Sunday NFL Notes: Bill Belichick poised to climb wins ladder in 2014
|07.27.14 at 6:00 am ET|
1. Bill Belichick kicked off his 40th season in the NFL this week, and his 20th as a head coach. With 199 career victories, he’s seventh overall when it comes to head coaching wins, and while it’s unlikely he’ll ever reach Don Shula‘s mark of 328 career wins, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for him to reach as high as third place on the list. (It would take 51 more wins as a head coach.) Currently, Shula sits at No. 1, with George Halas behind him at No. 2 with 318 wins. Tom Landry is third with 250 victories. This season, Belichick could reach as high as fifth on the list, as he could pass Marty Schottenheimer (sixth with 200 wins) and Paul Brown (fifth with 213 victories) in 2014. Curly Lambeau sits fourth overall with 226. (For what it’s worth, Belichick is just starting his 20th year as a head coach, but he’s the only head coach with 19 or fewer years of head coaching experience to land in the top 10 when it comes to all-time victories. The closest is Bill Parcells, who was a head coach for 19 seasons and ended up with 172 career wins, good for 11th on the all-time list.)
2. It was revealed this past week that in 2014, NFL officials will place a renewed emphasis on how officials call illegal contact and defensive holding penalties. For the Patriots — a team that revamped its secondary by adding two of the more physical corners in the league in Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner — it could be an interesting issue. Revis said Friday he doesn’t anticipate it being a problem.
“The rules are the rules — you’ve got to adjust to the rules,” he said with a shrug. “There are always new rules changing, and as long as we know the rules, we’re going to try to play great football — clean and great football — within the rules.”
The last time the league went hard after that sort of bumping between the corners and receivers was back in 2004 when former Colts GM Bill Polian complained about the job the New England defensive backs and linebackers did on the Indy pass catchers. (According to former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira, illegal contact fouls went up from 79 to 191 the following season.) The team who could ultimately bear the brunt of the changes are the Seahawks — the Seattle secondary pushed the boundaries all 2013, and became was just the third team in NFL history to league the league in penalties and still win the Super Bowl. Many of those flags against the Seahawks came against the secondary — cornerback Richard Sherman led the team with 11 penalties against.
For what it’s worth, Revis has actually pretty skilled at avoiding penalties the last few years. According to nflpenalties.com, Revis didn’t take one in 2012 (mainly because he only played two games before going down with a season-ending knee injury.) He had three (one declined) in 2011, and just one (with one declined) in 2010. In all, he’s played nearly 100 percent of the snaps in 2013, 2011 and 2010, and has just five penalties to show for it in that time. For some added perspective, Aqib Talib led the 2013 Patriots in penalties with six and penalty yards against with 73. (As a group, the cornerbacks were the second most penalized positional grouping on the team by yardage with 128 yards, trailing only the offensive line at 166. Overall, the Patriots took the second-fewest penalties in the league last season.
3. We’ve already written about what sort of impact Browner’s four-game suspension at the start of the season will have on the New England pass defense. Turns out, it’s something the Patriots have started taking into account when it comes to doling out practice reps and preseason action. Browner won’t be around for the first four games, as well as the practices. As a result, you have to walk a fine line between making sure that Browner is up to speed in the system, but at the same time, also making sure you have some possible fill-ins ready to go when the season kicks off.
“Well … we’re going to have to balance that out,” Belichick said when asked about Browner’s summer workload. “We’re going to have to balance it between getting him a lot of reps, getting him ready, but also knowing that we’re going to have to play four games without him. So we’re going to have to try to find that fine line. Right now, I don’t think we’re doing anything other than just getting everybody going. But at some point here as we move into preseason, we’re going to have to juggle that a little bit in anticipation of the four game’s he’ll miss.”
4. It was interesting to hear more this week from safety Adrian Wilson, who was signed by New England in the spring of 2013, but spent the entire year on injured reserve with what was later reported to be an Achilles’ injury. It turns out that it wasn’t your average heel issue — instead, according to this story, Wilson missed the season with a condition known as Haglund’s deformity, in which an enlarged heel bone or bone spur causes bursitis in the heel. It required surgery on his Achilles tendon and 10 weeks in a hard cast. That was in addition to what was described as a “pretty severe hamstring tear,” one that took two months to recover from.
