Super Bowl XLIX is about more than just deflated footballs. Honest.
As the international media and major newspapers converged on Phoenix on Monday, stories were written about Pete Carroll, Doug Baldwin and Russell Wilson. And some of them weren’t exactly complimentary.
Here’s a roundup on Super Bowl that (mostly) avoids the whole DeflateGate issue.
(Pete) Carroll was the antithesis of Parcells. Upbeat. Positive. Friendly. Encouraging. California cool. It didn’t play well, not with the media and not with some of the veterans who were loyal to Parcells despite his defection to a division rival.
Carroll only had one year of NFL head coaching experience, having gone 6-10 with the Jets in 1994. Parcells had taken over a moribund New England franchise — one that hadn’t been to the playoffs since 1986 and had posted a 14-50 record in the four seasons before his arrival — and took it to the Super Bowl.
“I think when you look back on it, guys that were there through the bad times where the Patriots hadn’t won and then with Parcells, who was rough and gruff, we went to the Super Bowl,” said Drew Bledsoe, who was the Patriots’ franchise quarterback from 1993 until getting injured in 2001 and losing his starting spot to Tom Brady. “They equated that demeanor with success. So from that standpoint, I could see where there could have been some veterans who had a hard time with that transition.”
Said Willie McGinest, the Patriots’ first-round pick in 1994, “I think it was a little tough because Parcells drafted me. I’m sure I share the sentiment of a lot of players. We wanted him to stay. I wanted him to be our head coach.
“Some people were probably excited; some people probably not. I know a lot of people probably weren’t big fans of Parcells. That’s what I was used to. Some liked the other person. The one thing you know is Pete’s totally different. If you’re an immature player or didn’t conduct yourself the right way, you could get away with more with Pete. He would discipline you, but you didn’t fear things. Bill was totally different.”
Parcells led by intimidation. Carroll led by inspiration.
“Some guys couldn’t see through the success with Bill Parcells,” said longtime Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi. “Whether you were too young to realize there was more than one way to do things, or you were too old to try to do something else, that’s where the problems started.”
Because Carroll followed such an iconic figure in Parcells, those close to Carroll feel he never had a legitimate chance to succeed.
When Bill Parcells’s incurable wanderlust and desire to fill his own grocery list led him to abandon the Patriots for the Jets before during after Super Bowl XXXI, Pete Carroll was Robert Kraft’s choice as a change-of-pace successor.
A relentlessly eager and optimistic coach, Carroll had the fortune to inherit a young, richly talented roster that had been one Desmond Howard kick return from possibly stealing a Super Bowl victory. He also had the misfortune of following Parcells, whose charismatic command of every scene and situation made him an impossible act to follow.
And he was. Carroll was lauded as a players’ coach upon his hiring — a shot at the controlling Parcells, whose voice had grown tiresome to the likes of quarterback Drew Bledsoe.
It turned out that the evaluation was spot-on in all the wrong ways. Carroll gave his players freedom. He treated them like men. In turn, they treated him like a strutting, gum-chomping pushover, a camp counselor who would cite the rules but would always come up short of enforcing them.
On his watch, a tenure that lasted three increasingly maddening seasons (1997-99), the 11-win AFC championship team he inherited fell from 10 wins to 9 to 8. It was a gradual, painful bloodletting, one that saw some of those promising young players stagnate (Willie McGinest, Bledsoe), others turn insubordinate (Terry Glenn), and others follow Parcells to New Jersey (Curtis Martin).
There’s an irresistible narrative at play this week in the buildup to Super Bowl XLIX. Bill Belichick, who cleaned up the mess — a depth-free roster in salary-cap hell — that Carroll and inept general manager Bobby Grier left behind, is going for his fourth Super Bowl title with the Patriots. Standing in his way is Carroll, his predecessor here who has gone on to great success with Southern Cal before leading the Seahawks to the first Super Bowl victory in franchise history last year.
It’s a compelling successor/predecessor angle … and one I fear that is going to be misrepresented by those who did not watch — make that endure — the Carroll era in New England. It would be easy to glance at that decent won-lost record (27-21), and presume that someone did him wrong here, that he was the excellent coach then that he is now.
