Doug Baker’s NFL Question and Answer Session

I asked a few friends to provide me questions to answer for an article about the NFL, even if they think I don’t know what I am talking about. The overwhelming majority of the questions were about the New England Patriots. Given that many of the people I asked are fellow Patriots fans and it’s no secret I’m a bit of an insane Patriots fan, that’s not surprising. The questions are also challenging!

Thanks to all of you who sent me questions (and apologies for taking so long to post the response). So in no particular order, and without further adieu, let’s get down to it.

As a Pats fan, I am loathe to see another team tie our 16-0 undefeated regular season mark. I know that’s unsportsmanlike, but hey, if it was OK for Don Shula it’s OK for me. Do you think either Indy or New Orleans will attain that mark this year? If so, which one, or both? What do you think is the biggest threat to each of them in the remaining regular season? Finally, do you see either of them making it all the way to 19-0?
(Submitted by John S. AKA Bruguru, fellow Patriots fan.)

I right with you brother. I don’t want to see another team go 16-0. In fact, I don’t like being tied with the Indianapolis Colts for most consecutive wins in the regular season. This weekend will be one of the few times I root for the Broncos.

Nothing surprises me in the NFL anymore. Anything can happen. So I could see one of them making it to 19-0, unfortunately.

I think the Colts are less likely than the Saints to make it to 19-0. I keep picking the Colts to get upset but it never pans out. Just recently we should have beaten them and the Ravens should have beaten them. Both teams shot themselves in the foot. But I don’t think the Colts will make it to 19-0 for a few reasons.

First, they are so far ahead in the AFC to gain home field advantage, I think coach Jim Caldwell will rest players at the end of the season. To me it doesn’t make sense to risk injury to Peyton Manning or Reggie Wayne going into the playoffs. Back up Jim Sorgi just got put on injured reserve and Wayne has been nursing an injured foot. The real prize is the Super Bowl ring. Without that, 16-0 means squat, as you and I unfortunately know.

Second, they don’t have a hard schedule but they face the Broncos at home, a good team really needing a win. Then they face an unpredictable Jacksonville team in Jacksonville, but I don’t see them losing that game. The Jets are a team, despite injuries, that have a stout defense and good running game that the Colts have the most trouble with. But again it’s in Indianapolis, but I definitely think the Jets are capable of a win if they control the ball and the clock. Finally, they face Buffalo in Buffalo. Are they resting players at that point?

Third, don’t they always choke in the playoffs except for one year? I think they’ll choke again. And hope they do.

The Saints on the other hand have a better shot at running the table. The only real threat they have to an undefeated regular season is Dallas in about two weeks, which is a home game. Dallas is up and down but if they play their best game, they can beat the Saints. But since the Saints are at home I don’t see it happening. The rest of their games area against an injury depleted Atlanta Falcons, and the woeful Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers. I think they might go 16-0.

And then who is going to beat the Saints at home in the playoffs? The have the best offense in the NFL and five really good receivers, three good running backs, Drew Brees is simply awesome, and their defense is greatly improved and tough. Darren Sharper is a dirty, headhunting defensive back, the kind we need on our squad.

I can see the Vikings or the Cardinal beating them in the playoffs though, but since the Saints will almost assuredly be at home, it will be a very tough.

My gut tells me though, after this long answer, neither will do it. The odds are against it.

What do you think about the New England defense moving forward? We had guys like Harrison, Bruschi, et al. anchoring a top tier defense in the past, but coming into this year that defense looked like a shell of its former self with Seymour, Harrison, Bruschi, and Vrabel among the many departed. Who do you think will be our biggest defensive stalwarts in the next five to seven years, and do you think they will amount to the defensive units we had from roughly 2001-2007-ish?
(Submitted by EA, fellow Patriots fan)

First off let me say that I have a lot of confidence in Bill Belichick and his staff, even with Scott Pioli gone, to evaluate talent, especially defensive talent. To me, our defense right now looks like, and plays like, a team in a rebuilding mode. Without going and looking at the age and experience of all the defensive players it’s clearly a team in complete transition. This is a defensive unit you’d see on an expansion team or a rebuilding team. And that’s because they are. The defense is in transition.

The simple answer to the question is I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone really can know until we see how things develop. I know you have a certain point of view on this that you’ve tipped me off to but I think time will tell.

But like I said I have confidence in Belichick and I think he will turn this into a stalwart defense. And overall I agree with you.

I think Jonathan Wilhite and Darius Butler, right now, look like they could transform into really solid cornerbacks. Terrance Wheatley has shown flashes, but since he was injured in the Colts game last year we haven’t seen as much of him.

Jerrod Mayo has been dinged up this year, but I think he could be a very excellent linebacker. Gary Guyton (LB) and Brandon McGowan (S) are our two hardest hitters and I really like what I have seen out of both of these guys. But McGowan is a bit of an enigma to me. He did do a lot for the Bears and I don’t know much about his history.

