Today, February 3, 2011, Bill Bellichick, head coach of the New England Patriots was given the AP coach of the year award.
Bellichick was the top vote getter after his team went 14-2, the best record in the AFC. Tampa Bay’s Raheem Morris received the second most of the awards after leading his team to a 10-6 record following a 3-13 showing last year. Also receiving votes were: “Kansas City’s Todd Haley (4½), whose team went 11-5 and won the AFC West; and four coaches with one selection apiece: Atlanta’s Mike Smith, Philadelphia’s Andy Reid, Chicago’s Lovie Smith, and St. Louis’ Steve Spagnuolo.”
A few disclaimers before I get to my main point:
-Bill Bellichick is a fantastic coach, perhaps the best in the post-Bill Parcels era. Yet again, Bellichick demonstrated magnificent skills in assembling, preparing, and coaching a team that had enough young and patchwork players to make it look like a scrap quilt: barely held together, and not very effective. Nevertheless, the team played well almost the entire year, despite trading away arguably its most talented receive (Randy Moss) and constantly restructuring its defense.
-Tampa Bay’s turnaround is something nobody expected. Indeed, following a 3-13 season, most owners and general managers expect their coaches to make a 3-4 game improvement, and rebuild chemistry for the next season. Morris deserves the praise accorded to him by the AP coach of the year votes he received.
-Kansas City finally exercised some demons and took command of a weak AFC west while twice defeating its reigning heavyweight (the Chargers). For all the years that this hasn’t been done, Todd Haley should definitely be recognized for this development.
-Mike Smith orchestrated a well balanced team towards the playoffs, Andy Reid kept his team in check despite significant changes at the quarterback position (indeed, he can probably be credited with much of Vick’s success), Lovie Smith provided glue between a stalwart defense and a pop-gun offense finding its identity (make no mistake, protecting his players from the Chicago press is no easy task), and Spagnuolo over in St. Louis deserves boatloads of credit for operating a team successfully behind a first year quarterback, and engineering noticeable improvements in a franchise which looked hopless at this time last year.
All that being said, I am extremely dissappointed that Mike McCarthy of the Green Bay Packers did not receive even a single vote.
You have got to be kidding me.
We base these votes on the regular season only, right? Well consider this:
INJURIES: McCarthy led a team to a 10-6 season despite a 2-game absence by his starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers (due to injury), and almost entire seasons were missed by many other players due to injury as well. If we formed a team around Green Bay players that missed at least 5 games, you would only need a few draft picks to make a playoff contender:
Barnett, Nick LB
Bell, Josh CB
Burnett, Morgan S
Chillar, Brandon LB
Finley, Jermichael TE
Grant, Ryan RB
Harrell, Justin DE
Havner, Spencer TE
Jones, Brad LB
Levine, Anthony S
Martin, Derrick S
Neal, Mike DE
Newhouse, Marshall G/T
Poppinga, Brady LB
Smith, Anthony S
Cullen Jenkins DE
Frank Zombo LB
Tauscher, Mark T
Atari Bigby S
Included in the list above are 5 Linebackers, 1 Runningback, 2 Tight ends, 5 Safeties, 3 Defensive Ends, and 1 Offensive Tackle, each of whom were at the top of their respective depth chart when they were injured. The Linebacker and Safety positions were particularly revolving door positions for much of the year. It is a tribute to McCarthy’s coaching skills that he was able to coach up replacement players adequately, as well as keep team spirit up throughout all these injuries.
An example of how well-coached McCarthy’s team is comes from Eric Walden, a mid-season pickup after the first 3 right-outside linebackers went down. Walden, under the tutelidge of McCarthy’s staff, not only adequately learned the Packer’s 3-4 scheme in mid-season, but actually took home the defensive player of the week award for his performace agains the Bears in week 17.
LOSSES and WINS: The 6 games in which the Packers were defeated they lost by a combined total of 20 points. On the other hand, they defeated several talented teams by very wide margins
(Cowboys, Vikings, Giants), and in so dominated them that their defeat turned out to be the end of two coaches’s careers with their respective teams (Wade Phillips of the Cowboys, Brad Childress for the Vikings). Coaches know when their job is on the line, and it is significant that despite their desperationg the Packers were still dominant.