That would be a misguided presumption. Carroll wasn’t a bad coach. He was the wrong coach, a woefully poor fit with his rah-rah California Pete good cheer, something Tedy Bruschi addressed diplomatically earlier this week.
The cleft chin, those broad shoulders, the signature pompom perched atop his just-tousled-enough hair. The perfect white teeth. The determined eyes—set under a strong brow and above defined cheekbones—that watch his troops do battle until he can once again go on the offensive.
That’s Tom, of course—Tom Brady. New England’s sex symbol. Hell, our nation’s sex symbol. A man who looks as good on that Met Gala red carpet as he does on that green Foxboro turf.
But Tom isn’t the first heartthrob that Patriots owner Robert Kraft has hired. No, before there was Tom, there was Pete—Pete Carroll.
That’s right, the coach of the Seahawks, the team our beloved Patriots have to beat in order to hold the Lombardi trophy and their heads up high, was the OG (that’s “original gangster,” Mom) Patriots sex symbol.
Don’t believe me? Look:
Okay, so the pants are more pleated than you ever thought pants could be, and they look like they’re inflated to at least 13.5 psi. But if you can get past the fact that he borrowed them from MC Hammer (and the aggressive tuck-in), he’s pretty sexy, right? He’s got that windswept, slightly disheveled look that Brady has. Even decades apart, both men have swagger up the wazoo.
He hasn’t changed but he’s different and the difference may be as simple as this: Pete Carroll knows now what to ask of whom.
That, as much as the front office back-biting and dwindling personnel he endured in Foxboro, is what separates Carroll today from the coach who was fired in 1999 after three years of diminishing returns in New England. He is still a guy who wants the players to lead and take ownership of their team but he’s more careful to whom he hands the keys to the family minivan.
When Carroll arrived in Foxboro he faced a daunting task. Normally when a new coach arrives it’s because the team he’s inheriting is in disarray. It’s been losing and he’s there to change the culture as well as the results.
Pete Carroll did not inherit such a circumstance. Instead he faced the most difficult of assignments. He was asked to replace a Hall of Fame coach and improve upon a team that had just gone to the Super Bowl. Carroll had, in other words, one chance to win and many ways to lose.
So the situation was difficult to begin with and compounded by the stark stylistic differences between the coaches. Carroll was the personification of California cool. Parcells the personification of Jersey Guy hot. It was like replacing Darth Vader with Captain Kangaroo. Both may be captains but they were flying different ships, bro.
As Carroll’s first season in New England was about to begin, a full-page caricature of Carroll and Parcells, who had moved on to coach the Jets, appeared in a local newspaper. Parcells was wearing pearl-handle pistols and a grimace. He was Gen. Patton. Pete? He was in sandals and shades, a surfboard in one hand, a glass of chablis in the other.
Carroll has never forgotten that drawing, believing it poisoned the well, labeling him as a substitute teacher who could not maintain discipline. He has brought it up several times since, the depiction still gnawing at him after two national championships at USC and a Super Bowl victory.
No receiver is going to put up Pro Bowl numbers in this offense, built as it is around Beast Mode. Many of Marshawn Lynch’s long runs are sprung by the downfield blocks of Seattle’s receivers. All NFL wideouts talk a good game about blocking downfield. Some actually mean it when they say it. Seattle’s receivers walk the walk.
“You can spring a running back for a touchdown,” says backup slot receiver and Cornell graduate Bryan Walters, “so you don’t want to be the guy who missed the block on the guy who makes the tackle.” Offensive line coach Tom Cable has earned the affection of the receivers for his habit of freezing the video in meetings, pointing out their downfield blocks.
“These guys have to be tough,” points out wide receivers coach Kippy Brown, “to start and compete against our defensive backs every day.” What’s more, he says, “Look where they come from. They only guy here that was drafted was Norwood.” Last spring, Seattle took Kevin Norwood, out of Alabama, in the fourth round. (Wide out Paul Richardson, a second-round pick last spring, tore his left ACL in Seattle’s divisional playoff win over the Panthers.)
