AFC East: Dean Pees
Belichick has insisted coordinator merely is a title and he won't be stretched too thin by not designating his top lieutenants. He still hasn't promoted anyone since former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels departed for the Denver Broncos a year ago. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees stepped down after last season.
More than usual, eyes were on Belichick when the Patriots held their first open team workout. Belichick spent a predominant amount of time overseeing the defense.
"It was one of those moments that created little doubt as to who was in charge," ESPNBoston.com reporter Mike Reiss writes.
Reiss notes that while Belichick ran the defensive drills, quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia seemed to have command over the offense.
With an overview of the defense, Reiss explains why Belichick's increased involvement is critical. The Patriots have a young defense and uncertainty at various positions. The Patriots especially need to generate a better pass rush.
Even so, head coach Bill Belichick doesn't plan on being any busier this year than he has in the past.
Belichick, in a one-on-one interview with ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss, addressed several topics and explained for the first time why he decided to drop coordinators from his staff.
"I'm not going to take on more workload," Belichick told Reiss at the NFL owners meetings. "It just might be distributed a little differently. That's the way it's been in the past. My workload hasn't changed in the last 10 years. It's been distributed differently, from year to year, or even within a year, within different time frames of the year -- between personnel and football, or offense, defense and special teams as it relates just to football."
Reiss reports Belichick will conduct the defensive meetings former defensive coordinator Dean Pees used to run. Quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien will remain influential on the offensive strategy.
Belichick also discussed the Patriots' approach to free agency. They concentrated on re-signing their players and didn't pursue much outside help.
"Some of the best players in free agency this year were Patriots," Belichick said. "We re-signed a number of them, and a couple we didn't. The players that we did re-sign are quality players, and I'm glad we have them."
Other topics Reiss asked Belichick about included the disappointment of 2009, the status of outside linebacker Adalius Thomas, the Patriots reportedly playing the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving and the organization's pre-draft evaluation process.
The Bills are converting from a 4-3 defense under new head coach Chan Gailey and coordinator George Edwards. That will turn the AFC East into a unanimous 3-4 division.
The Bills ran a Tampa 2 defense under former head coach Dick Jauron and his interim replacement, Perry Fewell.
Ryan, considered one of the finest 3-4 masterminds, noted the transformation can be smooth.
"I guess that depends on 'Are you changing coverages or is it just the front you are changing?'" Ryan said Saturday at the NFL scouting combine in Lucas Oil Stadium. "There are several different versions of a 3-4. But it depends on your style.
"If the coverages are staying the same, it probably is not as big of a change as what you might think."
The problem for Buffalo, however, is that they're missing the centerpiece of a 3-4 defense: a monstrous nose tackle to stuff the run.
"That might be one of the toughest parts of a 3-4," Ryan said.
Ryan went on to explain why.
(Football jargon alert! "Two-gap responsibility" means a defensive lineman is responsible for either opening beside the offensive lineman in front of him. "A-gap" means the area on either side of the center, a location where defensive linemen frequently will get double-teamed by a center and a guard.)
"If you are playing a standard 3-4 defense, then you got a two-gap responsibility, which means you got to be able to play the front-side A-gap and the backside A-gap at the same time," Ryan said.
"You generally need a dominant individual there. And that is what you have like a Kris Jenkins. A Ted Washington many years ago in Buffalo was one of the best two-gappers I have ever seen.
"A guy has to be active, got to be able to stay on his feet, his technique on releasing off of blocks has got to be outstanding. If not, you are really going to struggle at that spot."
The Jets are the only AFC East team that didn't make a change at defensive coordinator.
The Miami Dolphins fired Paul Pasqualoni and snatched Mike Nolan away from the Denver Broncos. Although the New England Patriots' defense belongs to head coach Bill Belichick, coordinator Dean Pees stepped down in January.
Nolan was the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator when Ryan was their defensive line coach. When Nolan left to become head coach of the San Francisco 49ers in 2005, Ryan was appointed defensive coordinator.
Ryan, never afraid to throw out a challenge, was deferential when asked about facing Nolan twice a year.
"He's outstanding," Ryan said. "He's one of the top coordinators in the league. I learned a ton working under Mike for several years. He's one of my favorite guys. That was a great hire.
