Precision of Welker, Branch is where Patriots are unique

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Precision of Welker, Branch is where Patriots are unique

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com

If you like football and you aren't following Greg Cosell on Twitter, you ought to. He's been at NFL Films for 32 years. He's currently a senior producer there and way back in 1984, he and Steve Sabol created NFL Matchup, the first nuts-and-bolts, Xs-and-Os show that demonstrated the technical and strategic artistry of the NFL game. In addition to continuing with that show and co-authoring The Games That Changed The Game with Ron Jaworski and David Plaut, Cosell breaks down hours of game film. He uses the "all-22" coach's film so he gets a better look at what's going on than the rest of us. He's been tweeting his position-by-position findings during this long, dry offseason. Over the next few days, I'll pick Cosell's brain about the Patriots' personnel and schemes. Second in this little string: wide receivers. Cosell makes the salient point that the Patriots' system and quarterback are what makes their receivers potent. That and the receivers' willingness to buy into the system's precision and be deferential to the quarterback's decisions are what make the Patriots offense unique. More skilled wideouts than Wes Welker and Deion Branch exist. But there aren't any who fit more seamlessly with the Patriots than they do. On Wes WelkerGC: I've had this debate with Peter King (of Sports Illustrated) for years about the top players. He would always have Wes Welker. Now I love Wes Welker. It's hard not to love him. But he's a very specific kind of player and -- as remarkable as he is -- he is a function of the entire offense and what's around him. He's got a tremendous understanding on how to run routes against zone and what made Welker too good with Randy Moss is that Moss demanded Cover-2. Against that kind of coverage, the phenomenal short area quickness, the fact that he's in and out of breaks so quickly and never has to throttle down makes him as good as anyone in football between the numbers. But he is a function of an entire offense. He doesn't define an offense. Moss, Brady's ability before the snap and the versatility of the offense means he's in a perfect, perfect situation.On Deion BranchGC: I think Deion Branch is a nice, short-to-intermediate receiver. He's a good route runner. He can win against man coverage but if you give him a steady does all the time he will struggle to separate. He is deadly against zone. Skill-set wise, he is replaceable, but because of the nature of the Patriots passing game which is so much based on pre-snap reads, his intelligence is not. That's where he does excel. And that's why he can go somewhere else and he becomes just another guy then comes back to New England and flourishes. He's got a great understanding of all that's involved. On Brandon TateGC: Very often, the way players are used tells you how a coaching staff feels about them. The way the Patriots use Brandon Tate tells that they don't think much of him at this point. He runs about three routes and the only time the ball comes to him is when a play is specifically called for him. In terms of physical ability, he's very good. If you look at the skill set of a wideout, he has it. He's big, he runs well, he's got good lateral quickness. But in taking the spot of Randy Moss,hewas stepping in for someone who wasas good a vertical receiver as we've ever seen. Tate has vertical skills but not Randy Moss vertical skills and that's why coverage was different for Tate after Moss left. I also think Tate's hands can be erratic That can't happen with the few plays they run for him. They just don't feel he was ready last year. And he's the kind of guy getting killed by the work stoppage. He really needed this offseason. On Julian EdelmanGC: I'm not saying anything that people haven't already realized in that he's very similar to Welker. (Asked if he believed Edelman will ultimately be capable of replacing Welker, Cosell answered that he could.) SummaryCosell cuts to the Catch-22 of the Patriots' wideout situation. There's a high level ofinstitutional knowledge necessary to play well at wide receiver for the Patriots. So while Welker and Branch may be a lot closer to the end of their physical usefulness than the beginning, it's hard to push away from them. Once the season starts, it comes down to winning games. So the emphasis on developing guys like Edelman, Tate and Taylor Price goes out the window as the Patriots prepare for every Sunday's matchup. Meanwhile, because Tate is lacking as a vertical threat to be taken seriously on every play, the Patriots are a more horizontal passing offense since neither Branch nor Welker is going to burn past corners with regularity. The Patriots sacrifice explosiveness for precision and -- as the numbers show -- it works. But getting the successors to Branch and Welker well-versed in the nuances of the Patriots attack gets harder all the time -- especially with the lockout ongoing.

Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Curran: Jets' 2015 tampering with Revis more extensive than NFL revealed

Curran: Jets' 2015 tampering with Revis more extensive than NFL revealed

The Patriots obviously got it right when they pushed away from the table during the Darrelle Revis bidding war in 2015. 

The once-great corner spent the 2016 season languishing on the field. He’s spending the early part of the offseason reacting negatively to backpack journalism after midnight. 