“These guys have never been special, pampered, superstar kinds of players, ever,” adds Brown. “Every one of them has had to scratch, claw, and when they first got here, wake up every morning and wonder if they were going to get cut.” In this scenario, coach Pete Carroll and roster-churning GM John Schneider are dueling Dread Pirate Robertses, cheerfully signing off to players at the end of each day:
Good night Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.
“We enjoy the physicality of it,” (Doug) Baldwin told me. “We do the other stuff that other receivers don’t typically do.” Receivers lacking that grit, that willingness to do the dirty work, don’t stick on this roster.”
Must every wide receiver on the Seahawks turn sideways, upon entering that group’s meeting room, to accommodate the chip on his shoulder? I asked Baldwin if this was something authentic and real — if he and his mates truly do draw motivation from being underrated. In the space of two sentences, he gave quite different answers:
“We want to harness that underappreciated, undervalued, unrecognized [theme], that pedestrian, average mediocre mantra.”
“Honestly, we really don’t give a s—. But at the end of the day, it’s fun for us.”
Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin’s coach at Gulf Breeze High School in Florida, Chris Nemith:
Right now he’s known as Angry Doug, and I can tell you he’s always been that fiery. Even as a freshman in high school. He’s always been told he’s just not good enough, not tall enough, not fast enough, whatever. So he’s had a chip on his shoulder.
“He knew he didn’t have the typical height and size for Division 1 schools, so he made himself marketable in other aspects. He worked extra hard in the classroom so he’d get looked at by schools like Vanderbilt, Stanford and Wake Forrest. When he got to Stanford, there was a small group of people from back home who said he’d never make it out there. He’ll come home. He’s not tough enough.
“What did Doug do? He kept grinding. So when you see Chris Carter or Keshawn Johnson call him out, you have to look at his journey to get here. That’s why he’s protective of his team, and that Angry Doug? He’s always been that way.”
Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette’s track coach at Fort Valley State in Georgia, Tyree Price:
“We had a home meet, and Ricardo was running the 200-meters. He blew everybody out of the water. Coming down the homestretch, he sees his dad in the stands and points up to him. I’m in the press box, looking down at this and sigh. Oh dear, look what I gotta deal with.
“Afterward I went up to Ricardo and said, ‘Look, there’s a certain way you have to win. It’s nice to point to your dad, but think about how other’s might perceive it.’
“He said, ‘I got you coach.’ Never had that problem again. He’s a determined individual. Some might call it arrogance; I think it’s just a kid who is confident and chasing his dream. He was one heck of a runner. I think if he wanted to, he could still represent the U.S. in the Olympics. Probably not in the 400m, but maybe in the 200m, and possibly do some damage in the 100m as well.”
Jon Gruden was not speaking in the heat of the moment on live television as he’s known to do on Monday Night Football. When he praised the Legion of Boom last week from Arizona, the site of Super Bowl XLIX, he was speaking as someone who coached in the NFL for more than 20 years and won a title as a head coach.
“I don’t think there’s a place to rank the No. 1 through No. 15 all-time secondaries,” Gruden said. “But if I was drafting a safety, I would take Earl Thomas No. 1. If I was drafting a strong safety, I would probably take (Kam) Chancellor No. 1. If I was drafting a corner, me personally, I would take Richard Sherman No. 1.
“So they’re pretty damn close to being the best I’ve seen,” he concluded.
That’s the air the Seahawks’ quartet of Thomas, Chancellor, Sherman and Byron Maxwell are breathing. It’s not so much whether they’re the better secondary in Sunday’s game against the Patriots, which says a lot considering that includes cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and a member of last year’s Legion, Brandon Browner.
And it’s not whether they’re the best in the NFL, because the Patriots would be their stiffest competition with every other secondary trailing well behind.
LeGarrette Blount was not unlike a lot of extraordinary athletes hailing from otherwise ordinary towns.
In Perry, Fla., less than an hour’s drive from Tallahassee, Blount was somebody. He was a teenager with power, speed and potential packed inside a grown man’s body, and he was destined to bust out and do big things.