Further, each of the Packers’ losses came immediately in the wake of debilitating injuries, leaving little time for replacement players to be adequately brought up to speed.
Two more side notes: considering the strength of the Jets’s defense, the Packers outperformed that team to the tune of a 9-0 shutout in their opponent’s stadium (New York), and considering that the Patriots had dominanted their previous 3 opponents (by a total score of 126-34), how can you not credit a Packer’s team which was only narrowly defeated by the Patriot’s in Foxborough whilst not even having their starting quarterback (Aaron Rodgers) back from injury?
It seems to me that the AP NFL awards draw a distinction between what you accomplish and what you overcome. McCarthy’s team did not accomplish as much as most of the other vote getters’ did, but neither did they have to overcome as much as McCarthy did.
Suppose that we elimnate all the injuries to this Packers team and replay the 2010 season . . . is it absurd to think that the offense stays on the field a little longer with the added running game of Ryan Grant and the added target of Jermichal Finley? Is it abusrd to think that the defense shuts down a few more drives if they have the assistance of their top middle linebacker (Nick Barnett), their top right-outside linebacker (as opposed to the 4th and 5th string players they have had to use), and their starting strong safety (Atari Bigby)?
In other words is it absurd to think that the Packers would have overcome at least some of those combined 20 points by which they lost 6 games, and instead entered the playoffs with a more impressive 13-3 or 14-2 record? No doubt McCarthy would have gotten a vote or two then.
But since the AP ignores what a coach has overcome in favor of what he has accomplished, McCarthy’s superhuman coaching efforts have been mostly relegated to obscurity. That changed, however, when the team managed to avoid a major injury for 6 consecutive weeks for the first time this season. The result? 5 straight victories against playoff hopefuls and playoff contenders.
Its too bad that voting members of the AP have to turn in their votes before the playoffs begin: McCarthy’s perfomance has really only been obvious as of late . . . but now that it is obvious, it must be very painful to those AP voters: Bellichick’s touted professionally run team got beaten by the NFL’s most gangster-esque team (the Jets), while the Packers have quelled all naysayers by beating the NFC’s 3rd, 1st, and 2nd seeded teams in successive playoff weeks.
You wan’t to give Bellichick the award based on his accomplishments? What has he overcome? Losing Randy Moss? . . . . most people would consider that an upgrade (just ask the Raiders and Vikings). If you’re going to give Bellichick the award simply based on his accomplishments, well fine then, but you’re not endearing the award to those fans of the NFL who recognize which coaches are merely managing their team, verses those who have to continually re-construct their team as well.
YOU HEARD IT HERE: So in case you haven’t heard, the Packers are favorites for the Super Bowl. Why? Well, despite the Steeler’s defensive advantage, the Packers have demonstrated an elite defense in the game’s most critical element: the passing game. While the Steelers simply do not have the defensive backs to match up against the Packer’s receiving corps (in truth, nobody really does), the Packers have the ability to go 4 and 5 deep with proven playmakers at the cornerback and safety positions.
Look for the Steelers to play zone defense with their linebacking corps even when the Packers have 4 or 5 wide outs in an effort to threaten with a pass rush. To a certain extent, this is the only way they can keep up with a strong receiving corps, and it can be beaten by the right quarterback (see the Patriots win over the Steelers in week 10).
On the other hand, the packers have demonstrated excellent run-tackling skills in the playoff, which will force the Steelers to pass the ball at least 40 percent of the time. That’s bad news for Rothlesberger, who was nearly picked off 5-6 times against the Jets. Further, how well will Rothlesberger pass against a defensive backfield that includes Nick Collins, Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, and Sam Sheilds? Derell Revis nearly had 2 picks against Rothlesberger 2 weeks ago in cold weather conditions.
The ball will be easier to throw in Dallas, but it will also be easier to catch . . . Rothlesberger will have to make precise passes consistently, something nobody has done against the Packers this season. The last time the Packers’ defensive backs got torched? The ’09 game against the Steelers. The difference in this game will be the emergence of the Packers’s defensive backs (specifically Tramon Williams and Sam Shields) and the inability of the Steelers to cover all of Aaron Rodgers’s targets.