but fumbled early to set up a Giant field goal. Its hard to get a read on what will happen with the rookie free agent; he’s shown some promise (as both a runner and receiver) at what happens to one of the Patriots deepest positions. He’s another young kid that still has to develop, and he may be in the wrong place to do it. Versatile Heath Evans was solid again this week, seemingly leaving little room for Cobbs to move up.

The stat sheet says Johnathan Sullivan led the Pats in tackles, just above Monty Beisel, Jeremy Mincey and Antwan Spann. I can’t think of a single goddam thing any of them did. It’s like Coach Lombardi used to say. “GRAB, GRAB, GRAB! NOBODY’S TACKLING OUT THERE!” They sure weren’t. To be fair, its hard to tackle when you’re laying on your back.

Once again, terrible luck for Barry Gardner, a guy that worked hard to make the team. As noted before, with Mel Mitchell lost for the season and Tebucky Jones hurting, that’s three veteran special teamers (acquired for just that purpose) on the shelf. Will we eventually see an impact on the coverage teams?

That’s for another day, I guess. It should be an interesting weekend, with the cuts – and an unhappy Deion Branch – looming. I’ll look forward to talking with you again next Friday, as the roundtable gets ready for opening weekend and the Buffalo Bills.

Late field goal ties Pats with Giants at half

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

I have to admit. I feel like I’ve seen almost none of this game because I stupidly arranged to have my fantasy football draft tonight.

So I have no idea what’s going on. At either place.

I noticed Tom Brady wasn’t dressed and that Matt Cassel was the quarterback. Hey, you’ll think this is funny – at once point, I’m staring at my computer watching my fantasy team go to hell, and I looked quickly at the TV screen, and it looked like Troy Brown was playing quarterback. Crazy, huh? I’m telling you, I’m no multitasker.

I saw an awful lot of starters on both sides of the ball for New England. I saw Cassel move the Patriots offense against what looked like the Giants first team defense. I saw Rosevelt Colvin continue his excellent pre-season with a blocked field goal.

I noticed the Giants second team offense push the Patriots around for a field goal and a long Brandon Jacobs TD run. I saw Cassel lead the Pats to the halftime tie off a Giants turnover, as the half grew sloppier.

I saw Patrick Cobbs, in a bid to make the team, cough up a fumble, and receiver Kelvin Kight nulify a long Cassel scramble with a holding call.

I noticed young Bam Childress having himself a night.

I saw Barry Gardner, another veteran special teams player, lost for a good long time with a gruesome leg injury.

I’ve seen enough to know I’ve seen too much. Let’s wrap this thing up, fellas. The draft, and the pre-season.

GDRV Game Blog – Patriots at Giants

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

In just about an hour, the Patriots will take the field at the Meadowlands to play the Giants in their final pre-season game of ’06.

The game will be broadcast locally on Boston’s WCVB and sent throughout the six state region via the Patriots regional television network.

Tonight seems almost like an afterthought to the high drama that will play out over the next few days in Patriots-land. Tomorrow is the deadline set for Deion Branch and his agent Jason Chayut to carve out a sign/trade agreement with another club. It’s presumed they won’t be able to do it, and there’s little doubt that the next week will be dominated by anticipation of the other shoe dropping. Will Branch be in the lineup a week from Sunday when the Pats open the season with the Bills? Or will the most contentious holdout in recent history continue?

Meanwhile, back on the field, the Patriots will try to continue the momentum of their largely successful pre-season, which has seen them outscore their last two opponents by a combined score of 71-3. The Giants, no slouches themselves, have won all three of their August practice games.

Many of the Pats starters are expected to leave the game in the hands of those who will be scrambling to make sure they’re still in Foxboro when the sun comes up Sunday. Among those will be rookie runner Patrick Cobbs, who’s turned more heads than Linda Blair lately, rookie linebackers Jeremy Mincey, Pierre Woods, and Corey Mays, rookie guard Dan Stevenson, and 1st year free agents like corner Antwan Spann and receiver Kelvin Kight. Among the veterans still playing for jobs is former Kansas City corner Eric Warfield.

The Patriots must trim back their roster to the final 53 by Saturday, and establish their eight-man practice squad by the following day. Tonight may tell the tale for those players that are still in the margins.

See you at halftime.

GDRV Roundtable – Pre-Season Closes Tonight

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

The 2006 pre-season will mercifully come to a close tonight when the Patriots travel to the Meadowlands for a curtain-dropping practice game with Tom Coughlin, Eli Manning and the New York Giants.

No matter how good a pre-season goes (and this one’s been goooood), they’re largely equivalent to impatiently checking your watch for a month. Except for the whole Meghan Vasconcellos serving hot dogs thing. Why is that not its own show? We insist.

Anyway, the games need to start counting, and now. Let’s clean our desk off before the regular season begins:

At this writing, Deion Branch and Jason Chayut have a couple of days to kick loose a bombshell contract/trade offer to substantiate their claims and force the Patriots hand. There’s no end of theories on how this will all work out – most favoring the Patriots, at least in the short term. Will Deion Branch find a dance partner in the wee hours? If he returns, will he sign a new deal with the Pats, or will he simply play out his existing deal and head for free agency in the spring?

Scott: As we all know by now, its unlikely that Branch can swing this deal, finding a team that will pay him what he wants AND fork over draft picks to the Pats. Conventional wisdom says Branch returns, hat in hand, ready to accept what now seems like a very fair offer to our humbled holdout. Why do I think it can’t possibly be that easy? It’s not even logical for Branch to play for short money and risk injury in the process, all in hopes of a monster deal on the horizon. That’s exactly why I’m afraid it will happen.

Bruce: Scott, you clearly don’t have a clue. Maybe if you stopped blindly supporting every move that the Patriots make you could see that Chayut is a genius agent and has already lined up several great offers for his client. Teams are lining up to pay a Super Bowl MVP millions and millions of guaranteed dollars. The Patriots bungled this whole situation just as they did they did the rest of the offseason. They’re so cold and calculating (and cheap) with every move that they make that I’m afraid that in the future players won’t want to come here. They messed this Branch situation up, and it might cost them the Super Bowl this season. I hope I’m proven wrong.( This response was brought to you by our good friends at contrarians-R-us. Now back to your regularly scheduled Bruce Allen responses.)

I have no idea what to think. I’m just going to wait it out and see what happens. The offense seems pretty good so far, although as some knowledgeable scribes warned us this week, its only a matter of time before defenses gang up on the Patriots tights ends AND running backs and completely shut down the Branch-less Patriots offense. I still hold out that he’ll get a deal done to stay in New England the next few years. The coaches and his teammates love him, he likes it here, he’s just got the wrong agent to deal with the Patriots.

Greg: I tend to doubt it. My feeling is he’ll be back with the Patriots, play well and re-sign with them at some point. I think he wants to be here and you can see it in his statements and everything you know about him and, at some point, that has to win out over the agent. I would think so anyways.

Reche Caldwell has seemingly done nothing so far with his opportunity in New England, despite the absences of Branch and rookie Chad Jackson (nursing a hamstring pull that has cost him his rookie training camp), which have left a clear field for the former Charger to establish himself with the Patriots. If the pre-season games are any indication, he hasn’t. Most alarming have been a couple of drops (actually, ricochets) that called into question how effective his Jugs training has been. Considering that Caldwell has never caught more than 28 passes as a pro, why should Patriots fans expect he can elevate his game to a new level?

