Curran: Forget the refs, this loss is on McCourty

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Curran: Forget the refs, this loss is on McCourty

BALTIMORE Bruce Hermansen, Ali Shetula, Rodney Russell, Esteban Garza, Mike Riley, Jeff Sadorus, Mark Wetzel and Mark Burns. Those were the officials for Sunday nights Baltimore debacle.

Theres a lot of justifiable moaning over the horrific job they did during the Ravens 31-30 win over the Patriots.

But not one of them are to blame for the Patriots being 1-2 on this Monday morning.

None of them were trying in vain to cover Jacoby Jones on a 24-yard completion up the sideline from Joe Flacco with 1:55 left in the game.

None of them were beaten badly off the line by Jones on a third-and-9 play from the Patriots 34 with 52 seconds left beaten so badly they had to tackle Jones and draw a pass interference that set up the game-winning field goal.

None of them dropped an interception in the first half. None of them dropped an interception in the second half.

None of them got hurdled by Dennis Pitta en route to a 20-yard touchdown late in the first half.

Who did all that? Devin McCourty. Usually you have to order a six-pack of goat horns after a loss because in an NFL game theres a lot of blame to be spread around and theres rarely one culprit. Not this time.

McCourty imploded Sunday night on national television. He was the weak link that Flacco and the Ravens attacked in the Patriots secondary time after time after time. Not undrafted Kyle Arrington. Not undrafted Sterling Moore. Both of those guys let up plays. So did many others. But McCourty gave up the win.

Think of it this way. The Patriots were up 2-0 with 115 seconds left. They had to prevent Baltimore from getting three points. In order for the Ravens to have a reasonable chance to get three, they needed to gain 49 yards. On the first play of the drive, Flacco threw 24 yards over McCourtys head to get the ball to the Ravens 45.

When they needed another play on that third-and-9 I mentioned to avoid a 51-yard attempt, they went at McCourty again and Jones beat him even worse than he had on the first play.

Thats 51 yards on Devin McCourty in a crunch time drive when the Patriots offense put up 30 points on the road against a team that plays pretty good defense.

And thats the ballgame.

We were all puzzled last year when McCourty went from very good as a rookie to one of the worst starting corners in the league. Had to be the scheme. Had to be the things the coaches were asking him to do. Had to be an injury. Had to be his confidence.

This season, in camp and in the first two games, he looked closer to the form he showed as a rookie. All fixed? Not exactly. As the game wore on Sunday night and Joe Flacco heated up, McCourty became his target. Trying to play a trail technique in which he gave receivers a free release from the line of scrimmage and let them get downfield ahead of him, McCourty showed the same inability to close on the ball in the air that he did in 2011. Not only was he unable to close, his fundamentals went to hell as well. He wasnt just out of position on some deep throws, he was flailing (he was also beaten by Smith on another long completion in the first half that Smith dropped as he hit the ground out of bounds).

The dropped pick in the first half wasnt an easy play but it wouldnt have been spectacular if hed made it either. The second dropped pick could have been hauled in by an average high school player.

McCourty works hard. Hes good on special teams. Hes seen as a leader. Hes a stand-up guy after losses. But the evidence over the past year is indisputable. He cant cover very well.

McCourtys postgame mantra Sunday was the same as it was last year when he allowed (according to the website Pro Football Focus) 62 catches for 1,004 yards the second highest total of yards allowed in the league by the sites reckoning.

I just gotta make plays, said McCourty. There were more plays out there, not just the last drive, but there were plays that I can make and my teammates count on me to make and I simply have to make those plays.

I asked McCourty why he doesnt make those plays.

I wish I knew, he said. If I knew I woulda made em. I gotta work on em, I gotta get better. Close on a lot of plays and just gotta get it done.

McCourty seemed offended when I asked if it was a lack of confidence.

Nahhhh. I just gotta make plays. Its not a confidence thing. Why would it be a confidence thing? he asked. I had two balls in my hands, I gotta make those plays, its not a confidence thing. I gotta make plays. Its the National Football League. You go out there with no confidence, youll see a worse display than what I put out there. You just gotta make the plays. Its simple.

Gotta make plays. Gotta work harder. Theres only so long you can hear that pap, nod and presume McCourty will figure it out.

No player has gotten a wider berth and easier ride while being staggeringly ineffective than McCourty. Hes playing like Kato Serwanga and getting treated like Ty Law.

Cornerbacks get beat sometimes, thats a fact. Its an extremely difficult position. Arrington let up a touchdown as well to Smith on a deep ball from Flacco. It happens.

But the all-too frequent toastings McCourty receives have grown old. As has the gotta get better, gotta work harder mantra.

Quick Slants the podcast Ep 54: Brady, OTAs, and contract situations

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Quick Slants the podcast Ep 54: Brady, OTAs, and contract situations

Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry attended Thursday’s OTA session and offer their analysis on some of the new additions in Quick Slants the podcast.

Also on the docket, a look at some upcoming contract situations for the team, Tom Brady’s 17th season and Robert Kraft taking legal action in support of Brady.

Listen to the entire podcast via the player below, or by searching CSNNE on iTunes.

New Patriots DE Chris Long willing to be led

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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

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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.”