He knew it, and so did all those who gave him a pass when he misbehaved, or looked the other way when he pushed the boundaries. When he showed up at practices late, or didn’t show up at all. When he was roaming the halls instead of sitting in class.
“Coming up through school, he’s always been able to get away with certain things because of the kind of player he was,” said Toney Powell, a childhood friend and teammate who is now a fifth-grade math teacher in Taylor County, Fla. “At the end of the day, we knew he was LeGarrette Blount.”
The idea that all students are equal, that running faster and jumping higher garners no special privileges, is admirable but not always realistic. It wasn’t for Blount, Powell says, and that’s why he’s not just happy Blount is playing for the Patriots now, but relieved.
New England’s bruising ball carrier helped the Patriots bulldoze the Colts, earning them a trip to Super Bowl XLIX where they’ll play the Seahawks on Sunday. In the AFC Championship game, Blount rushed for 148 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries.
To those who’ve watched him sometimes stumble through his football career — and at times make a mess of it — the performance crystallized what they’ve always known: In the right environment, with the right people, he could thrive.
“Playing in New England, that’s the best situation possible for him to keep him on the straight path,” Powell said.
The storm moved to the desert Monday night. It’s the Patriots against the world from this point forward.
Bob Kraft came out swinging when the Patriots first faced the global media in Arizona. The Patriots’ owner kicked off the team’s Super Bowl week by doing the same thing Bill Belichick did Saturday (minus the science). Kraft said he believed his team did “nothing inappropriate,’’ and there had been no “violation of NFL rules.’’ He said he had been assured by Belichick and Tom Brady that everything was on the level, adding, “I have never known them to lie to me.’’ He said the Patriots welcomed the league investigation.
This time, it’s the Patriots against the world
Kraft characterized Deflategate as a crisis “driven by media leaks,’’ spoke of folks “jumping to conclusions,” and said that if the investigation does not disclose tampering, “I would expect and hope the league would apologize to our team and to Coach Belichick and Tom Brady for what they have had to endure.’’ He said, “I am disappointed in how this has been handled.’’
All this came just hours after a new story surfaced (Fox Sports) that the NFL has identified a person of interest: a Patriots locker room attendant who had possession of the game balls before the AFC Championship.
Wow. Game On. Welcome to Super Bowl XLIX.
We have gone from the ridiculous to the more ridiculous. The anticipation is greater than ever. The lines are drawn. Sides have been chosen. It is now the Patriots against the world and New England fans against fans everywhere else in the world.
In 2011, Alok Pattani, a senior analytics specialist in ESPN’s Stats & Information Group, outlined a concept of expected wins for a quarterback based on his QBR in a game. The basic premise is that a player’s QBR in game can be interpreted as the expected win percentage for the team given that level of QB play. So a team whose starting quarterback has a QBR of 20 in a game would be expected to win about 20 percent of the time; a player with a QBR of 80 should win about 80 percent of the time, on average.
Wilson’s 13.6 QBR against the Packers equates to .136 expected wins, meaning the Seahawks won .864 more games than expected, given their quarterback play. By aggregating the difference between a player’s actual wins and expected wins over a given period of time, we can determine which quarterbacks are winning or losing more than expected based on their play alone.
Since Wilson entered the league, he has a 63.7 Total QBR in the regular season and playoffs, which ranks eighth among 31 qualified quarterbacks. Wilson deserves credit for his above-average QBR during that time, but does that equate to a 42-13 (.764 win percentage) career record?Expanding the data set back to 2006, no quarterback has been aided more by his teammates over a three-year span than Wilson. Joe Flacco from 2010 to 2012 was the next closest in terms of added wins (8.4) during any three-year period.
So how have Wilson and the Seahawks been able to defy the odds?
One word: defense.
In the last three seasons, the Seahawks have contributed 4.4 points per game to their net scoring margin on defense, by far the best defensive efficiency in the NFL. Only Alex Smith (2.1) and Andy Dalton (2.1) have had defenses that contributed more than two expected points per game in their starts during that time.