Bruce: Caldwell’s got me wondering if Gary Tanguay actually does know more about football than the container of Cool Whip in my fridge. It is still early, but man, he just hasn’t done anything to inspire confidence that he can be anything more than Donald Hayes redux. I’m patient enough to give him some more time to get comfortable and establish himself. I think more attention is being paid to Caldwell than is actually warranted, and that’s because: 1) He was the team’s first and only real spring free agent signing, right in the midst of the Givens, Vinatieri and McGinest defections and 2) The current lack of depth at the wide receiver position. Had this been another season, his signing probably would’ve been given the attention that say, Tim Dwight or Dedrick Ward received when they were signed. Caldwell should be viewed as a minor signing…a complimentary piece, rather than a huge free agent bust. I think when/if Deion Branch and Chad Jackson ever take the field for the Patriots, the heat will be off Caldwell to an extent, and he might actually get better. If not, I’m never eating Cool Whip again.

Greg: Well, one reason is he’ll likely get more opportunity here. He’s called on to have a bigger role and will, just by pure opportunity whether he plays well or not, most likely get more production. But his drops are somewhat concerning, if also slightly overblown at this point. I still have hopes once he is a bit more comfortable with everything, he’ll be productive….he definitely has talent….and its simply a case of adjustment. I think he’ll put up similar numbers to David Givens when all is said and done because he will get the opportunity to and I see nothing to indicate he is a complete bust as of yet. Lets give him at least a few real games first.

Scott: They shouldn’t. I’m usually one to preach patience (denial?) in these situations, especially with the considerable talents of this coaching staff supporting these players. But this game does not come easy to Reche Caldwell, if appearances count for anything. Even early on, it’s hard to imagine that the player we’ve been watching will become much more than an inconsistent second-team receiver, doing very little to mitigate the absence of the former starters. Problem is, the expectations are higher than that. Of all the years for a receiver like Reche Caldwell to join the Patriots.

The Patriots entered the pre-season with several key position issues to be resolved – the depth (and quality) of the wide receiver, linebacker and defensive back positions, the rehab and return of some key veterans, and whether a rookie kicker can fill the void left by Super Bowl legend Adam Vinatieri. As the pre-season closes, have the Patriots successfully resolved any of these issues?

Greg: I think so, though some tweaking is needed still at receiver. They need Jackson to play and Branch back or they’re dangerously thin. At linebacker, I think things are fine once Bruschi is back….they’re really not that thin there and same can be said at defensive back as they have lots of quality players there. Of course, this has also been a position they’ve looked good at before only to be hit by huge injuries at that area. At kicker, there is simply no way to tell until the regular season comes. He’s made all the kicks, has a good leg….but its impossible to tell how he’ll react to pressure of real games.

Scott: ‘Resolved’ might be a strong word. ‘Addressed’ is more benign and gives me some wiggle room. I’d say with Tully Banta-Cain stepping up on the outside, allowing Mike Vrabel to move inside, the acquisition of Junior Seau and the expected return of Tedy Bruschi, they adequately addressed the linebacker position this month. Belichick says his d-backs have had a good camp, and it is looking like Asante Samuel, Ellis Hobbs and Randall Gay have all stepped up their games. Rodney’s back. But we still don’t know about Eric Warfield and Chad Scott, really, and they’re what amounts to depth. We don’t know whether Harrison may have a setback (God forbid). This one is sounding like a push the longer I talk about it.

Bruce: I think Gostkowski will not be put in many positions to fail this season, especially early on. Come to think of it, how many times last season did the Patriots pass up what we thought were makeable Vinatieri field goals only to go for it (and convert) on fourth down? They seemed to do that quite a bit, and I think they’ll do that again this season, protecting the rookie and allowing him to grow into the job. Linebacker still might be an area to watch. As my good buddy Mike from Portsmouth NH keeps saying, Seau hasn’t been able to stay on the field the last two seasons, and the Patriots general recent record in free agent linebackers isn’t great. (Chad Brown, Monty Beisel) I like Banta-Cain, and have high hopes for him. Barry Gardner has looked better than Matt Chatham did, and Pierre Woods might make the squad on special teams ability alone, which would give him the chance to grow into a linebacker role. D-backs…again recent history tells us that at least three of those rotation guys will be on IR by week six. Let’s hope hammerin’ Hank Poteat is available to ride in on his white horse once again late in the season.

Thursday night is the fourth and final pre-season game. Historically, this is a game played by reserves and players on the margin. What will you be looking for?

Bruce: All I know is that if I don’t see Tom Brady, Richard Seymour, Rodney Harrison, Matt Light, Corey Dillon, Ben Watson, Mike Vrabel et all for the entire game, I’ve got my consumer fraud paperwork ready to file.

Greg: Good back up players and no injuries. Guys I’m interested in seeing is whether Jonathan Sullivan continues his progress, can someone come forward at receiver like John Stone or Kelvin Kight and how does Matt Cassel play? Does he improve his play for the fourth straight pre-season game?

Scott: Ten fingers and ten toes. I just want to see them come out whole. The starters won’t be in jeopardy, but the Thin Blue Line of capable backups will be. You drop one or two of those guys and it will screw with your handicap. I’ll tell you what position battle interests me – did you know that Jeremy Mincey is listed (on the Pats depth chart) as the third team defensive end, along with being listed at outside linebacker, the position he was drafted to play? I just thought that was interesting because the second string guy behind Ty Warren is Marquise Hill.

And now, please rise for our Mediot of the Week:

Bruce: Count me as the most puzzled and disappointed individual in New England about the transformation of Mike Felger from competent, insightful reporter down to “Shrieking Panic Monger”. Do we blame it on his radio show and the need to get attention and try to attract listeners to his show by drawing attention to himself? I don’t know what happened to this guy. His articles from the weekend exemplify how far he’s sunk. In the wake of Rodney Harrison returning to the field less than a year after having his knee ripped completely apart, Felger wrote about how the “real” Harrison would’ve made a lot more plays in the game. Did anyone expect the 2003 Harrison to instantly appear on the field? Felger took a feel-good story and tried to inject worry into it – something he’d never have done in the past. While others were saying that the Patriots were shrewd in forcing the issue with Branch, Felger said they bungled it up. Maybe he really believes that, but I think he’s just trying to stir things up and get people calling his radio show.

Greg: There are no idiots in the media. Its sports!!!! We can’t judge them on things like the way they argue their opinions, how they ask concise questions on Randy Moss to Bill Belichick, or how prepare themselves and well-versed they are when going on Tennessee radio about Boston College, or how professional they are, or whether they go on the air drunk. That’s unfair. But of course, its fair game for WEEI to call their callers “nitwits” and blow them up and insult the fans and talk over them even if they’re talking sports. We won’t criticize that, that would actually be consistent!

I kid, I will go with myself (not that I actually qualify as “media”….though I do have idiot covered sometimes)….for an error I made in a GDRV column identifying Barry Gardner as James Darling. I always mixed them up for some reason. Must be an Eagles thing.

