Patriots Beat: AFC attrition hitting hard already

Patriots Beat: AFC attrition hitting hard already
August 21, 2013, 10:00 am
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Attrition already. It’s hitting teams in both the Patriots’ division and the AFC hierarchy. New England – as has been noted – suffered its own losses in the summer. But the physical toll of playing football is rearing its head.
 
In Buffalo, Kevin Kolb will be the starter for the season opener against the Patriots since E.J. Manuel had a minor surgical procedure on his knee. Manuel looked very good in the first two preseason games. Kolb, not so much, but he can pull a decent performance out an orifice here and there (last year’s 20-18 Cardinals win over the Patriots being a prime example). In Miami, one of the most underrated offseason additions – tight end Dustin Keller going to the Dolphins – is already torn asunder. Keller’s down for the year after having his knee blown up. In New York, promising linebacker Quintin Coples has a fractured ankle. In Baltimore, tight end Dennis Pitta’s done and his replacement, Ed Dickson, has been dinged. Dallas Clark and Visanthe Shiancoe are getting run, which is not good news in 2013.
 
Worst of all is the onslaught in Denver. While the Broncos have been a vogue pick to ascend in the AFC to the Super Bowl, there’s a lot of whistling past the graveyard going on. Von Miller is going to sit six games on suspension, Elvis Dumervil doesn’t play there anymore, middle linebacker Stewart Bradley broke his wrist, defensive end Derek Wolfe was carted off with a neck injury against the Seahawks, Champ Bailey is missing time with a foot injury and Wes Welker is down for the rest of the preseason with an ankle injury. Meanwhile, 37-year-old Peyton Manning is 2-5 in the playoffs since the Colts won the 2006 Super Bowl and he hasn’t won a playoff game since 2009.
 
These realities may not alter the media talking points at this point, what with cover shoots and NFL previews having been cobbled together but the problems in the Rockies are real.
 
NOT FADE AWAY
 
He wasn’t an impactful football player on the field with the Patriots, but Tiquan Underwood was such a good kid he left a mark both with the people who covered him and the fanbase. In town last week with the Bucs, I caught up to him as he left the practice field with the salutes of Patriots fans raining down. Why so much love?
 
“I think it’s the hair,” said Underwood. “People gravitate to it. I had a great stay here. The fans, the organization, I really enjoyed the time here.”
 
Underwood’s release on the eve of Super Bowl 46 was seized on by national media as a callous roster move by Bill Belichick that tore Underwood’s still-beating heart from his chest. Underwood quelled that noise then and said last week, “I understand this is a business at the end of the day. Coach Belichick usually does that on Saturdays during the season. It got more attention because of the timing it happened to be Super Bowl weekend. It was fine. He’s going to do what’s best for the team. People when they meet me are like, ‘You’re the guy…’ They say I had class about the situation but I really understood it.”
 
Underwood is in a fight for the third receiver spot for Tampa. He’s caught three balls for 49 yards and had a 41-yard reception last week against the Pats.  
 
EYES CAN DECEIVE
 
There’s been a wide proliferation in the past few seasons of X and O analysis. Beat writers, websites, fans, former players, kitchen appliances, radio hosts, blacksmiths, dental hygienists, and the “Twitterverse” means an awful lot of people interpreting what happens on a football field on a given play. All the analysis is well-intentioned. Much of it is diligently performed. Not that much is ever vetted for ultimate accuracy.
 
I like and respect the folks at Pro Football Focus, for example. Occasionally, I use the statistics provided by their staff. Some subjective stats, though, I only trust myself on or – preferably – someone who’s drawn an NFL paycheck. Sacks allowed, drops and pass defense stats are three examples of stats often needing further validation.
 
Bill Belichick last Friday noted the ambiguity that even he experiences when watching plays, “It might even look to us like somebody made a mistake (in real time) but then we look at it more closely maybe somebody besides him made a mistake and he was trying to compensate. I think we need a little closer analysis a lot of times. Sometimes the play calls or what was called on the line of scrimmage might be something that we’re not aware of. That could happen in any game. You think a player did something that he shouldn’t have done but maybe he got a call, a line call or a call from a linebacker or he thought the quarterback said something so he did what he thought was the right thing or maybe it was the right thing but that call shouldn’t have been made or should have been on the other side.”
 
That kind of circumspect approach is far too rare among the people making evaluations, though. In his Essay on Criticism written in 1709, Alexander Pope wrote “a little learning is a dangerous thing…” I think Alex would be floored by the sweeping proclamations made after some of us get ahold of the DVR clicker and/or our computers the day after a game.
 
Belichick is.
 
“I know there are a lot of experts out there that have it all figured out but I definitely don’t,” said Belichick. “This time of year, sometimes it’s hard to figure that out, exactly what they’re trying to do. When somebody makes a mistake, whose mistake is it?”
 
This isn’t to say that what went right and wrong on many plays is easily discernible. But one person’s definition of a cornerback being “burned” may not be the same as someone else’s who takes into account the inherent disadvantages of pass defense and that a reception on a secondary player is often attributable to something other than bad defense.
 
I try to make determinations on by (attempting to) discern the goal of a player and seeing if he executes it physically.  
 
But in the end, the privilege we have when we’re given our press passes is the chance to walk up and ask the player or coach who would know better than us.
 
QUICK HITS
 
I kinda like the Fu Manchu on Sanchise. My belief, however, is that every moment spent accessorizing is one less moment spent reading defenses and – ultimately – another moment spent chasing down defenders after interceptions.
 
*****

Brian Waters Watch 2.0 was a little anticlimactic in Dallas. They didn’t even get an empty locker to monitor.
 
*****

I liked Chip Kelly’s take on how the quarterback competition in Philly would benefit Michael Vick. Competition, Kelly said, is good. “Once you think you’ve arrived in this game, you’re going to get passed on by. Just because somebody and no matter what the situation is, quarterback, running back, offensive line, you become a starter that doesn’t mean all of a sudden you can kick your feet up and say, ‘Now I’m all set, this is a good deal.’  

*****

The Lions are 1-1 in the preseason but they haven’t looked good at all leading into Thursday night’s game against the Patriots. Matt Stafford’s 14 for 24 for 132 yards (no Calvin Johnson last week against Cleveland) and the running game’s averaging 2.8 yards per carry.