Seattle’s defense has a knack for playing its best when Wilson and the offense are at their worst
Based on Wilson’s game-level QBRs in the last three seasons, he has almost 10 more wins than expected. No other player has six more wins than expected during that time.
If not for the presence of Bill Belichick, following the twists and turns of The Great Deflate would be as interesting as dissecting the anatomy of a hangnail.
Out of one side of its mouth, the media mocks, and dares pooh-pooh, this story, which some initially called a “non-story.” Out of the other, it has used the issue over allegations air was actually sucked out of a bunch of footballs as a referendum on Belichick, as if this alleged brand of chicanery could severely taint his legacy.
This notion, from those who cover a league (a business worth billions) populated by gun toting, substance abusing, wife beating, creeps. This “crime” Belichick has allegedly masterminded on behalf of Tom Brady, a story that is leading national newscasts, does not exactly measure up to the NFL’s graphic, and multiple, examples of deviant behavior. Or the cockeyed way the league investigated them.
Nor would this latest controversy over air pressure seem to deserve the kind of attention these national newscasts are giving it. In a very twisted way, this is a graphic example of the inflated role the NFL plays in our society and culture. How it’s treated like a religion. Especially this week.
The last time these newscasts had this kind of interest in an NFL story was when they aired video of Ray Rice KO’ing his wife inside an Atlantic City hotel elevator.
Even the pill-popping owner, Indy’s Jim Irsay, who was busted for driving under the influence didn’t inspire this much attention from the Scott Pelleys of the world.
But this is about, as the sainted Don Shula once called him, Belicheat. This is Mr. Spygate. Mr. Hoodie. Mr. Arrogant, a coach perceived to always be a few steps ahead of the guy across the field. Belichick is a lightning rod for the jealous. No team could win as much as New England without cheating, right?
SpyGate happened so it must be so.
So how should the Patriots’ offense approach the Seahawks’ defense?
Avoid the right
Richard Sherman has lined up on the offense’s right on 99 percent of his snaps this postseason, and his presence has made passing to that side a problem for opposing offenses.
When targeting receivers outside the right numbers against the Seahawks this postseason, opponents are 6-of-17 (35 percent) with a touchdown (Randall Cobb) and three interceptions (two by Sherman). Of the six completions, four were thrown within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
On passes to the rest of the field this postseason, the Seahawks have allowed a 68 percent completion percentage and two touchdowns and have one interception.
When the Patriots played the Seahawks in 2012, Tom Brady was 3-of-10 with a touchdown and an interception throwing outside the right numbers.
At the time, Sherman was in his second year and emerging as a star. Brady didn’t avoid him much then, but he might this time if the divisional playoffs are any indication.
Ground game is key
Running against the Seahawks is key, as they allowed 139 yards on 33 rushes on average in their four losses this season (an average of 73 yards on 22 rushes in 14 wins).
The Seahawks’ rush defense is strong, however, ranking second in yards per rush allowed (3.4) in the regular season. The Seahawks are particularly strong after contact, allowing a league-low 1.35 yards per rush after the first hit.
Against punishing runners such as Jonathan Stewart and Eddie Lacy this postseason, the Seahawks have softened up, allowing 2.27 yards per rush after contact. That’s good news for the Patriots, as LeGarrette Blount led the NFL with 2.57 yards per rush after contact this season.
Having to watch this year’s Super Bowl will be as infuriating to Denverites as, say, sticklers spotting a double negative in the Denver newspaper, because this game is essentially the football gods’ equivalent to a middle finger — yet you’ll watch, because, well, it’s the Super Bowl, and you can’t not watch.
I can’t remember a matchup in any sport that could enrage the Front Range more than the Seahawks versus the Patriots (could the Raiders somehow play the Red Wings?). Your anger won’t take a play off — either it’s Russell Wilson and the reigning champion Seahawks, who demoralized Denver in last year’s Super Bowl, or it’s the Patriots, Denver’s big brother this season, coached by the hateable coach, quarterbacked by their hateable quarterback … while facing the Seattle defense that obnoxiously smacked around the Broncos last February. And you can’t even escape the misery during penalties — the main ref is Bill Vinovich, and the Broncos with Peyton Manning are 0-4 when he’s in charge.