Scott: Far be it from me to hammer away at the Patriots-produced pre-season telecasts on WCVB, considering that I come from a time when even some regular-season games weren’t telecast. So the fact that the Pats have a house organ of their own now is much appreciated. But I had to laugh like hell when Don Criqui and Randy Cross (talking over an incorrect on-screen graphic) told viewers last Saturday night that “neither team has had a turnover tonight” just SECONDS after rookie Garrett Mills had coughed up a 4th quarter fumble to the Redskins. Pay attention much? And look, despite my aforementioned admiration for Ms. Vasconcellos, I have to say I’m not a big fan of shrinking the game action down to the size of a small postage stamp in the corner of the screen so that the team can shill for its hot dog line. That was a textbook Red Sox move. Blecch.

The Curious Selection of Laurence Maroney

By Bill Barnwell, Football Outsiders – special to BSMW Patriots Game Day

The Patriots selection of Laurence Maroney in the first round of this year’s draft was a curious one. That’s not to say that Maroney was a reach – it’s just that, well, Bill Belichick is not too amused by men who can shop at department stores. Belichick’s first round picks:

picks.jpg

That’s a lot of beef. At 210 pounds, Maroney’s a full fifty pounds lighter than Ben Watson, the lightest of those selections. Clearly, the Patriots organization has identified tight end and defensive line as positions that are both undervalued and worthy of multiple high draft picks. So then, why Maroney?

Well, there’s the need aspect. Corey Dillon’s ill-advised extension (and that’s not hindsight talking – if you’d like to understand why, take a look at the Seattle chapter in this year’s Pro Football Prospectus 2006 and the essay on running back workloads) took about three months to metamorphosize from the spoils of a successful Super Bowl run into something galling and regrettable; the thirty dollar cheese you bring home for a dinner party, only to see two guests take nibbles, leaving a giant block sitting on your countertop. Corey Dillon and his contract comprise that block, the mess that should really be thrown out but because of its price, gets a slice taken out of it each time you pass by in an attempt to justify its lavish price. Corey Dillon, as a featured back, is done. Finished. That’s not to say he won’t have some use: he can still be a useful back on passing downs, picking up blitzes and (as you may have seen in the game against Washington on Saturday) catching screen passes. He might be a useful back for 150 carries but, well, if you give him the ball 300 times this year, he’s either going to break down or suffer the fate of all aging cheeses: stink.

As a team closely associated with extended, insufferable metaphors, the Patriots foresaw this and obviously saw a running back as a good fit for them in the first round this year. It’s more of a scouts’ debate to determine whether trading up to grab Chad Greenway would’ve been a smarter move, so with that in mind, I wanted to take a look at Laurence Maroney’s past and see if we can ascertain anything from it for his future play.

First, though, a suggestion. If anyone wants to become a real beloved person on this internet thing, they should compile a college football statistical database. Not only is the data from before 2002 or so non-centralized and difficult to find, there are varying levels of accuracy and completeness available depending upon the team. I wasn’t looking for Division I-AA data here or anything – Big Ten running back statistics should be real easy to find, but it took hours to get the even limited data I did. If someone does this, I’d be a real happy guy, and I wouldn’t be the only one. End of rant.

Anyway, what I did was create a list of all the running backs who have been drafted out of a Big Ten school since 1996. From that list, I had to remove those who were fullbacks (Cecil Martin, Mike Alstott, and others), as well as those who I couldn’t gather data on (Sedrick Shaw and the four-headed Penn State hydra from 1996). In addition, while I wanted to gather both senior (or final) year and career data for all the running backs, I could only get one or the other for some of them. Finally, as I mentioned, some of the data occasionally doesn’t match from one site (CNNSI) to another (the Big Ten site) to another (school archives). This can be chalked up to some counting bowl games and others not, along with just plain different interpretations of history. Not to say anyone would ever act irrationally over college football or anything.

What I was left with were 33 backs of varying career lengths and success levels. From there, I chopped up the backs for analysis and comparison to Maroney in several ways.

1. Big 10 First Round Picks

backs.jpg

The column headings beginning with “Lst” are for the players’ last year in college, while “Tot” columns contain players’ career totals in college.

That list is a little scary: there are a couple of studs (George and Johnson, although the Patriots and anyone else could’ve had him for a first day pick in 2004), a couple of players the jury is still out on (Perry and Duckett), and several busts (Enis, Biakabutuka, Bennett, and the very-possibly-soon-to-be-released Dayne). The player who Maroney most closely matches, to an almost eerie degree, is Duckett – the numbers from their junior seasons (they both declared for the pros afterwards, coincidentally enough) are awful similar. While Maroney’s higher yards per carry number over his career may point to him being slightly superior as a college back to Duckett, look who had the worst average carry figure on the entire chart: George, the most successful back.

There are those of you whose initial response to me pointing out Biakabutuka as a bust will be that he was injury-prone. That’s entirely true, but it doesn’t excuse Biakabutuka from our study; in fact, it brings up a second, extremely relevant lens to look at Maroney’s career through.

2. Big 10 Backs with 550+ Collegiate Carries

550_carries.jpg

This chart swaps out the studs (Johnson and George, although George is only because I don’t have actual freshman and sophomore year data for him – I’d estimate him to have about 700 carries) for some more scrubs: Irvin, Davis, Betts, and someone who the jury isn’t out on – Marion Barber, coincidentally, the back Maroney shared time with and then replaced as the starter in the Minnesota backfield. Their stat lines are also pretty similar. Barber, playing against a schedule full of tough rush defenses, had a pretty decent year last season: his -8.8% DVOA had him at 34th in the league, while Julius Jones was at -7.4%, for 30th. Those are good, if not great, numbers for a rookie.

The reason I brought up this chart, though, should be familiar to Chicago Bears fans; there’s (at the very least) anecdotal evidence that runners who get a lot of carries in college tend to wear out quicker and perform at a below average rate in the pros. Guys like Thomas, Cedric Benson (1112 carries in college), and Ricky Williams (781) are good examples of this. The Big Ten guys above are no different: if you happened to have a few hours free, I could tell you a thousand inept Ron Dayne stories… or you could watch Ron Dayne try to switch holes once. They’d take equally as long, and you’d get the idea equally as effectively. While big things weren’t really expected of Irvin or Davis, they were featured backs at big schools that had a combined 45 carries in the NFL, all by Irvin over the course of two seasons. Thomas had a big season and then fell off the map. Betts has been a reserve back for four years, and the Redskins had such a lack of faith in him to back up Clinton Portis that they traded for T.J. Duckett, another player on this list, who couldn’t grab a starting job. Chris Perry was another block of cheese selection, and while he’s carved out a role, he’s not usurping Rudi Johnson anytime soon. Curtis Enis’ workload caused him to go clinically insane. Well, maybe that wasn’t his workload. The point is that not a single one of these backs went on to have a career in the NFL that was really worth a damn or, legitimately, the pick that was spent on them. Even if we stick Eddie George in this chart, that makes one back (George) out of ten that became a starter in the NFL and experienced sustained success. That leaves Maroney to buck some pretty significant odds, and the Patriots with the only thing worse than having a block of uneaten expensive cheese not being eaten on their countertop: a second one.

