Friday, October 31, 2008

Depth charges

There have been a lot of articles this week about how the Pats-Colts rivalry has lost some of its luster this year. I can't say I disagree with them. These two teams have combined to pretty much dominate their respective divisions since 2001. Last season the game between the two teams was a match-up between two unbeatens later in the season than it had ever happened before - and undefeated season was on the line at the halfway point for both teams.

Division rivals previous to the last realignment, the now conference rivalry never came close to approaching the fever-pitch that has grown over the last five seasons. Since 2001, the two teams have combined for 11 division titles, 12 playoff appearances, five Super Bowl appearances (four from the Patriots), and four Lombardi Trophies. The only other playoff contender in the AFC with more than two division titles is Pittsburgh with three. Coincidentally, they're the only other AFC team to have a Super Bowl appearance and to win the big game.

That was then.

Now, the luster is off as the Colts after seven games already trail the first place Titans by four games. They currently stand at 3-4, but could easily have been 1-6. They have alternately been horrible and great - often in the same game. The same can be said for the Pats - alternately horrible and great, often in the same game. But New England is 5-2 and tied for first in the division. The Colts are tied for last (granted, not a whole lot separates first from last in the AFC East this season, but it's worth noting that there are only four teams in the NFL with a better record).

I've heard a lot of talk about the age of the Patriots defense, but age has been a factor for the Colts as well - Marvin Harrison has been unable to get separation, the knee has made Peyton Manning play old and timid, age and injuries have begun to catch up to the Colts offensive line. To add insult to injury for the Colts, they are without the two corners that were projected as their starters when the season began.

For all their problems, however, an argument can be made that the Pats have had it just as bad, if not worse. The Pats started the season with the entire right side of their O-line on IR and only recently got Stephen Neal back. They are without their starting (pro-bowl) quarterback, running back, and (pro-bowl) safety. They subsequently lose their second and third string running backs, and end up with three rookies playing defensive back in dime situations in their last game.

In spite of all that, the Patriots have strung together a couple of wins to be tied with the Steelers and Bills for the second best record in the AFC. It's a testament to the coaching and the depth of a team that has been decimated by injuries that would have destroyed other teams.

Yes, there's a lot of football to be played, but if the Pats win the East again this season, then Belichick deserves serious consideration for his second coach of the year award, and Pioli exec of the year, for giving him the depth to weather major injuries (reportedly Norv Turner still blames the loss of Brad Johnson for the loss of his job as the head coach of the Redskins). I'm not saying I think he should get it, but he will deserve consideration. Probably right behind Jim Zorn and up there with Jeff Fischer.


the blue state blogger said...

Interestingly, I think the loss of Sammy Morris last year was a far bigger problem for the Pats down the stretch last year than the loss of Lawrence Maroney will be this year. Relatively speaking, of course.

Teresa said...

I can only tell you that I think we have ghosts in the new stadium.

We could also be 5-3; if not for a stupid penalty like the one you suffered last night. I don't think the Colts are playing well and apparently their lacklusterness has rubbed off on the refs because officiating this season has been horrible. The NFL is turning into a touch football league.

Kevin Smith said...

God, last night.

I don't even know what Belichick was thinking. I didn't get the replay challenge of the penalty, and I thought the second guessing in regards to going for it on fourth down deep in Colts territory was awful (and I thought that at the time - this isn't 20-20 hindsight).

The penalty was so incredibly boneheaded - but they wouldn't necessarily have been in that position if Belichick had just stuck with the sneak.


Congrats on the win - you guys needed it.