Celtics defense has gone missing during identity crisis

965953.jpg

Celtics defense has gone missing during identity crisis

CHICAGO The search continues ... and it's not just winning games, either.

The Boston Celtics, 100-89 losers to Chicago on Tuesday, are on the prowl for something just as valuable - an identity.

Because Tuesday's loss to the Bulls was yet another indicator that this team doesn't know who they are.

And even worst?

They are just as unsure about how to get there.

"This team is not a good team right now," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers whose team is now 12-12 on the season. "It's who we are right now. We're a .500 team and we play like that. We've won two games in a row for the season. Right now, we're not a good team. We're going to find, but not right now. We're going to keep searching for it."

Even with all the new faces and roles this season, the Celtics were still expected to be a defensive-minded club which was supposed to carry them through the early stages of the season until everyone got on the same page.

But as far as the Celtics being a defensive team?

Even that's up for debate at this point.

"Right now we have no identity," said a visibly disappointed Paul Pierce following Tuesday's loss to the Bulls, their third straight. "We're supposed to be a defensive team. But giving up 100 points every night, we're inconsistent on the court ... we're still searching, trying to find out who we want to be for this season."

They continue to talk of being a defensive team, but their play thus far suggests otherwise.

Tuesday night was yet another game when Boston's trapping style of play defensively simply didn't work primarily because the opponent, Chicago, played with greater, more steady effort.

Because the Celtics did not match that effort, the on-the-floor result was a lot of open looks for the Bulls shooters as the Celtics defenders were consistently a step or two slow in rotating out.

Getting a read on where this team is at right now not easy. But it's clear that the one emotion that's running high now is disappointment; not only in their play but the fact that they have yet to figure out how to play better.

"We're all in here searching," said Celtics big man Kevin Garnett. "We had three games on the road here. None of them were easy. But we're learning from them. Hopefully we will at some point turn the corner."

Adding to the challenge that awaits them is the concern that players, in their effort to turn things around, might try to do too much and thus do more harm than good.

In Boston's two losses in Texas to Houston and San Antonio, respectively, Rajon Rondo had seven turnovers in each game. Prior to the C's most recent setback, Rivers believed Rondo's unusually high number of turnovers had to do with him trying to do too much.

"As a leader of this team, I just have to keep trying to lead the way," said Rondo who had 26 points and eight assists on Tuesday. "Keep playing as hard as I can. We have guys following and guys playing hard as they can as well, but we have to pick it up in different areas and continue to look ourselves in the mirror and try to bring our best to this team."

And that best will have come on the defensive end of the floor which is where the bulk of the C's scavenger hunt for who they are, lies.

"You know what? It's crazy, we work on multiple things," Garnett said. "We're just trying to find one thing that obviously works. We've been aggressive on pick and rolls. Now we have to just figure out how to put it all together with help defense and rotations and stuff."

And while the Celtics are far from panic mode, they know that this season isn't waiting for anyone.

"I know we're in December, but games are games," said Garnett. "We gotta figure out what we want to do and be consistent with it.

New Patriots DE Chris Long willing to be led

new-england-patriots-chris-long-052716.jpg

New Patriots DE Chris Long willing to be led

Chris Long’s been in the NFL since 2008. As the offspring of Hall of Famer Howie Long, he knows the ways and means of life in the league.
 
So, it’s instructive that a player who’s been around this long decided that success here hinged on allowing himself to be led. Check the ego, check the pride, behave as if you know nothing.
 
In doing so, Long’s affixed himself to the side of fellow defensive end Rob Ninkovich like a 275-pound remora.
 
“Rob and I really clicked,” Long said Thursday after a Patriots OTA session open to the media. “We’ve got a lot of similarities, and he’s a great guy to learn from and shadow. He’s been here obviously a long time. Rob knows how to do things the right way around here. When you see a guy like that, if you’re halfway smart, you follow him around and do what he does. If Rob goes to lunch, I go to lunch. That type of thing. Rob’s a good buddy already.”
 
Long was also observed Thursday spending a lot of downtime with Jabaal Sheard, the two defensive ends on a knee near the Gatorade conversing for a couple of minutes.
 