"He's always had a well-coached team that really gets after it. I'm sure that's the way it'll be. It's going to be tough."
In a move straight out of the leather-helmet era, the New England Patriots have revealed they won't have any coordinators for 2010. No offensive, no defensive, no special teams.
The news came to light on the team's official Web site. The Patriots didn't have an offensive coordinator last year. They parted ways with defensive coordinator Dean Pees last month and apparently won't replace him, choosing to spread the duties with no designated helmsman.
"Titles are fine, nothing wrong with them, but the most important thing is each person's role, that we do everything we can to help the players succeed -- everyone collectively getting the job done," Belichick said in the Web story.
Quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien handled most of the play-calling responsibilities last year after Josh McDaniels left to become head coach of the Denver Broncos. McDaniels, who had a similar combo role after Charlie Weis left for Notre Dame, was given the title of offensive coordinator after a year of calling plays. O'Brien apparently won't be elevated likewise.
On Friday morning, ESPNBoston's Mike Reiss presciently analyzed the Patriots' staff situation.
ESPN's John Clayton takes a spin around the conference in his weekly "AFC Huddle."
Clayton leads off with what happens next for the New York Jets. He doesn't see running back Thomas Jones or cornerback Lito Sheppard coming back in 2010 and wonders how they'll eventually replace left guard Alan Faneca and right tackle Damien Woody.
Also addressed are the number of changes in store for the Buffalo Bills under new head coach Chan Gailey. Will Gailey switch the Bills to a 3-4 defense? Will Trent Edwards get another shot to be the quarterback?
Even beyond the obvious shortcomings at quarterback and along the offensive line, Gailey will be strategizing against three of the game's most formidable defensive minds.
The Miami Dolphins on Tuesday hired Mike Nolan to be their defensive coordinator. Football operations boss Bill Parcells provides additional brainpower.
The New York Jets are in the AFC Championship Game because of Rex Ryan's top-rated defense. Bill Belichick still runs the New England Patriots defense even though coordinator Dean Pees announced he won't be back next year.
Nolan's acquisition was a coup for the Dolphins, who fired Paul Pasqualoni last week. Nolan rehabbed the Denver Broncos' defense from one of the NFL's worst in 2008 to respectability.
The Broncos ranked 30th in scoring defense and 29th in total defense the year before Nolan arrived, but he trimmed nearly eight points and 60 yards a game. The Broncos ranked 12th in scoring defense and seventh in total defense.
The Dolphins aren't commenting about their courtship with Nolan, but reports indicate it was a whirlwind.
NFL Network reporter Steve Wyche blogged some inside info on how the deal went down.
Wyche reported the Dolphins sought permission from the Broncos to interview Nolan. Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels asked Nolan which job he would rather have. Nolan said he wanted to go to the Dolphins, and McDaniels agreed to let him out of his contract with no animosity.
The New England Patriots' defense will evolve significantly between now and the start of the 2010 season. Even before defensive coordinator Dean Pees announced he was leaving the team for personal reasons, there were questions to answer.
For ESPNBoston, former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi addressed the team's perceived lack of defensive leadership.
"Remember, your defense is young," Bruschi explains. "Jerod Mayo's only in his second year. Gary Guyton's in his second year. Brandon Meriweather's still developing to be a leader. Yes, you can add another veteran presence that can be a good leading force in the middle there, but these leaders will develop with time. There was a time when I didn’t know how to lead, either."
ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss has posted his analysis on Pees' surprising departure after six years with the team.
Boston Globe reporter Albert Breer writes Pees has been dealing with a series of medical issues. Pees was diagnosed with prostate cancer over the summer and had surgery. A blood clot was found in his leg shortly thereafter. Pees was hospitalized with shortness of breath during the Patriots' loss to the Houston Texans in the regular-season finale.
Pees also has released a statement through the club:
"My contract with the New England Patriots will expire in a couple of weeks, and I have informed Mr. [Robert] Kraft and Coach [Bill] Belichick that I will not seek to renew it. I enjoyed my time in New England, but feel this is the right time to pursue other opportunities. I had the privilege of working with some great coaches and great players over the past six seasons and leave the Patriots with some wonderful memories that will last a lifetime. In addition to the players and coaching staff, I want to thank the Kraft family, the media and the fans for all of their support."
