Monday, September 21, 2009

Belichick fires shot at last year's defense

The question was innocuous, almost leading in its intent and in the way it gave Bill Belichick a chance to offer a subtle excuse for the way it failed to rattle a rookie quarterback on Sunday: With all the new faces on defense and without Jerod Mayo in there, has communication been a problem at all?

Belichick, who had spent most of his press conference doing his best to say nothing at all, didn't take the bait. He instead used the opportunity to take a potshot at the defense he fielded last year, a defense he's almost totally revamped.

"I would say it's probably better than it was last year," he said. "That wouldn't take much. Is it as good as it needs to be? No. There's always room for improvement. But I would say it's definitely improved over last year -- not that that was a real high bar."

He makes the point twice, just in case anyone missed it. The Patriots' communication on defense last season was horrendous.

Well, that might explain some things. It might just explain why Belichick didn't hesitate to trade Mike Vrabel to Kansas City or Ellis Hobbs to Philadelphia or Richard Seymour to Oakland.

Vrabel was the signal-caller most of the time -- an interesting idea given that he primarily was a pass-rushing outside linebacker and not someone right in the middle of things. But communication can be just as important on the defensive line or in the secondary as anywhere else.

It's tough to know who Belichick sees as the main culprit. Vrabel spent years in the Belichick defense, and it seems counterintuitive to think that his communication was acceptable for years but not acceptable last year -- especially since he wore the helmet with the green dot all season. Seymour likewise spent years playing for Belichick and, we have to assume, communicating at an acceptable level. Tedy Bruschi saw his playing time diminish in favor of Mayo and Gary Guyton, but Mayo was elected a captain and Guyton wore the helmet with the green dot on Sunday.

That leaves Hobbs and fellow jettisoned cornerback Deltha O'Neal. Communication can be critical in the secondary, and the Patriots certainly did give up too many big plays back there over the course of the season.

Then again, maybe Mayo was just totally lost during his rookie season. It's tricky to try to read between the lines with just about anything Belichick says.

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