He was one of the unheralded builders of these current Patriots.
No, I am not talking about Robert Kraft, Drew Bledsoe or Bill Parcells who also helped mend a broken franchise fresh off of 4 losing seasons that culminated in a 2-14 record in 1992.
The aforementioned person is also not Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli or really any person you might immediately think played a key role in the Patriot’s rise to elitism.
Think, instead, head coach Pete Carroll.
Carroll assumed a vacant coach's throne after then head coach Bill Parcells abandoned the Patriots after their 1996 Super bowl defeat to the Packers. Carroll’s time on the East Coast seemed fleeting—and it was. After his team’s three descending years into mediocrity and holding an unimpressive overall record of 27-21, New England handed Carroll the pink slip shortly after the 1999 season.
Media and Patriot aficionados hold unkind memories of Carroll’s time in New England. They remember him as a boisterous cheerleader who never built a trusting rapport with the front office and who eventually lost respect from others outside of the stadium’s compounds. What ensued was broken promises, bad contracts, controversial trades and poor draft picks.
Let us flash back, shall we?
“We should have been good for a few more years,” criticized former Patriot running back David Meggett in a 1999 Boston Globe article, “They wanted to get this nucleus of young players…And the guy they have is not the right guy to motivate young players.”
Or take former Patriot Chad Eaton’s response to the Globe that same summer when he replied, “As soon as we were given some leeway, we took things for granted. Pete had to toughen up.”
The Patriots never provided Carroll with a chance to succeed. His laid-back demeanor welcomed scrutiny amongst his players like a substitute teacher often welcomes immature play from grade-schoolers. Carroll, in truth, lacked permission from the principal (Robert Kraft) to discipline his students and evoke positive change. Since that time, Kraft and Carroll have taking responsibility for those pedestrian years, citing poor communication and strain between the front office and the coaching staff as the reason for the team’s decline.
Back then, Kraft would hold court in the Patriot’s “war room” on draft day and constantly longed to know how the football minds thought and operated. Since those unspectacular years and now known to most, Kraft has let Bill Belichick command his football team with almost total control. Three world championships, 9 divisional titles and a string of other achievements since Kraft instated Belichick as head coach and we can all agree that he made the right choice.
“The experience with Parcells and Carroll really helped me in my decision with Belichick,” Kraft said. “Because I sort of had two extremes, and then I had a balance. I still kept the personnel separate when I originally hired Bill Belichick, but then over time, he earned his way in.” (Amalie Benjamin, Globe staff)
Fast forward 12 years and 1 prolonged and efficacious stop as head coach of the University of Southern California's football program and Carroll is back at it. Currently, he leads the NFL's best defense in yards per game at 258.6, the 4th best defense in rushing yards allowed and the 6th best defense in passing yards allowed. Even more daunting, opponents are averaging only 14 offensive points a game this season.
He is still flamboyant. And he is still a cheerleader on the sidelines. But now he is the unquestioned leader of that cheerleading squad and no longer designated to the bottom of the pyramid. More so, he is wielding a vicious baton.
An Overall Tough Matchup
This has been a trending topic for the past 3-4 weeks, but the Patriot’s offense will, once again, be tested by an aggressive defense, as well as a vociferous fan base, known as the 12th man. Seattle's fans have helped produce 143 false start penalties in the last 10 years, which is good for second place for any home team and the most of any open air stadium (courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information).
Many have suggested ways the Patriot’s offense might handle and attack Seattle’s antagonistic defenders. If they are overaggressive and blitz, Brady can attempt to feast on Seattle’s secondary, particularly exploiting the match-up between receiver Wes Welker and corner back Marcus Trufant. This season, Brady has four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 131.3 pass rating when he uses the play action pass. He might also match up his offense’s big men, tight ends Rob Grownkoski and Daniel Fells, against Seattle’s towering corner backs, Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner and Kam Chancellor in a battle of titans.
Further, Brady may choose to attack using a combination of running backs Steven Ridley, Brandon Bolden and Danny Woodhead. After all, these three combined to chalk up over 200 yards in last week’s thrashing of Denver. Brady might even risk running the no huddle, which some presumably believe could keep Seattle’s defense off guard to the point that Brady can make enough positive plays to quiet the crowd.
New England counters Seattle’s defense with a relentless and ever-growing offense. Boasting the top rated offense through 5 games this season, they are averaging 33 points and 439 yards per game. They hold a league leading 151 first downs and are averaging 165 yards per game, which is good enough for 3rd best in the entire league.
However, if history has taught us anything, it is that whatever team wins the battle at the line of scrimmage will likely dictate the game's outcome *cough* Giants *cough*. Look for the Patriots to focus on isolating rising star and rookie defensive end Bruce Irving (4.5 sks) and defensive end Chris Clemons (5.5 sks).
This might be a cop out, but I expect the Patriots to try to combine a number of offensive tactics to beat the Seahawks. I’d be shocked if New England has their way. Instead, I expect them to have to fight for each yard.
This game hosts the league’s best offense against its best defense. And It holds court to the past vs. the present.
Something has to give.