Boston Herald reporter Ian R. Rapoport tracked Pees down by phone and posted the comments on his blog.
"I was not fired," Pees told Rapoport. "The truth is, my contract is up in two weeks, and I chose not to return for personal reasons.
"The Patriots treated me very well. I've enjoyed my time here. It’s been six wonderful years. But my contract is up. I’m looking at future endeavors. I'm going into free agency."
Providence Journal beat writer Shalise Manza Young reports the New England Patriots have fired defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who was hospitalized with shortness of breath during the Patriots loss to the Houston Texans in the regular-season finale.
Three of the AFC East's four teams are in need of a defensive coordinator. The Dolphins fired Paul Pasqualoni on Monday. The Buffalo Bills basically don't have any coaches, and interim coach/defensive coordinator Perry Fewell reportedly is choosing between the Chicago Bears and New York Giants.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Wednesday the Dolphins interviewed Al Groh, the longtime associate of Dolphins football operations chief Bill Parcells.
But Groh also has close ties with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. They served together under Parcells with the New York Giants, New England Patriots and New York Jets. Groh also was on Belichick's staff with the Cleveland Browns.
The Patriots ranked 11th in total defense and fifth in scoring defense, allowing 17.8 points a game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The soundtrack for this blog item, Destiny Child's "Say My Name," should be playing in the back of your brain as you read on.
If you ain't runnin' game
|Rick Stewart/Getty Images|
|Fred Jackson believes the Bills can make a "statement" against the Patriots on Monday night.|
Fred Jackson is entering his third NFL season, but a household name he's not.
Not even those scouting him, including a team that was trampled by him, know who this guy is.
Jackson is the Buffalo Bills' backup running back, but the underrated and versatile reserve will move to the forefront for the first three weeks of the season, while Pro Bowler Marshawn Lynch serves a suspension.
By the end of the month, fans outside of Western New York should know his name. Heading into Monday night's opener against the New England Patriots, though, he's practically anonymous.
"Thomas, the running back, had a great game against us last year to end the year," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said Wednesday on a conference call with Bills reporters.
The Bills don't have a running back with the first or last name Thomas. They have a Fred and a Jackson, and that's about it because they released Dominic Rhodes on cutdown day. Rhodes was supposed to help Jackson make up for Lynch's absence, but the Bills decided to lean heavily on Jackson with some support from Xavier Omon.
Jackson is hoping to introduce himself to the country on the big stage in prime time. He has played on Monday night before, but not as the featured back. This will be a showcase game. Brady will return after missing last season with a knee injury. Terrell Owens will make his Bills debut.
"Everybody is watching, and it's a great place to go out and make some plays," Jackson said. "It's a wonderful opportunity for us to help us as a team get started on the right path.
"We’ve got New England and Tom Brady is back, so everyone will be watching that game to see what he can do. What better place for us to go out and make a statement for ourselves?"
See, Tom? He knows your name.
Jackson is easily overlooked because of his limited pedigree. He played for Division III Coe College, wasn't drafted, played for Sioux City of the U.S. Indoor Football League, made it to the Rhein Fire of NFL Europa, landed on Buffalo's practice squad and made the roster for eight games in 2007.
He played in all 16 games last year and started three. He rushed for 571 yards and three touchdowns and caught 37 passes for 317 yards. He also can return punts, breaking off a 35-yarder last year and averaging 16.6 yards on seven tries.
Jackson had an outstanding game against the Patriots in the season finale. The winds raged so harshly they twisted the Ralph Wilson Stadium goal posts, the Patriots knew the Bills had little choice but to run. Lynch was out with an injury. But Jackson still ran 27 times for 136 yards, both career highs.
"Let's not forget that Mr. Jackson ran for about 130 yards on us last year into a 50 mile-per hour wind when we knew he was going to run the ball," Patriots defensive coordinator Dean Pees said this week. "I'm sure they wish they had Marshawn. You never want to have anybody out, but Mr. Jackson can do a very respectful job and he has done that against us."
No, his name ain't Thomas. It's Fred. Mr. Jackson if you're nasty.
We'll see if anybody's singing a different tune four days from now.
The New England Patriots have lost another key member of their football operations.