I am a bit disappointed in Brandon Meriweather. I know a lot of people are high on him and he has had some good games, but he isn’t the nasty hitter I expected and is out of position a lot. I read that the reason it took him so long to get more playing time is because he couldn’t grasp the defense. But I think if he continues to improve he’ll be a solid and productive player.

Patrick Chung I like but I am in a wait and see mode with him. I hope he becomes our Rodney Harrison, and I think he can.

Our defensive line worries me most. I don’t think we have the dominant players we need there right now. Wilfork is there, but he needs help.

In a five to seven year time frame I see Wilhite, Butler, Meriweather, Chung, Mayo, and someone not even on the team yet, being our stalwarts. My guts tells me the future it bright. My need for immediate satisfaction makes me lament our defense is probably not gong to be good enough this year to win it all.

And by the way, Adalius Thomas needs to quit whining and play football.

The NFL league is placing increased responsibility on the players for their decision to play r/t concussion. Do you think the league went far enough this week in their new guidelines r/t concussion?
(Submitted by Prisrob, fellow Patriots fan)

I wonder what Bronko Nagurski, or better yet a man some consider the nastiest player ever to play the game, George Trafton, would think about this discussion? Concussion? Wimps.

Even though the players today are faster, stronger, and the collisions harder, I just think historically about the really crazy people that played professional football.

Then I think about Mike Webster, who may be the best center I ever saw who killed himself in what some call a suicide car crash and was said to suffer from severe symptoms from blows to the head he took during his career. And then of course us Patriots fans know all about Ted Johnson and his accusations against the Patriots related to his (alleged, and I make no judgment calls here) post-concussion problems.

But yes, I do think the league had to do something and they did the right thing. Pro football is a dangerous, violent sport. That’s part of its appeal frankly. But I think the steps the league is taking protect players from participating with concussions is appropriate and went about as far as you can go at this point.

Frankly, I don’t want to flat out accuse the league of not caring about player safety, but I think they had no choice but to do something given the prominence of the issue. I think they care more their image and making money than the players. I think the new rules about hitting quarterbacks high or low and more quick penalties on roughness and head-to-head collisions has as much to do with image as caring about player safety.

And if they really wanted to protect the players, they should drop the idea of an 18 game regular season. But they don’t care about the players. They care about the money!

Who is the most promising 1st or 2nd year running back in the NFL?
(Submitted by Sean L, I believe a Redskins fan)

Good question! I actually wrote a post about rookie running backs last year.

I think Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans has pretty much solidified himself this year as the cream of the crop in terms of first and second year running backs. He has tremendous speed, breaks off big plays, and even set a record this year with runs of 50 or more yards in a season. And he can run inside. He is why the Titans turned their season around as much as Vince Young.

I also like Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens a lot. In the running and passing game he’s the Brian Westbrook of the Ravens offense. The problem is he’s the only offense for the Ravens.

Look out for Jonathan Stewart too. I like what I see from this young back.

Those are the three I put at the top of my list, in that order.

Felix Jones, Steve Slaton, and Darren McFadden seem to be injury prone. I don’t think they will pan out as great backs in the long run. Serviceable backs maybe, but not great.

Matt Forte had a porous offensive line but I still have hope for him.

I am not a big believer in Rashard Mendenhall or Kevin Smith (also seems to be dinged up a lot).

Tim Hightower will remain a serviceable, dependable back (if he can hang onto the ball!) but not a superstar.

Jamaal Charles of Kansas City is one to watch. He could emerge as a big time back in the league.

The rookie backs I just haven’t seen enough in action. LeSean McCoy, Shonn Greene, and Knowshon Moreno I like, but I have a lot of questions about them right now. Moreno seems to have the best vision, moves and field presence, but I’m not sure how far that will take him.

I think I know the answer to this being that you are a Patriots fan, but which quarterback would you rather have with 2 minutes to go and needing an 80 yard drive to tie the game?  Drew Brees, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning?
(Submitted by Reid Fischer, Denver Broncos fan with a great blog:

Peyton Manning. Surprised?

Brady may have won a few Super Bowls on last minute drives but I have never see a magician with two minutes to go like Peyton Manning except for maybe Joe Montana. The problem is his team chokes in the playoffs. I watch New England too much and see Brady do it and not do it too much to go with Brady. But he has done it on the biggest stages. I just can’t get out of my mind the way Manning set an NFL record when he came back from a ton of points down in the fourth quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers several years ago, and what he did to the Miami Dolphins with just over 14 minutes of possession time this year. Drew Brees hasn’t done as much as Brady and Manning on the big stage for me to choose him.

Now, if you asked me with 30 seconds to go? Brett Favre. He has the strongest arm and most guts.

How long will it take for the pats to get back to the Super Bowl? I think we can assume it won’t be this year :>(
(Submitted by TR, fellow Patriots fan)

Who knows! I agree not this year though, but you never know. If Brady stays healthy and the defense matures, in three years we win another one, and Brady retires.

Are the Saints that good or are the Pats slipping?
(Submitted by Hodd B, Redskins fan)

Both. As you so very painfully know the Saints are beatable but they are very, very good. As you can see from my earlier comments, the Patriots defense is in a rebuilding mode and our offense is slipping because of bad play calling and being too predictable.