Washington at Patriots Second Look

Patriots Second Look
by Greg Doyle
greg_AT_bostonsportsmedia.com

A second look at this game on tape was even more revealing, in terms of how badly the Patriots dominated Washington Saturday night at Gillette Stadium, than it was the first time live. Again, Dean Pees work with the defense, and admittedly its very early to draw any definite conclusions, continues to impress. In addition to that, stellar play could be found among numerous players at every position on the field.

QUARTERBACK: Tom Brady is in midseason form. He did miss a couple throws he could have made, but overall he picked apart the Redskins with accuracy and good decision making. Its amazing, for a basically slow footed quarterback, how he can slide and step up in the pocket to buy just the amount of time he needs to make a play. A healthy Brady and the Patriots are automatically among the favorites for the Super Bowl this year. Matt Cassel had a very good performance. It does come with the slight caveat that he was playing against Redskins backups that, in addition to being overmatched, didn’t look too interested by the time Cassel came in. Still, Cassel made some good throws, in particular an out pattern to Reche Caldwell for a first down throw in the fourth quarter that was as good a throw as you’ll see any quarterback make in the NFL this year.

RUNNING BACK: Not much work for Laurence Maroney, but he did display some power on his touchdown run that shows there is more to him than mere shiftiness. Corey Dillon ran hard, but hasn’t broken away as Maroney has this preseason. There is an obvious difference in quickness between the two, but Dillon still looks to have well above average power in his running. Kevin Faulk looks healthy for the first time since 2004 and that can only be a bonus to the team this year.

WIDE RECEIVER: Another disappointing night, to some degree, from this unit. Troy Brown was good and Bam Childress showed some things again late. But Reche Caldwell had a couple drops early on. I still feel Caldwell will be a good player this year, but it appears he’s coming along slightly slowly on his new team. He did make some nice catches later in the game and displayed some nice hands on catches from Matt Cassel. No one else stood out and in fact, John Stone had a difficult time doing much of anything even with extended playing time.

TIGHT END: Obviously a completely dominating performance by Ben Watson. Brady appears to look to him first on big plays where they need to convert. Not sure that trend will continue, Brady has never been one to lock onto a single receiver consistently, but its clear Watson is primed for a breakout year if he can stay healthy. A review of his tape reveals his blocking is much improved this year as well. He at times blew the man he was blocking several yards downfield, even at times bigger guys. Speaking of blocking, Daniel Graham was his usual force in this area as well. Its says something about how good at tight end the Patriots are when Graham is somewhat of an afterthought in the passing game. This is a guy who can be a very effective weapon in that area, as he displayed on the one nice down the seam catch he had from Brady. Opponents are going to forget about Graham this year worrying about Watson and he has the speed and hands to burn them for big plays.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Extremely impressive debut from Dan Koppen. He showed no ill-effects at all from his shoulder injury and opened some gaping holes up the middle for Patriots runners, while also stonewalling any pass rush up the middle on passing plays. Ryan O’Callaghan had another nice game. All in all, the line has gelled better than at any time in recent years with Matt Light, Stephen Neal, Logan Mankins and Dan Koppen all pretty much in the prime of their careers. Add in one of the bigger, more physical and talented linemen they’ve had at right tackle in O’Callaghan and it appears Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli have developed their best line seven years into their tenure. Rookie Dan Stevenson did some nice blocking later in the game and appears to be another draftee with good long-term potential

DEFENSIVE LINE: Another very encouraging performance from Ty Warren. He is on the verge of becoming a near Pro Bowl player if he keeps up this level of performance. But the story of the game on the d-line was Mike Wright. The Patriots really have found a diamond in the rough with this undrafted free agent from last year. He was a load to handle on both running and passing plays and caused a ton of disruption for the Redskins. He even showed up on special teams on the Patriots top coverage units and had a tackle there as well. Its unusual to see a defensive lineman covering kicks, but Wright does a nice job. Expect to see him receive regular playing time this year.

LINEBACKER: A nice debut from Junior Seau. He seems to be picking things up quickly and plugged his lanes and made any running difficult for Washington. He also did a nice job in coverage. Roosevelt Colvin had a dominating night and looks to be picking up this year where he left off last year during an outstanding season.

DEFENSIVE BACK: Eugene Wilson is back to playing at Pro Bowl level. Maybe its the return of Rodney Harrison that has taken the weight off his back, but he is back to his 2004 form after a so-so season last year. Ellis Hobbs had a nice night, he’s earned a starter position and Asante Samuel has had a nice camp too. He’ll have his occasional hiccups, but is a good player overall and a solid starter. Of the backups, Randall Gay and James Sanders stood out the most. There will be good players cut from this group, it looks like Gay and Sanders have gained an upper hand on making the roster.

KICKING: Nothing spectacular here of note, but as of yet, no reason for concern either.

It would be easy, I suppose to get caught up in a completely dominating performance. But it is, afterall, only preseason. It will mean nothing in a month. But its a good sign to see the team relatively healthy, with most of their players out there playing at a high level. It just reinforces that if they can avoid an inordinate amount of injuries, they’re probably a better pick for the Super Bowl than any other team in the AFC. But its a long season. Injuries will happen. A few players won’t play as well as they are now. But that will happen to every team and, at least for now, the Patriots are clearly functioning at a higher level than they did for much of the season last year. Or at least seem to have potential to do so.

The last preseason game will likely not be too revealing. I expect very limited playing time from the starters. It may help to decide some of the last spots on the roster though, such as at linebacker, defensive back and defensive line. So it will be interesting to watch those battles Thursday night versus the New York Giants.

Patriots Continue to Have All the Answers

I don’t want to make too big of a deal about this.

But isn’t it about time that we hear a little less about what’s wrong with the Patriots, and a little more about what’s right?

If it isn’t the holdout, its the wide receivers, or the inside linebackers. If it isn’t them, its the rookie kicker, the injured list, the aging running back, the fatso defensive lineman, and the ones that got away.

Meanwhile, in two pre-season games at home, the Patriots have outscored their opponents 71-3.

Tonight, they outplayed and outclassed the Washington Redskins in every respect of the game, winning 41-0. The Patriots starters (and Washington’s) played about 40 minutes, and New England simply demolished every square inch of the Redskins. Washington was barely competitive, and the Patriots did what they wanted, when they wanted. Anticipating the regular season as I am, all I could think of the entire time was “how’d you like to be a Redskins fan tonight?” Maybe it won’t end up being that big of a deal for them in the long run, but I also know what it would be like around here if the Patriots had been on the wrong end of a skunking like this.

There was just no comparison between the two teams. One looked disinterested, underprepared, and ultimately, unarmed, despite being only days away from their opener. The other – despite an allegedly bumbled off-season and a camp marred by a dispute with one of its most talented, productive players – looked for all the world like a Super Bowl contender.

My ass the Miami Dolphins are winning this division this year.

But if you insist, focus on ‘The Questions’ all you like. Whip together your most fervent fretting. I’ll just point out that many of these ‘questions’ are already being answered. On the Gillette Stadium scoreboard.