But now, the 34-year-old Wilson has pronounced himself ready to roll as a member of the Chicago defense. Wilson told reporters this week that despite his age and the fact that he’d been out of the game for a year, there was never any doubt he’d return.
“There’s no challenge, man,” Wilson said. “Football is football. I’m a guy who’s very prideful. I’m a little bit disappointed from last year. I don’t have any goals. I’m just going out there and competing with myself. I’m not competing with anybody. I’m just here to play football. I take a lot of the critics that said I can’t play, that it was a terrible signing by the Bears, and all the other stuff that’s being said. I use that as motivation for me.”
5. Across the league, the Patriots have always been a team that’s moved the needle, but in what might be a first this week, an opposing team used New England and quarterback Tom Brady as part of a preseason promotion to get fans to come see the Patriots practice. The Redskins were aggressive in their use of the image of Brady — when you opened the home page at Redskins.com, you were greeted with a sizable image of Brady (as well as one of RGIII) and a message telling fans they could enter to win a contest to get guaranteed access to the joint practices between New England and Washington next month. (At this point, attendance is limited by a lottery.)
6. To this point in camp, the Patriots have appeared suffer just one injury, coming Friday when wide receiver Greg Orton was carted off with a lower-body issue. The extent of the injury is unknown, but when you start to see reports of camp injuries around the league, you start to realize just how lucky New England has been to this point, especially when stacked against two other playoff teams:
On Friday, the Colts lost Vick Ballard to what was reported to be a torn Achilles. Coming off a lost 2013 (he played just one game last year because of a torn ACL), it’s a blow to the Indy running game. Trent Richardson is still seen as the No. 1 back for the Colts, but his ineffectiveness last season was the impetus behind Indy’s decision to go get Ballard, who had 814 yards and a pair of touchdowns in 2012. Chris Rainey and Daniel Herron are the leading candidates to replace Ballard in the backup role, but neither has much experience carrying the ball at the NFL level. notable — Rainey has 26 career carries, Herron nine.
Another backup back went down on Friday, when San Francisco’s Kendall Hunter appeared to go down awkwardly in a non-contact session. On Saturday, it was reported that he also suffered a torn ACL. Unlike Indy, however, the Niners do have a couple of intriguing backs behind Hunter in Marcus Lattimore and Carlos Hyde, two running backs who were taken in the last two drafts. Lattimore, who suffered a devastating knee injury as a collegian in 2012, spent all of 2013 on the sidelines, and was on the PUP list as camp opened. If he can’t go, that means Hyde will likely get a shot at extra carries as the backup to Frank Gore.
7. Patriots owner Robert Kraft has always been an advocate of expanding the NFL brand to new markets, but he’s been particularly aggressive in getting that message out over the last couple of weeks. First, he indicated that there should be an NFL team in London sometime before the end of the decade. Then, on Friday, he told ESPN that seeing an NFL team return to Los Angeles “within the next two to three years … would be in everybody’s best interest.” It’s not known what sort of particulars would go into the deal — for instance, where a team would play (the Coliseum is likely no longer a suitable venue) or if it would involve expanding the league (which would also involve finding a suitable owner) or relocating another franchise. But it’s clear that the league is starting to get the itch again when it comes to putting a team in Los Angeles.
“We’ve gone a generation – almost 20 years – without a team in LA,” Kraft said of the Southern California market, which hasn’t had a team since the Raiders and Rams left in 1995. “We have a generation of young people growing up not really branded and tied to a team. I think that kind of passion only comes when you have a team you can root for, and I think it’s very important.”
8. When it comes to self-promotion, I’m just as shameless as the next guy, and I’d like to note that I’m part of the staff that put together the 2014 Football Outsiders Almanac — I wrote the chapters on the Patriots and Bills. The PDF is available here, and you can by it in stores soon. I was lucky enough to be a part of an incredible group of writers, a collection that included our pal Aaron Schatz, as well as Doug Farrar of SI.com, Mike Tanier of Sports on Earth, Jason Lisk of The Big Lead, Scott Kacsmar or Football Outsiders and Brian McIntyre of Mac’s Football Blog. It’s an honor to be a part of the group, and can recommend the latest edition heartily.