Drew (Breezed) right through the Pats. Pat’s didn’t come to play. Bill obviously was stunned because he wasn’t prepared for that ass whipping. Do you think pretty boy under estimated the Saints? (Submitted by my good friend even though he’s a Jets fan, John M)

No, I don’t think he underestimated them but I do think he was probably stunned by how poorly his young defense played. It was an ass whipping all the way around. I think the reason he pulled starters out of the game with about five minutes to go was because he was so disgusted with their level of play. It’s a young defense and as I’ve said before, the offense has become too predictable, and that is why we got whipped up on so badly by the Saints.

My question would be about tonight’s game with the Ravens and Steelers. The Ravens went for it on 4 and 5. They got it. If Belichick decision’s had worked, would there have been any controversy regarding it? There is a fine line between being called a moron and a brilliant. What qualifies as that line?
(Submitted by KParsons, fellow Patriots fan and live attendee of the disaster that was Super Bowl VLII)

Shows how late I am answering these questions!

If Bill’s decision had worked against the Colts he’d have been sung to the heavens as having the guts to go for it and seal the game, being called a genius and the best coach on the planet. There would still be a lot of talk about it, but the tone would have been far different. Like Brian Billick said, there’s a fine line between being called the village idiot and being called a genius as a head coach.

I also really believe had he made it, he would not have been going for it on fourth down so much against the Saints and Dolphins. Field goals may not be great but they are better than nothing. And in the Dolphins game a failed fourth down in the Red Zone cost us the game.

We know that the conversion of Belichick’s assistant coaches to head coaches has not met with great success. Charlie Weiss had early limited success at Notre Dame and Eric Mangini was heralded as the second coming in New York. Josh McDaniels has a record this year that exceeds that of the coach he replaced. Why does the melt down always occur and how can Josh avoid the same fate?
(Submitted by Glenn Card, fellow Patriots fan)

This is a great question that I have thought of before. Bill Belichick’s coaching tree is certainly not turning out like that of a Bill Walsh or Bill Parcells (what’s up with all the Bills?). I really don’t know the answer to the question but my theory is basically that Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weiss, and Eric Mangini simply are not cut out to be head coaches. They were good coordinators, even great ones in the case of Crennel and Weiss, but great coordinators don’t always make great head coaches. And Crennel went into a bad situation with the Browns and was almost doomed to fail. And in some ways maybe he is bit too soft, like Mangini is accused of being too harsh. But the bottom line is, I just don’t think they are cut out to be head coaches. And you see what I think Mangini as a head coach.

For Josh McDaniels I think as long as he sticks to a philosophy and gets quality players he’ll be fine. But he is a cocky, brash, young coach that I think will well thin after a while so I don’t have a lot of confidence that he will have truly great success either. Mike Tomlin is my model for a good young coach, who is cocky enough to be confident in this team, disciplinarian enough to bench a Rashard Mendenhall, but carries it off in a calmer more professional manner.

If I were Rex Ryan I would bench Sanchez for Clemens. Too many interceptions. He needs time to absorb everything and study the veteran players more (Manning, Favre). What do you think?
(Also submitted by John M, New York Jets fan)

Taking Sanchez’s knee injuries out of the equation I don’t think he should bench Sanchez for Clemens. Sanchez has started all year long and the best learning that a young quarterback can have after playing all year long is more game time experience. It’s not like he’s had a mental meltdown like Vince Young last year. Nor is he getting pounded on every week because of a porous offensive line. Given the Jets are still in the hunt for a playoff spot, I don’t see that Clemens gives the Jets any greater chance a winning than Sanchez. Now that Sanchez has banged up his knees, it’s a moot point and it looks like they will give him at least a week to heal.

Leon Washington was injured and Kris Jenkins. Besides them, who do you think the Jets need to make them a more complete team that can be a threat in the AFC East?
(Also submitted by John M, New York Jets fan)

A big time receiver. Even though they have struggled at times the offensive line is good. Thomas Jones continues to prove his critics wrong with his hard, move the chains running. They sorely miss Leon Washington’s change of pace, big play ability. As Sanchez continues to improve, which I think he will, if the Jets could get one true top receiver it would go a long way in making the offense more productive and able to produce big plays.

On defense I think they are pretty set. Obviously any team can upgrade certain positions but getting Jenkins back is really the key. Overall their defense has played reasonably well this year.


4 thoughts on “Doug Baker’s NFL Question and Answer Session

  1. Very nice post. I agree with your assessment of the young running backs. Chris Johnson is definitely the real deal and many teams are no doubt regretting passing him up. I also think it makes perfect sense that Belichick’s decision to go for it on 4th down in Indy would have been hailed as a genius move had they made it. I hadn’t thought about the fact that there seems to be an aftershock effect of sorts in that Belichick has continued to roll the dice in subsequent games. Almost seems like he’s trying to prove a point. I think every coach to a degree wants to prove themselves right, and the numbers say that if he keeps going for it it will pay off at some point.

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