So in closing, let’s hear a few good things about the Patriots:

Josh McDaniels isn’t having a bad camp, huh? His offense is averaging 450 yards a game, and tonight they scored touchdowns on five of their seven red zone possessions. They’ve dominated with the running game and the passing game. Deion Branch is one of my favorite players, and there’s no question he makes the Patriots better, but I’ll be damned if I can see where his absence has had any adverse effects. McDaniels ought to get some credit for that.

Of course, his quarterback might be the best player in the league. I mean, for God’s sake. When Tom Brady retires, I think I’m just going to go ahead and give up football altogether. It’ll never be as good as this.

Rodney Harrison took live snaps in a football game tonight, his first since that gut-wrenching day in Pittsburgh. I feel pretty stupid now for worrying that he’d never make it back, but I’m thinking Rodney Harrison’s made a lot of people feel that way. He was one of the first starters to leave the action, but how long he played isn’t that important. He had to start somewhere, and that somewhere was tonight. That’s good enough for me.

Ace pivot man Dan Koppen and franchise end Richard Seymour also saw their first action of the pre-season. Seymour even wiggled in to block a first-half John Hall field goal, saving the shutout.

The New Guy, Junior Seau, started with the first team and, honest, he’s a little crazy out there. A lot of energy, let’s say. He got a freaking taunting penalty in a pre-season game. He did make one nice play, slashing through a row of blockers to dump a Redskins back for no gain. And by the way, notice Junior popping that hat kinda quick? What did I tell you? That guy’s a pip.

It’s not that Ben Watson runs free on half of his routes that makes our pulse quicken. It’s that on the other half, he’s drawing holding penalties. They can’t stop Ben Watson, they can only hold to contain him. This guy may be the rare player that actually ends up being as good as everybody says he is. Who said the Pats don’t have a number one receiver?

In fact, Old Friend Troy Brown was having such a good night that they finally had to start hauling him down too.

The Pats didn’t want to run the ball in the first half, but after the starters bowed with a TD drive halfway through the 3rd, they plowed it to Washington. Kevin Faulk averaged 6 yards a carry. Patrick Cobbs suddenly started peeling off 30 yard runs. Heath Evans got eight carries and moved the pile an eighth of an inch, but he held on to the ball and the clock. The Pats have a solid duo at the top, but their running back talent doesn’t end there. How does Patrick Pass make this team?

I can’t say enough about Rosevelt Colvin these last two weeks. I don’t know that he hasn’t been the Pats best defensive player over those eight quarters, in which they’ve held opponents to a single field goal. He has been a holy terror off the edge. I think Patriots fans have always been paranoid about Colvin, even before he got hurt (“He’ll be nuthin’ without URLAC-AH”), and there wasn’t much patience as he slowly came back from a near-crippling hip injury. I’m thinking he’s all the way back now. In fact, he may be better than ever.

Seven sacks from the Patriots defense tonight. Mike Wright, who can play, had two. Meaning we really don’t have to care whether Marquise Hill is a bust or not.

Hey, Asante Samuel had his consecutive-games-with-an-interception streak broken. But he held down one side of a defense that held Washington QB’s to under 50% passing. Speaking of the defensive backs, have you noticed how infrequently quarterbacks throw towards Ellis Hobbs?

Like I said earlier, the third pre-season game is generally viewed by most teams as a dry run for the season opener. So how about it? Have the Patriots coaches and players done a fair job of preparing their team this month? Look, they still have to play the games, and anything can happen when the season starts on September 10. We’ll see how it works then, but right now it would be hard to ask for anything more from the Belichick & Co. They’ve obviously had a very good camp, one and all.

Just to show we can ‘go negative’ (for you conflict junkies out there), we should mention that Tebucky Jones went down in the 4th with what appeared to be a serious right leg injury. If Jones is sidelined for an extended period, neither of the two imported special teams aces (Bucky and former Saint Mel Mitchell) will be able to help at all.

And Reche Caldwell. In the second half, starter Caldwell was left out there to work with Team Cassel in the game’s latter stages. And he finally did something, making two nice grabs. But when the first team was whipping up and down the field earlier on, Caldwell was a non-factor. I don’t think it necessarily means he can’t play, but I think it means not everybody walks off the street and into New England’s playbook without a hitch.

Patriots Slaughtering Washington at Half

In the pre-season game that is known as THE dress rehearsal for the approaching regular season, the Patriots starters are completely overwhelming the Washington Redskins, an 05 NFC semi-finalist, by a halftime score of 20-0.

Tom Brady has been the star, leading four scoring drives that heavily emphasized the pass, often from a no-huddle spread offense that the Redskins couldn’t stop. Ben Watson has been scary good (the only way you can describe it), both sitting down in zones for short gains, and blistering up the seam for 35 yards. His end zone cookie from Brady (who had eluded a massive Skins blitz) was almost too easy. Troy Brown has also been a key receiver, and it was his diving catch that set up the first Pats TD of the night, a 5 yard run by Laurence Maroney.

The Patriots have only run the ball 12 times, and have gotten nowhere. Corey Dillon set up the Pats first TD with a nice 39 yard screen play. The Pats clearly came in tonight wanting to throw the ball around the lot.

The defense has more than held its own with the offense, as they’ve hectored Mark Brunell from pillar to post. Rosevelt Colvin is a madman – he’s in the backfield on every play. I also liked seeing Tully Banta-Cain hold the edge to make the tackle on a Washington sweep, only a few plays after being run completely out of a similar play.

Both units have absolutely kicked the asses of Joe Gibbs’s team. One, I feel I have to mention again, that was a playoff team last year.

Steven Gostkowski, in his first game after winning the job this week, has hit two easy field goals.

The starters will begin the third quarter before giving way to the reserves. Talk to you later.

Pats Make Unexpected Offer to Branch

King of all Pats bloggers Mike Reiss, who was probably hoping for a slow Friday, brings us the news that the Patriots have today isssued a statement indicating that they have granted permission for holdout receiver Deion Branch to explore trades and new contracts with other clubs over the next week.

So the Pats are allowing Branch and agent Jason Chayut a small window to go out and get the free-agent-like deal they reportedly covet, an effort that will undoubtedly be complicated by the need for these clubs to adequately compensate the Patriots, along with Branch. The early, feel-good theory from here is that this may be the first step in resolving the month-long dispute between the club and its star wideout. Or it could be the first step out the door for a player who had been expected to be a central figure in the team’s push for a return to the Super Bowl in 06.

Weekly Roundtable – Pre-Season Week Three

Well, this is my first time hosting the round-table. I’m the slacker of the trio. Sort of like Manny. Speaking of which, they’re ruiiiiiiiiining my summaaaaaa…..Oops, sorry, wrong sport. For a moment I thought I was Larry Johnson and my role here was to ask irrelevent questions about off-topic subjects mixed in with inane and pointless commentary.

But I digress. On to the topic at hand, the Patriots. Very impressive performance last week. Lets take a look around the table and see what our esteemed experts (especially that Greg guy) thinks about some of the issues of the week:

ISSUE ONE: There has been a lot of commentary on Junior Seau both before his signing and after. Some of the commentators in this town trashed him as overrated, only to lighten their commentary after he was signed. First, has Seau been overrated in his career and second, how can he help the Patriots this year?