On the same day the Kansas City Chiefs introduced former Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli as general manager, new Cleveland Browns head coach Eric Mangini plucked special teams coach Brad Seely off the Patriots' staff.
Seely will get a promotion to assistant head coach. He was on Bill Belichick's staff for all four Super Bowl appearances. Seely joined the Patriots in 1999 and was retained when Belichick became head coach a year later.
Reports also had linked Seely to the Denver Broncos, where Josh McDaniels took over as head coach Monday. McDaniels was the Patriots' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Patriots secondary coach Dom Capers, a long-time defensive coordinator, also could be on the move, further depleting the Patriots of more brain power.
At least Patriot Nation can count on defensive coordinator Dean Pees not going anywhere.
|Matthew Emmons/US Presswire|
|New England cornerback Ellis Hobbs knows the Patriots secondary needs to step it up.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Philip Rivers pumped javelins down the sidelines.
"Everyone has to realize it's a wound everyone's going to try to keep opening up until we heal it," Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs said. "It's there."
The Patriots' defensive backfield has been overwhelmed as much through five games as it was all last season. New England has given up seven pass plays of 30 yards or longer. That equals the number it yielded in 2007.
Its sixth game won't provide any respite.
The Patriots on Monday night will host the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium.
New England's beleaguered secondary will be asked to contain a pass attack ranked first in the AFC and second in the league at 279.3 yards a game entering Week 7.
"I don't know what the questions are for us," Hobbs told reporters this week. "I just know there are questions out there.
"We need to go into this game thinking, 'I feel like my back's against the wall.' Our team's back is against the wall, and we have to come out swinging no matter what. It's early in the season. But this is how you get the momentum going."
After Miami came to Gillette Stadium in Week 3 and unleashed a dumbfounding game plan, New England's coaching staff -- a group that includes defensive architects Bill Belichick, coordinator Dean Pees and secondary coach Dom Capers -- had two weeks to strategize for Mike Martz's offense. The Patriots held the San Francisco 49ers to less than 200 total yards.
Last Sunday night, however, the Chargers bombed away.
Rivers, mostly picking on left cornerback Deltha O'Neal, completed passes of 48, 49, 59 and 22 yards. They weren't screen plays.
Hobbs also committed a 32-yard pass interference penalty to put the Chargers first-and-goal at the 1-yard line. Rivers found tight end Antonio Gates for a touchdown on the next play.
"I felt embarrassed," O'Neal said Wednesday. "I felt embattled. I felt like there were things I could have did that could have changed the outcome of the game. I'm my worst critic.
"I sat and thought about it the last couple of days, that whole flight home. I'm over it now."
Patriots fans should hope so.
Thunder-armed Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler has thrown for 1,694 yards and 12 touchdowns, numbers that rank third and fourth in the NFL.
When healthy, the Broncos have the most talented receiving corps. Brandon Marshall leads the NFL with 43 receptions despite being suspended for the season opener. Eddie Royal's 30 catches are tied for 11th even though he missed last week's game with an ankle injury. Royal is probable for Monday.
Cutler's other targets include Brandon Stokley (16 catches and two touchdowns the past three weeks) and tight end Tony Scheffler. Stokley suffered a concussion last week, while Scheffler is dealing with a groin injury. Both are questionable. Darrell Jackson, a three-time 1,000-yard receiver, is getting over a strained calf. He's listed as probable.
"They have a lot of different options and they really stress the defense in a lot of different ways," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "They can pack them in and bring in two or three tight ends. They can spread them out and go with four or five receivers, or flex out Scheffler, who is like another receiver.
"They can get as tight as you want to get, and they can get as spread out as you want to spread out, and they do a good job."
The Patriots rank 12th in pass defense, but their first two victories came against opponents who either couldn't or wouldn't throw.
They knocked Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Brodie Croyle out of the game in Week 1 and fended off Damon Huard. The New York Jets still were trying to figure out how to use Brett Favre, who passed for only 181 yards in Week 2.
A lot of factors have played into the Patriots' shaky pass defense.
The most obvious was Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel's departure. The Patriots clearly knew this was a big deal because they signed free agents Fernando Bryant, Lewis Sanders and Jason Webster and drafted two corners in the first four rounds.
Belichick didn't like any of them more than O'Neal, whom the winless Cincinnati Bengals cut because they didn't think he was anything more than a nickelback.