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But the alleged double KO by Revis and his buddies isn’t what prompts this submission. 

It’s the revelation from Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News that the tampering the Jets engaged in when they were prying Revis loose from the Patriots was way, way more involved than what the NFL fined them for. And that Jets owner Woody Johnson knew all about it. 

Mehta leads his piece revealing that, long before free agency opened in 2015, Revis “was ready to squeeze more money out of [Johnson] who he knew would be willing to overpay for his services again.”

Mehta reports that, “back-channel discussions with the Jets in February set the foundation for a Revis reunion . . . 

“Team officials in stealth mode communicated with Revis, Inc., through private cell phones and face-to-face covert meetings at the 2015 Scouting Combine rather than make calls from the team's landlines at their Florham Park facility. No paper trails were a must.

“Johnson, the driving force behind bringing back Revis to right a wrong in his mind, endorsed all of it.”

The Patriots -- who were in the midst of the Deflategate colonoscopy that resulted in absurd-level discipline -- lodged a complaint with the league over the Jets tampering after Revis signed with the Jets in mid-March of 2015. 

The Jets were fined $100,000 but weren’t docked any draft picks.. The tender wrist slap came, ostensibly, because Johnson moronically stated at a December press conference that he’d “love” to have Revis return to New York. 

Maybe Johnson wasn’t being a dummy. That comment provided cover for the league office -- which has a documented history of treating the two NYC franchises with kid gloves -- to let the Jets off easy. 

Mehta’s article is the latest offering from him since completing his heel turn against Revis. 

Mehta did everything but fly the plane to bring Revis to New York once the 2014 season ended. And this is what he wrote the day the Jets penalty came down: 

The NFL’s attempt to uncover any dirt was an exercise in futility, a witch hunt driven by nonsense from a hypocritical organization with no reason to feel threatened by its competitor. 

You may wonder what’s the point? 

Clearly, the Patriots got it right while the Jets cheated, got what they wanted, and are now getting what they deserved. 

And everyone already knows the league office’s investigations and operations arms under the brutally incompetent leadership of Troy Vincent are a laughingstock. 

All true. But if I don’t write this now, I may have no recollection of this particular instance of league corruption given the absolute avalanche of other incidents
 

Five Patriots listed among Pro Football Focus Top 50 free agents

Five Patriots listed among Pro Football Focus Top 50 free agents

When the free-agency period officially begins on Mar. 9, it looks like there will be several newly-minted Super Bowl champions available for hire. And judging by the list Pro Football Focus published recently, the Patriots seem primed to lose more top-end talent via free agency than any other club in the league. 

Of the Top 50 free agents scheduled to be available next month, according to PFF, five are Patriots: linebacker Dont'a Hghtower (No. 11), safety Duron Harmon (No. 17), corner Logan Ryan (No. 26), defensive end Jabaal Sheard (No. 27) and tight end Martellus Bennett (No. 28).

Though the team doesn't have a single Top 10 player, per PFF, no other club has more than four (Cardinals, Redskins, Packers) in the Top 50. 

And the Patriots probably should have had at least one other player included. 

Not LeGarrette Blount, though he set a franchise record for rushing touchdowns last season. Not Chris Long, though he led the team in total quarterback pressures as he played out his one-year deal in New England. It's Alan Branch, 32, who is coming off of arguably his best season in 10 years as a pro. 

A powerful run defender, Bill Belichick called Branch the team's most consistent interior defensive lineman, and late in the season the coach made it clear just how much value there is in having a player with Branch's stature (6-foot-6, 350 pounds) and athleticism up front.

"Alan has done a great job for us," Belichick said. "And along with his play, which is certainly significant, one of the things that’s really been impressive about him has been his play time. So in addition to his overall production he’s played a lot more than he has in quite a while in terms of number of plays. 

"From a production standpoint he’s got, again, quite a few tackles, tackles for loss. It’s hard to measure the disruptive plays but he’s certainly got his share of those. He’s played very well for us in the running game. He’s given us a presence in the pass rush of a long, physical player in the middle. That’s all been really good, and he’s played more plays so all of that is good. 

"How unique is it? I mean, yeah, guys that weigh 350 pounds and are athletic and long like he is; I mean they don’t grow on trees. They’re hard to find. Ted Washington had that kind of length and size. Ted was 6-5, but Alan moves better than Ted does, or did at that point in his career. We’ve had some other longer guys like Richard [Seymour] or guys like that, but they weren’t 350 pounds. There’s not too many of them."

Though he may not make everyone's Top 50, Branch should certainly be mentioned on any list of impact players Belichick and his staff are at risk of losing in a few weeks. It's a long one.