Greg: While Seau may have been slightly overrated, he was most certainly a very good player for his whole career. Idiots like Pete Sheppard ranting as if the guy was a stiff is insulting to anyone’s intelligence. Like Sheppard has broken down game films or something. Alls you need to know is many top coaches and GMs made him a centerpiece of their defense and paid him top dollars. Players who actually stepped on the same field as him and won games with him, like Rodney Harrison, and in the same era, praise him for his play and work ethic. And now Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli have endorsed him as well. I’ll take all these collective opinions over those of a bunch of IQ-challenged clowns screeching on the radio any day.

Bruce: I’m beginning to think that Rodney Harrison and Seau are more alike than we ever imagined. Of course, its probably safe to say that Junior has less left in his tank than Harrison did when he first got here, but both players had reputations around the league, but when Harrison got here, his reputation went out the window once the fans got to see him up close and what he brought to the team. With Seau, Belichick, Pioli and company obviously saw something that they liked, enough so to call the guy the day after he had announced his retirement. Like you Greg, I’ll trust their opinion over a glorified intern like Pete Sheppard any day. I see Seau giving the Patriots another leader on defense, and someone who they won’t rely on too heavily, but will be able to make a play when called on.

Scott: Overrated? Junior Seau? Come on. Who said that? Probably some idiot. Anyway, yeah, I think Junior Seau probably has been overrated over the course of his career. One thing Junior is, is photogenic. And he’s demonstrative. And he’s articulate. And he’s been a good player. You know what TV, radio and the papers do with those guys. They could make you sick of anybody. Besides, my general sense of Seau has always been as a guy who chased the ball all over the field (very well, admittedly) and wasn’t necessarily a guy that played within a team defense, like, say, a Mike Vrabel or Tedy Bruschi might. Seau also struck me as a guy who wanted the camera to be on him, frankly, which always rubs me the wrong way. Look, I don’t know how true any of this is, but what I do know is that it doesn’t matter at the moment. Because Seau can help the Patriots win games this year. I love that they have smart, character role players like Don Davis and Barry Gardner, but I don’t really want either of those guys on my opening day starting defense. Better they should be getting ready to cover a kick. It says here that Seau, even at 38 years old and coming off two injury-riddled seasons, leaves them better off than they were before. And it sure didn’t cost them much (relatively) to get there. Who’s going to take issue with that?

ISSUE TWO: Bam Childress had a nice performance Saturday versus the Cardinals. What do you think of his potential to be a solid NFL player based on what you’ve seen of him?

Greg: Childress just LOOKS small when he plays. But for two camps and one regular season game last year, he has made plays, played tough and smart and improves all the time. He reminds me of an even smaller Troy Brown. I think he can play and I think he makes the team and maybe even plays some.

Bruce: Belichick seems to be high on the kid, praising his competiveness and work ethic. If the Patriots don’t pick up another receiver somewhere, either via trade or the waiver wire, he very well could be on this team come opening day. I believe he did some work at defensive back last year as well, which had to endear him further in the eyes of the coaching staff. I’d like to see him stick around. Great name, too.

Scott: Show me something this guy has done on the field that makes you think he can’t stick in the NFL. How does Childress NOT make this team, given the shotages at wide receiver? Yeah, he’s small, but Childress is obviously a competitive player on this level. He won me over with the two-way performance against Miami last year. Seems to me there’s another little guy who’s still playing 13 years after getting a similar chance. Is Childress going to make THE difference at wide-receiver this year? No, he won’t. Can he make A difference? Maybe. Its not like there’s a long line ahead of him.

ISSUE THREE: With the Patriots final home exhibition game coming up this Saturday, what are your thoughts on whether the Patriots have committed consumer fraud, as some have claimed, by not playing their starters very long in some past home exhibition games (a trend that will likely end this year as its not the final exhibition game with one road game left)?

Greg: This was always a ridiculous notion which will likely not be as big an issue this year with the final game, where the starters sit almost the whole game if not the whole game, is on the road this year. What I want, as a fan, is wins during the regular season. If Bill Belichick can accomplish that better by sitting guys in pre-season, by all means he should do that. I can enjoy any football game no matter who plays and never had any problem looking for a diamond in the rough among lesser known players during exhibition season.

Bruce: Kevin Mannix and Dan Shaughnessy can rest easy this summer. I see some points that the critics make about the preseason games, namely that season ticket holders are forced to purchase the preseason games as part of their package. However, with the popularity of the team, I think it’s not all that difficult to find someone who is only too happy to go to the game, se the stadium and get glimpse of their favorite Patriots. The “consumer fraud” thing was a joke. Some of Shaughnessy’s columns come closer to consumer fraud than do preseason NFL games.

Scott: I’ve been watching pre-season football for almost 40 years. It’s never been any different. Now it’s ‘consumer fraud’? Stay the hell home, cupcake. That’s just another sportswriter bitching about having to work.

ISSUE FOUR: We asked this question early on, but has anything changed in terms of sleepers you see developing among lesser known or unknown players?

Greg: I’d go with Tully Banta-Cain. He isn’t unknown, he’s been on the team for three years and made an impact at times. But he is clearly taking on a bigger role this year and the early returns, in my eyes, is he’ll be an excellent play-maker at the outside linebacker position.

Bruce: James Sanders seems to be a name flying under the radar. He didn’t do too much in filling in when Rodney Harrison went down last season, but looks to be in a better position to compete this season. He’s consistently been working with the first team on the days that Harrison isn’t able to practice, and with he, Artrell Hawkins, Guss Scott and Tebucky Jones on the roster, it seems the team is much deeper at the safety position than they were a season ago. I don’t if all those players will be on the roster when the season begins, but I think it is a safe bet that Sanders is, and he might be called upon to contribute should Harrison be delayed in getting into game action.

Scott: He’s not unknown by any means, but I can’t let this question go without mentioning Asante Samuel. It seems he’s re-asserting himself when both he, and the team, really need it. I wasn’t necessarily expecting Ryan O Callaghan to go from being a fifth round pick to being (potentially) the starting right tackle. I’m sure some people will find a reason why this is bad, but to me, that’s a pretty big story right there.

ISSUE FIVE: In a shocking development, Bruce appears to have accurately predicted Eugene Wilson’s reappearance as a safety. Thoughts on this development?

Greg: Good call Bruce. I really thought Wilson would stay at corner. They still may move him back at some point and he certainly has the skills to play there. But if they keep him at safety, he’s been a borderline Pro Bowler there in the past, I expect him to return to that level this year.

Bruce: Well, I could still be wrong, after spending the first half of the preseason working at corner, now maybe they’re putting him back at safety to get him back up to speed there. I actually think a lot of where Wilson ends up depends on Harrison. When Rodney is on the field, Wilson seems like a different player back there. I wouldn’t be totally shocked to see Wilson playing corner if Harrison isn’t on the field, and seeing a safety combination of Hawkins and Sanders. Who knows what this coaching staff has in mind. It’s all about being flexible and having the ability to change things up, moving players in and out and playing to their individual strengths within the team defense.