Other developments have left New England's defensive backs fending for themselves more than in recent years. The vaunted defensive line isn't getting as much push as it used to, giving opposing quarterbacks that much more time to work and less time for New England's defensive backs less chance to recover -- or not be detected -- when beat early on a play.
The Patriots won't have an easy time putting pressure on Cutler or forcing him i
nto bad decisions. The Broncos have allowed a league-low two sacks. Only the Kansas City Chiefs and Bengals -- one victory between them -- have recorded fewer sacks than the Patriots, who have seven.
Inescapable is the Tom Brady factor. Even the defense is affected.
Last year, with the record-breaking Patriots offense providing sizable leads before the echoes of "The Star-Spangled Banner" faded out, they had the NFL's seventh-ranked pass defense.
Under replacement Matt Cassel's direction, the Patriots have gone three-and-out on 14 of their 56 drives, sending the defense right back onto the field 25 percent of the time. They went three-and-out on 26 of their 170 possessions last year, a 15 percent frequency.
The longer games remain close, the less defenses can guess what's coming. Last year's Patriots turned loose on the quarterback and defended the pass from the second quarter on. This year's defense can't afford to commit so fully and, therefore, is unable to dictate.
"They've been all over the map a little bit," Cutler said. "You're not sure what you're going to get with those guys. I think they thought they could play man, control Rivers and the receivers and stop [LaDainian Tomlinson]. But they got hit with some big plays.
"It's going to be interesting to see what they do with us."
New England Patriots defensive coordinator Dean Pees didn't sound like a happy camper during his Friday news conference.
With a bye week and the NFL mandating offensive and defensive coordinators be available to media on alternating weeks, it was the first time Pees spoke to reporters since the Miami Dolphins rolled up 38 points on the Patriots in Foxborough, Mass.
Pees presides over one of the NFL's most feared defensive front sevens, but they didn't live up to a shadow of their reputation in Week 3.
Overall, Pees labeled the defense "inconsistent" through their first three games.
"We've played well at times. We've played poor at times," Pees said. "We just have to learn to be more consistent. Whether it be pass rush, whether it be tackling, whether it is playing deep balls, third down ... all those things we've been good at times, we've been not so good at times.
"We just have to learn to be more consistent, which is what we have been in the past. We have to get back to that."
Pees took much of the blame for the Dolphins' exotic Wildcat offense being so effective, even though the Dolphins used the single-wing, direct-snap gimmick only six times.
"Anytime somebody gives you a different wrinkle you have to adjust to it," Pees said. "That's our job. They did a good job. I give Miami a lot of credit for having a little bit of a scheme to come in and give us a different look. It's my job, though, as a coordinator to do a better job of getting the adjustments to our guys quicker.
"We finally got it adjusted, but I needed to do a better job of getting it quicker. I take responsibility for that, and then the players, when we did get it adjusted, need to do a better job of tackling it. We gave up a couple of plays that we had it stopped and we just didn't tackle.
"That was not the case early on. They caught us. I give them credit. I take responsibility. We have to get it handled quicker. I have to do a better job. The players have to do a better job."
|AP Photo/Winslow Townson|
|Ronnie Brown ran for four TDs and passed for another against the Patriots on Sunday.|
Bill Belichick's library is believed to contain the world's third-largest collection of football books behind only the Library of Congress and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
His collection of more than 500 titles is housed at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., where Belichick's father coached 33 years.
While his New England Patriots use their bye week to regroup from Sunday's incredible 38-13 loss to the Miami Dolphins, this might be the perfect occasion for Belichick to get away and center himself.
On a shelf somewhere in Ricketts Hall he likely will find "Winning Single Wing Football: A Simplified Guide for the Football Coach," written by Dr. Ken Keuffel, who played for Princeton in the 1940s.
At the top of the book's cover is a testimonial:
The principles of single-wing football are enduring, and they're all covered by Ken Keuffel. Every coach in football can profit by reading this book. -- Bill Belichick
Had he reacquainted himself with Keuffel's book while preparing for the Dolphins, Belichick might've gleaned a tip or two on how to neutralize an unusual offense that gave the Patriots fits.
At least by NFL standards, there was nothing by-the-book about Miami's fascinating victory Sunday in Gillette Stadium.