With Chandler Jones now a Cardinal, the Patriots defensive end depth chart this offseason has have Sheard and Ninkovich at the top, with Long in the mix situationally, one supposes. Reps need to be split for freshness. Meanwhile, Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers are coming into their second seasons and will push for time as well.
 
For his part, Long isn’t projecting anything.
 
“Well, I’m still learning, so I can’t make the determination yet,” Long said. “Ask me again during training camp. Every day in the NFL is an opportunity. A coach I’ve had before said every day is an interview, and that’s how I like to look at things. Every day, you have a chance to get better and learn and worry about your own — farm your own land and do all that good stuff. That’s the way I approach everything. It would be a disservice to the other guys if I was worried about anything other than myself, that opportunity just to get out here on the practice field and compete and get better.”
 
And let yourself be led. 

Surprise! Rex and Rob Ryan talk themselves up

nationalslants523_1280x720_691438659839.jpg

Surprise! Rex and Rob Ryan talk themselves up

Can’t you just imagine the Ryan brothers as teenagers, riding along in a pickup, windows down, hair whipping, hollering their skewed affirmations over the Lynyrd Skynyrd.

“Biggest badasses in town?! US!!”

“Handsomest fat guys to be!? US!!”

“Defensive-geniuses-in-waiting destined to be criminally underappreciated and overlooked so that we’ll forever be obligated to remind everyone at every turn how tough, accomplished and slighted we’ve been? HELL, THAT’S US TOO!!”

It’s May, which means it’s Ryan propaganda season. Not that Jenny Vrentas of MMQB did the Ryan’s bidding with her fun Q&A that’s online today. 

All she needed to do was hit record and lay the recorder on the table. Rex and Rob take care of the tire pumping themselves.

Fortuitously, now that they’re together in Buffalo as head coach (Rex) and assistant head coach/defensive capo (Rob), they can pat each other’s backs rather than reach back and do their own themselves.

Rob – poopcanned from his last two jobs as defensive coordinator in Dallas and New Orleans – carried the show in this one firing passive-aggressive darts at Saints head coach Sean Payton and promising to “beat” Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

“At the end of the day, the last two years in New Orleans were a waste of time for me,” said Rob Ryan, who was fired last November by Payton. “I want to give everything I have to a team that I want to be a part of, with a head coach I want to be a part of. Not only is Rex a great head coach, but he is also a great defensive coach. He’s going to be the best coach that I can work for, anytime. And I have worked for Belichick, who is the best head coach in football, in the history of the game. But we’re going to beat him, and we’re going to beat him together. And it’s going to be an awesome challenge. I need to be in a multiple system. I was hired to be in a multiple system in New Orleans, and I did a damn good job and got fired for it. I am more hungry now than I have ever been. So I wanted to go with the right guy. And the right guy is someone I have 100 percent trust in and 100 percent faith in.

Payton has already termed Ryan’s contention that it wasn’t Ryan’s defense as “silly.” 

This in-depth look at the precipitous drop of the Saints defense has plenty of damning info about what a “hot mess” Ryan’s operation was. 

Payton is quoted in the piece saying after Ryan’s dismissal, "There were a few things that you looked at from a year ago and you said, 'We can't have X number of snaps with not the right number of guys on the field. We can't burn timeouts, you know, every other week because we can't get the right personnel on the field.' We just can't do that. We can't have guys looking left and right at the snap of the ball. There's a game last season where the first eight plays of the game, we're misaligned and we don't even cover down the right way. Those were just facts."

Facts, schmacts. You want facts? From the interview:

ROB: Well, the highest-rated defensive coach in the history of the league is you.

REX: Right.

ROB: We can pretend there is somebody else, but there’s not. Hey, my numbers are what they are. Now, I took over some pretty lousy jobs, but that’s OK. But no one’s numbers are better than his. I’m talking about Dick LeBeau’s; I’m talking about Belichick; I’m talking about all of them. Hell, even our dad. Who is the best that ever laced them up? Well, I’m just saying. To be the best defensive coach in football, I’ve got to learn from the best, so I came here. It’s been how many years since we’ve been together? He’s not learning anything, but I am. Look at some of his protégés. Bob Sutton is doing a fantastic job in Kansas City. Chuck Pagano was with Rex. He spun off a ton of great coaches, and it is going to be fun to be a part of that.