Scott: I’m not convinced that Bruce doesn’t have some access that Greg and I don’t have. I’m sure that in exchange for his rosy coverage of the team, he’s getting some sweet insider stuff that Doyle and I can only dream of. He’s probably got Belichick’s home number, both here AND on the Cape, the same ones Alan Greenberg covets. That’s the only plausible explanation for this entire episode. Allen can run, but he can’t hide, though. We’ll be debuting our ‘Picks of the Week’ on Opening Day Weekend, and we’ll see how much his good time buddies will help him then.

ISSUE SIX: It seemed to me new defensive coordinator Dean Pees was a bit more agressive last week in both his attacking play-calling on defense and in mixing things up more often than last year under Eric Mangini. Was this just a one-time thing trying out different stuff or do you expect a different style under Pees this year? :

Bruce: It’s hard to tell if Mangini was limited by his personnel for much of last season or whether he was actually a little tentative in calling the defense. Early returns seem to be that Pees is going to have a more aggressive approach right out of the gate. I’m looking forward to see how he runs this defense and uses the parts he has. Again Belichick has had high praise for Pees, calling him one of the best coaches he’s ever worked with. Think about that statement, and some of the names that the head coach has worked with in his 30 years in the NFL.

Greg: I saw a more aggressive, but also more disciplined and coordinated defense. Mangini seemed to me to always be over his head last year. He did little to adjust. He did later in the season, but only after the players came to him. And you still had occasional uncharacteristic breakdowns even then. Not as many, but some. In his defense, he dealt with a lot of injuries. But his playcalling on defense was a disappointment. Something about Pees strikes me as the type of older, more experienced and innovative coach who can get the defense up to the 2003-2004 form. The early returns are good, he showed more looks and agressive, yet smart, play-calling in an exhibition game last week than we saw in almost any regular season game last year.

Scott: I’m a fan, so don’t expect anything profound. But last year, it was like the Douglas household was left under Robbie’s command for the weekend. Dad Steve was away on business and Uncle Charlie was at some class reunion in Cleveland. Robbie’s a good man, his heart is in the right place, he’s got a bright future, but he’s young, and tentative, and next thing you know, Chip and Ernie and Tramp are giving up 60 yard touchdown passes when they’re not getting trampled for 9 yards a carry. For me with Pees so far, its like Steve Douglas just pulled in the driveway.

ISSUE SEVEN: So, who was the biggest mediot this week?

Bruce: Gotta go with my man Ron Borges, and not really for any controversial statements he made this week about the Patriots. In his Sunday column, he mentioned and quoted extensively from a column last week on this very site by Bill Barnwell on Deion Branch. It was great that Borges used the information and even praised it. The problem was that he said it came from a different source than it actually did. When asked about it, Borges said he doesn’t read the Boston Sports Media website. (Probably with good reason…we’re tough on him.) Ok. If he didn’t read the column here…where did he read it? It didn’t appear anywhere else. Second place…Ed Berliner trying to get attention for himself by telling us the Patriots Dynasty is over and there is blood in the water. Hector Longo had a doozy of a column this week too, his annual “Things are really negative around the Patriots this camp.” column.

Greg: Always a tough call. But I’ll go with all those on The Big Show for trashing Junior Seau, none of whom who had the career he has had, claiming he could never play for Bill Belichick and then seeing him signed by the Patriots only days later.

Scott: This week we learned that old friend Tom E. Curran of the Providence Journal is leaving the daily Pats beat to take a job with the new NBCSports.com.Good for Tom, an occasional visitor to the grim, toxic wasteland known as the BSMW message board (but only to whore his chats; it seems evident now they were the foundation of his burgeoning media empire). Look, I’m biased where Curran is concerned. Sue me for liking a guy whose take on the Pats most closely resembled mine, and a lot of other Patriots fans I know. We just appreciated a guy that seemed to realize they were winning the Super Bowl every year. Your work is done here, TECurran. Bon Voyage.

The Case For – And Against – Adam Vinatieri, Part II

By Bill Barnwell, Football Outsiders – special to BSMW Patriots Game Day

Where I last left off, I was taking a look at the swings in ability that kickers show and wondering aloud whether Adam Vinatieri’s $2.5 million a year contract was worth it. If the Colts make it to the Super Bowl, and Peyton Manning doesn’t re-acquaint his offensive line with the undercarriage of a bus, they may end up being guided to victory by a game-winning field goal off the foot of one Adam Vinatieri. Again, using the Adam Vinatieri Refrigerator Poetry Kit, you can form the basis of many a news article months in advance: “icewater”, “Hall of Fame”, “Disneyland”, “clutch godliness”, and strangely enough, “Jeff George” and a race card are in the bag, too. I think the factory accidentally mixed the Vinatieri kit with the Jason Whitlock Refrigerator Poetry Kit. Anyway, if Vinatieri makes that kick, everything in the following column is moot. Flags fly forever. What I’m going to be taking a look at here, though, is whether spending a healthy amount of money on a kicker results in getting a good season out of your kicker, as well as out of your team.

To try and determine this, I created a database with the statistics of every kicker from 2000 on (the time period in which the USA Today Salary Database has salaries available; if anyone knows of an accurate repository for salary data before that, I’d love to expand the study). I limited the study to the seasons of kickers who had attempted twenty field goals or more, since the attempt is to analyze whether signing a kicker is a good idea, and if a kicker takes fewer field goals than that, he clearly wasn’t the choice made during the offseason, or he failed miserably. This left 170 different kicker seasons over the last six years, for an average of 28.33 kickers per season. For those kickers, I gathered the following statistics:

  • Their FG/XP statistic for the season (for more information on this, please see my previous column)
  • Points Scored
  • Field Goal Percentage
  • Team Wins
  • Total Salary, according to the USA Today site

I then compared the first four statistics to the player’s salary by determining (well, by Excel determining) the correlation coefficient of the two groups. For those of you forgetting high school math, the correlation coefficient expresses the strength of a relationship between two variables. A value of 1.0 represents a perfectly positive relationship, in that an increase in one variable will always result in an increase in the other; for example, there is a perfectly positive relationship between each beer you drink and the body’s desire for Chinese takeout. Alternately, a value of -1.0 represents exactly the opposite; a perfectly negative relationship. This would be the relationship between each beer you drink and your ability to, say, toe the sideline. A value of 0.0, exactly in the middle, indicates that there’s no relationship between the variables whatsoever, and that the first item has absolutely nothing to do with the second.

The following table shows the correlation between salary and the other variables listed above.

kicker_salary.jpg

What the data bears out is that there’s a very tiny relationship between kicker salary and performance, if any at all. Furthermore, if you remove kickers who are making the rookie minimum or less, the relationship is weakened even further. Note the column on the right – teams actually get slightly worse (although the relationship is so tiny as to be nonexistent) as their kicker’s salary increases.

Why is that the case when all the other categories show a positive, if slight, relationship? While this isn’t anything proven, it’s a simple fact of the salary cap that money spent on the kicking game has to come from somewhere. Whether that be depth at a position, trading a draft pick away to save the money, or letting a starter go and a backup take his place, the funds have to be made available. These teams with higher-paid kickers may feel the effects in other areas as a result.

