Friday, March 19, 2010

Patriots Improved at Tight End

According to (link), the Patriots signed former Atlanta and Tennessee tight end, Alge Crumpler.  And while the ESPN story makes it sound like a lateral move from last year (he had similar stats to Benjamin Watson), there are three reasons to think that Crumpler is a significant improvement for 2010.

First off, Crumpler has much better skills than Watson ever will.  There's no comparison between their ball skills; Crumpler always make the catch, Watson is a crap-shoot on every throw.  And you can tell just by watching him that Alge knows how to get open in the middle of the field and, more importantly, in the end zone.  The last Patriots tight end to use his size effectively to create separation in the passing game was Ben Coates, and that was 10 years ago.  Crumpler's no Coates, but Alge plays off defensive contact and leverages his size to make space in tight quarters between linebackers and in the end zone.

Secondly, it's important to consider that Crumpler had similar numbers to Watson the last few years, but with the likes of Vince Young, Michael Vick, and Joey Harrington (blech!) throwing to him.  Think what he might do if he gets in sync with Hall of Famer to be Tom Brady, and with Randy Moss to stretch the field, too.  If you recall, there was a guy named Wes Welker who practically doubled his production just by coming to the Patriots.  Not saying that Crumpler is about to lead the NFL in receiving like Welker.  But if he connects well with Brady, his talent could make him vastly more productive than any Patriots tight end since the aforementioned Ben Coates.

And finally, Crumpler stays on the field; Watson unfortunately did not.  Watson made it through only one full season in his career, and he started a mere 24 games the last three years.  Crumpler has six 16-game slates on his resume, and the number of starts by season over his career is vastly better than Watson.  To make the point directly, here is a comparison of Crumpler and Watson in percentage of career games played and started:

Games played:
Crumpler 97% (139 of 144)
Watson 73% (71 of 96)

Games started:
Crumpler 87% (122 of 144)
Watson 49% (47 of 96)

So Crumpler has better ball skills and get-open-ability, will probably increase his production with Tom Brady throwing to him, and can be counted on to play most every game every season.  And when you consider that the loss of Wes Welker puts more pressure on Patriots tight ends for production, the signing of Alge Crumpler is seems like a win-win-win.

All in all, a great move by the Patriots.  Here's hoping Crumpler works well without a position coach :)

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS.  0-0!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Patriots 2010: Batting .500

NFL free agency starts tomorrow, and it is going to be a crazy one. Without a salary cap, there is nothing to stop teams from releasing under-performing players, and with several new coaching staffs in place, expect lots of recognizable veterans to be out of jobs and looking for a fresh start somewhere else.

So far this off-season, the Patriots have made the most news fending off charges that they don't pay players and franchising Vince Wilfork. Neither of those is important at this point; the Patriots consistently spend up to the salary cap, and the Wilfork negotiations are ongoing.

However, they haven't exactly covered themselves in glory regarding my suggestions for the off-season. Specifically to this point they haven't taken full heed of my advice on how to improve their coaching staff. They followed only half of my advice, meaning they are batting only .500 to this point. Here is how it shakes out so far.

On the plus side, they let several under-performing coaches go. Dean Pees was okay, but Bill Belichick clearly did not trust him, and BB ended up spending way too much time working with the defense during games. In fact, it probably cost himself another championship in Super Bowl XLII, because Belichick basically neglected an offense that was in trouble (and had an inexperienced offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels) to manage a defense that had more veteran coaches on the staff. So Pees needed to go -- and his departure gives them a chance to hire someone Belichick trusts to run the defense, especially on game day.

They also let tight ends coach Shane Waldron go, which is a good thing. The Pats haven't had a standout tight end since... gulp, Ben Coates. Their current crop has under-performed for years, though that doesn't all fall on Waldron, who only coached them in 2009. But they regressed under Waldron, so the team had to find a better coach for that position,given the talent they've thrown at the position (Daniel Graham and Benjamin Watson). IMO, the final straw was that part-time starter David Thomas was released in 2008, but then he caught on with the Saints and had his most productive year by far. So something was obviously wrong at that position, so good for the Patriots for trying something new.

But that's where the good news ends. Even given those positive developments, the Patriots are stuck in neutral when it comes to hiring replacements, naming no one to coach the offense, defense, or tight ends. Belichick's refusal to hire from outside his inner circle continues to hamstring him because he is competing with teams that hire the best coaches available.

The Pats let go of their defensive coordinator (Dean Pees) and named no replacement. They still have no official offensive coordinator (though Bill O'Brien seems destined for another year of play calling). And after announcing that Shane Waldron wouldn't return, they failed to hire a new coach for the tight ends.

None of those decisions needs to be permanent -- though the Pats insist they have made all the coaching changes they expect for the year. They don't have to remain a closed society. There are probably dozens of coaches who would love to work with Belichick -- to learn from him and to have a chance to win consistently. But unless BB starts exploring the possibility of hiring from outside, that will never change.

They could knock out both of those concerns by hiring and OC, DC, and/or tight ends coach from outside the organization. It would be a bold change from past habits, but no team can expect to become champions without taking bold, decisive action when it is warranted.

So at this point in the 2010 season, they are 1 for 2, or batting .500. Not bad, but they could easily be at 1.000 and wowing us all.

In the next few weeks we'll know if they intend to take advantage of the uncapped year. But six weeks into the off-season the news is mixed. Here's hoping they turn it around with long-term deals for Brady and Wilfork, some new coaches, and lots of high-performance free agents landing in Foxboro.

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 0-0!