Here’s the thing, the Ryans are very bright defensive coaches with an in-the-trenches-with-you bedside manner that invites massive huge loyalty from their players.

But there’s also an outsized sense of pride and ego that both men seem to have that causes them to get caught up in style over substance.

Rex wanted to build a bully in Buffalo. His Bills talked tough before facing the Patriots last September and came unhinged in the first half, effectively taking themselves out of the game before it began. 

The Bills have an terrific array of defensive talent even with the loss of Mario Williams this offseason. They added Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland in the draft – both well-regarded players who could have early-career impacts. They have the pieces. But they had them in 2015 as well and underperformed. The fact is, Rex is in a “prove-it” season. Even though he points out in the interview that his family has coached in six Super Bowls, three of those were coached by Buddy Ryan, two by Rob and one by Rex. In 66 combined seasons of NFL coaching. Belichick’s coached in eight by himself in 42 NFL seasons. The results are lacking.

It is worth noting before I put a bow on this that respect for Belichick isn’t lacking. The interview is chock-full of references to Rob’s time with the Patriots from 2000 to 2003.

“All the respect in the world for Bill Belichick,” said Rob. “That was fantastic training working for him for four years, and I learned a ton. Look, he is the No. 1 nemesis of every coach in this league. So it’s not just Rex. Now, I think if you ask their offensive staff, the worst they ever play is against Rex. People say, “well, he hasn’t beat them [nine out of the last 10] tries.” Yeah, well, he has beat the hell out of that offense. I am sure the respect is mutual. But I know one thing, we are going to beat them. We are together, we’re going to beat the best. It’s two against one. Him one on one against any coach in the league, that guy is pretty damn good. And he’s also got his best buddy Tom Brady with him. He trained him, and he single-handedly made him great as well.”

Brissett, Mitchell appear to have established chemistry early

patriots_jacoby_brissett_052216.jpg

Brissett, Mitchell appear to have established chemistry early

FOXBORO -- Martellus Bennett may have reeled in the No. 1 most impressive catch of the day during Thursday's OTA session. But No. 2 and 3? Those belonged to rookie fourth-round receiver Malcolm Mitchell. 

The first of his two noteworthy grabs came in 7-on-7 work when Mitchell laid out, fully extended, for a pass from rookie third-round quarterback Jacoby Brissett in the back of the end zone. The second came in an 11-on-11 period when Mitchell adjusted to a long toss down the left sideline from Brissett that was slightly underthrown. Mitchell worked his way back to the football in mid-air and caught it easily for a long gain. 

Reporters have been permitted to watch only one practice thus far, but on Thursday it seemed as though Mitchell -- who came to New England after one year in a pro-style offense with former Georgia offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer -- had no trouble knowing where to be and when. 

It also appeared as though Mitchell and Brissett have already established good chemistry, perhaps building on whatever relationship they established in rookie minicamp. One example of their shared connection came on that long completion down along the boundary because it looked like Brissett could sense pressure coming from his right side just before he made his throw. Making a quick decision, Brissett turned to his left, where Mitchell was lined up, and floated a pass in that direction. 

Brissett's instincts were on display again at other points in the practice when he found both Mitchell and rookie seventh-round pick Devin Lucien with passes he made while on the move.

At NC State, Brissett had a knack for extending plays, and Thursday's practice schedule seemed to play into his strengths in that regard. Earlier in the workout, before the offensive and defensive units were pitted against one another, Patriots quarterbacks were instructed to roll out of the pocket to find open receivers -- a half-speed "scramble drill." When Brissett rolled out in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 periods, he appeared to be putting that work from earlier in the session into action. 

While all rookies put together what are likely considered far from perfect performances in these OTAs, Brissett and Mitchell both had their moments on Thursday, and often those moments were shared. Watching their on-the-field rapport grow will be one of the developments worth tracking as they build up their reps through training camp.