Now, let’s look at the average performance of these kickers and their teams. We’ll add two groups here: kickers whose salary exceeds Vinatieri’s average over the first three years of his contract, and those who are closest to it; I’ll form the latter group by selecting the five kickers whose salary is closest to $2,500,000 while above that number, and joining them with the five whose salary is closest to the figure while below it.

kickers.jpg

What we have there is, to me, real fascinating. While I wish the sample were bigger, the ten kickers with salaries greater than Adam Vinatieri this year and the ten kickers closest to his salary were a part of teams that performed worse than the average team. This doesn’t say that signing a big-ticket kicker is a bad idea; as you will note, the kickers with higher salaries did outperform the average kicker. However, there doesn’t appear to be any sort of positive benefit to a team by signing a better kicker. The correlation between team wins and both FG/XP and FG% isn’t particularly strong, at .159 and .213; the points correlation to team wins, on the other hand, is .596, which innately makes sense: teams that score lots of points tend to win games.

Another way to look at the possibility that Vinatieri’s addition would improve the Colts was to look at the concept of changing kickers itself. From the compiled kicker database, I made a list of all the times teams had switched from one kicker with 20+ attempts to another. That happened, by my count, 24 times from 2000-2005. The teams getting new kickers did see a boost:

old_vs_new.jpg

So, then, teams replacing their kicker generally see an increase of about a half-win in performance. If you look at the average salary column, though, you see that the new kicker generally makes less than the old one, and that’s not we’re looking to analyze; we’re trying to see whether signing an expensive kicker is a good idea, not a cheap one. Nine teams paid more for their new kicker than they had for their previous one, with the average performances below:

cheaper.jpg

Look at that! Teams who do bring in a more expensive kicker than the previous model increase their performance by nearly a game and a half. Granted, the sample is small, and nearly half that increase is due to the Chargers’ eight win increase the year they replaced Steve Christie with Nate Kaeding, but it’s at least some anecdotal evidence towards making a more expensive kicker a worthwhile investment. The Colts spent $1,800,000 on Vanderjagt in total salary last season.

So, then, was signing Adam Vinatieri a good idea for the Colts? And, alternately, was letting him go a bad idea for the Patriots? The statistical evidence points to several findings:

  • Kicker performance oscillates wildly from year to year, even amongst the best
  • Spending money on a kicker doesn’t ensure a successful kicker or, necessarily, a successful team
  • Replacing a poor kicker with a better one, even if he’s more expensive, results in a better team

With those three things in mind, I can’t see Adam Vinatieri being such an improvement on Mike Vanderjagt that the increased spending the Colts are making on the kicker position is worthwhile. Until Stephen Gostkowski actually gets on the field in an NFL game and/or has to kick a game-winning field goal, it’ll be hard to gage whether the Patriots were right. What appears to be true, though, is that the Colts were wrong.

A Review Of The Tape: Arizona at New England

The most significant thing that appeared when reviewing last week’s exhibition game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Patriots was how agressive new defensive coordinator Dean Pees was. Considering this was an exhibition game, one wonders how agressive with the blitz and mixing up defenses he’ll be when the regular season begins. But the thing that stuck out in watching the tape of this game, Pees is much different in style than former coordinator Eric Mangini. Pees, it appears based on the early returns, will come after offenses more than Mangini was willing to and mix things up more often as well. If the Patriots can take this approach on defense this year, while also avoiding the big plays that plagued them last year, even with Mangini’s conservative scheme, they could be very tough for opposing offenses to deal with and create some big plays more often.

Lets take a look at the individual units:

QUARTERBACK: A very proficient showing by starter Tom Brady. The Brady we have all grown to know was on display….spreading it around, moving well in the pocket, good decisions, good accuracy. He looks like he is in fine form. Matt Cassel came in next and was better than last week. He still occasionally held the ball too long before deciding to throw it and other times took off running way too quickly, but he was improved and ran the offense efficiently for the most part. Too many of his plays are coming on broken, exhibition type situations where pure athletic ability is allowing him to get things done, however. He needs to show he can consistently sit in the pocket, move just enough to buy time and let the play develop as it was drawn up. There is clearly improvement and athletic ability there to work with. Its just still an on-going project.

RUNNING BACK: Another impressive performance from Laurence Maroney. Corey Dillon ran hard again, without much room. He did have a touchdown, however. Garrett Mills slipped a little bit at fullback from his debut. He struggled pass blocking at times, including getting called for holding to negate one completion. He did show some potential as a blocker though, throwing one great block to help Dillon score his touchdown. Patrick Cobbs showed some decent hands, which is surprising for a guy from a running school like North Texas. However, he was inconsistent and mishandled a screen pass almost causing an interception. He also had a fumble in the red zone and hurt his chances at a practice squad spot overall for the night.

WIDE RECEIVER: Another fairly quiet night, but Bam Childress had a nice game. He showed an ability to sit down in zones and got some nice separation from coverage on several ocassions. He had a nice night. The rest of the crew was average, nothing spectacular.

TIGHT ENDS: A good night for Ben Watson. He is turning into a great tightend. Dan Graham also was close to one hundred percent and was his usual outstanding blocking self. David Thomas needs to work on his blocking a bit, however, and got manhandled several times. When he got himself into good position, he did a nice job blocking, however. He also showed the ability to sit down in zones and get open.

OFFENSIVE LINE: An outstanding debut as a starter for Ryan O’Callaghan. He had a dominating night both run and pass blocking. Watching him closely, he displayed some of the best right tackle play the Patriots have had in the coach Bill Belichick era. All in his debut appearance on the first team. This bodes very well for his future. Others who had a good night include Russ Hochstein, who has really taken well to the center position since Dan Koppen got hurt and another youngster in Wesley Britt. Britt played with the second team and also held up well at right tackle on both running and passing plays.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Jarvis Green struggled against the Cardinals massive tackle Leonard Davis and got pushed around at times. Davis had a decided size advantage on Green, however. Ty Warren seems to be playing his best football of his career, after a down season last year. If he continues to show what he is now, it would be a big boon for the defense. Nobody else stood out on the line, but everyone was solid and seems to be playing well.

LINEBACKER: Barry Gardner seems to be fitting in nicely. If Junior Seau, recently signed, can contribute and Tedy Bruschi comes back early in the regular season, this unit is shaping up with more depth than initially thought. Perhaps one addition is still needed, but they played much better this week. Tully Banta-Cain was among the best players on defense Saturday. He caused plenty of havoc in the Cardinals backfield while he was in there and looks to be taking to the starter role. Eric Alexander had another nice night on special teams and caused a fumble that was recovered by the Patriots on a kickoff.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Eugene Wilson was back at safety and looked comfortable. Asante Samuel had a mostly good night, though he was slow in coverage on one pass in the flats early in the game which allowed a first down. He followed that up a few plays later with a nice interception, however. He had an overall good night. Hank Poteat had an off night and he’ll need to do better to make the team this year.

KICKERS: A good night for Stephen Gostkowski. His kickoffs were long and he had no problem with any of his kicks. Josh Miller seems in good form and ready to continue his outstanding 2005 season.

All in all, a good night. The Patriots will probably play the next game, Saturday versus the Washington Redskins, as close to a regular season game for three quarters. It’ll be interesting if Pees continues his agressive defensive playcalling, as that’ll be a signal of a much different Patriots defensive style this year from last once the season starts. Watch for that.