Really, one of the only guys to root for on these teams is Seahawks wide receiver Paul Richardson, a proud CU Buff — but he’s injured and done for the season.
Why might the Patriots succeed where the Broncos failed? Last year’s Super Bowl provided a referendum on how football is played today, and the Seahawks came down resoundingly on the side of defense, obliterating Denver’s top-ranked, high-scoring offense with the force of a jam at the line of scrimmage. It is tempting to think of the Patriots as being a carbon copy of the Broncos because of Brady’s prowess with the pass. But the Patriots are a much more balanced team than Denver was last season — and than the Patriots themselves have been in a while, perhaps even since the last time they won the Super Bowl 10 years ago. They finished the regular season ranked 11th in total offense (fourth in scoring offense), ninth in the passing game and 18th in the running game. The surprise is their defense, ranked 13th overall — it hasn’t been that high since 2009 — and eighth in scoring defense.
So where is the potential flaw in Belichick’s machine? The Patriots lost just four games this season — but three of those losses came against signal-callers who finished the regular season ranked among the top eight in rushing yards by quarterbacks (Miami’s Ryan Tannehill, Kansas City’s Alex Smith and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers). Seattle’s Russell Wilson led that category this season, with a career-high 849 rushing yards on a career-high 118 rushing attempts. He also posted a league-best 7.2 yards per carry. And he’s particularly effective on third down, posting a league-leading 213 rushing yards on that down.
The conventional wisdom is that Belichick’s defense will try to take Marshawn Lynch and the running game out of it, forcing things into Wilson’s hands and trying to make him throw from the pocket. The danger, it would seem, is that Wilson could get outside of it.
“What’s tough about him is he doesn’t mind doing either one,” said Patriots safety Devin McCourty. “If it’s too many guys in front of him, his head is down, he’s looking at them, but as soon as it clears up, he’s right back downfield. You see a lot of maybe third-and-15s or third-and-16s where it’s almost like they know this play is probably going to last six, maybe eight, 10 seconds, and the receivers never stop. I think that’s the toughest part on the secondary of having a guy like that, but then having a whole receiving group that knows it, and they’re either running deep or if they’re deep they’re coming back to him. We’ve really got to defend every part of the field.”
During last week’s Pro Bowl, Around The NFL talked with a bevy of all stars that battled the Patriots and Seahawks during the season in order to get a feel for what challenges each will face during the Super Bowl.
“Tom is one of the best ever, he gets in those modes where you can’t do anything,” Chargers safety Eric Weddle said. “You are just hoping he makes a mistake or makes a bad throw, because he can just kill a defense.”
Weddle’s Chargers faced both franchise quarterbacks in 2014 and the safety said each brings a unique skill set.
“Russ, obviously, his intangibles, his belief, the way he can extend plays and run around and kill a defense like that, which always presents problems,” Weddle said, noting the Chargers often used a defensive back as a spy on the shifty signal caller.
Weddle said keeping each quarterback down the whole game in nearly impossible, pointing to Brady’s 69-yard fourth-quarter touchdown dime to Julian Edelman in Week 14 as evidence.
“It was such a battle the entire game and then he makes a sick throw like that,” Weddle said. “That is the thing against great quarterbacks, you can play good for so long and he makes that one throw that kills you.”
Beyond the quarterbacks, both New England and Seattle present unique challenges for the defenses in Super Bowl XLIX.
“No arm tackling. Straight body tackles. Arm tackles he’s running right through it. So you know it’s going to be a war,” Houston said. “I know he broke one of my tackles the first series of the game I went and tried to get a good lick, didn’t wrap up good he broke through it. I looked back behind me and he was five yards down field. So you got to wrap up, bring your weight with you.”
“He’s huge. He’s tough to stop,” Lions safety Glover Quin said. “He is a big target, great hands, strong, powerful, faster than a lot of people think. … Obviously you want to try to get your hands on him. … But he’s definitely a tough guy to stop.”
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