Belichick’s best attribute: Making you think twice

I want to make this brief for all who claim the NFL is a pass-until-you-shred-your-rotator-cuff game.

Much like Super Bowl XLIX two years ago, when the Patriots edged Seattle 28-24, yesterday’s New England title came about because an offensive coordinator goofed and tried to outfox Bill Belichick instead of simply running the ball.

You might recall the Seahawks were about a yard away from victory on the final play of the game that year and instead of having an angry and lethal Marshawn Lynch seal the win by smashing into the end zone, Seattle elected to pass. Russell Wilson’s ill-advised lob was intercepted in the end zone and millions of people were in shock.

The Atlanta Falcons stormed out to their massive lead in Super Bowl LI yesterday due to the running game and damn sure lost it with the pass. How do I know? Davonta Freeman averaged more than six yards per carry, primarily with runs off-tackle to lessen the burden on center Alex Mack, who was playing the game with a broken fibula. Moreover, the team averaged 5.8 yards per carry. 

This, in turn, forced the Patriots to respect the run and opened up the passing game. In other words, a traditional football game plan instead of this stupid Madden video game throw-deep every play mindset.

The Falcons wound up losing that 25-point advantage, in part, with a fourth-quarter fumble by quarterback Matt Ryan who had no business passing in the first place. It’s the fourth quarter and they still led by 16 points. That turnover in Falcons territory led to a swift New England TD. Had the Falcons ran and failed to pick up the first down, the clock would have kept ticking and the resulting punt would have forced the Patriots to mount a much longer scoring drive.

Later, with the Falcons still clinging to an eight-point lead, Julio Jones nabbed an iconic reception that — had Atlanta held on — would have replaced Dwight Clark’s touchdown decades ago as “The Catch.” That play set up the Falcons at the New England 22. Run the ball three times. Kick a field goal for an 11-point lead. Game over.

Only the Falcons channeled their inner Seahawk. Somewhere Pete Carroll was grimacing at what he watched.

This is not to suggest that Ryan or Jones should be jettisoned and outgoing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan should be replaced with a high-school coach who loves the double-wing.

This is to insist that the reputation of Mssrs. Belichick and Brady — their aura — makes people forget their damn common sense when you need it the most.

Common sense dictates you run the ball. It worked in the first half because it kept the Patriots on their toes. It would have worked in the second because it would have killed off most of the clock.

Run to set up the pass. Run to protect your quarterback. Run to protect the guy playing with a broken leg and for the love of the Lombardi Trophy, run to protect the lead.

Here ends the lesson. You should have learned it back in 2015.

It’s a little early to call for Clay Helton’s head on a pike

I don’t think I’ve written about USC football since the Trojans got their heads kicked in by Alabama. With good reason, I wrongly anticipated the upset. I know when I’ve goofed from irrational exuberance, which is why you haven’t heard me talk about the presidency, either.

Anyway, USC hasn’t shown a lot of fight in its first four games and must win six of its final eight games to be over .500. That schedule includes traditional rivals UCLA and Notre Dame, not to mention a road trip to Washington, which is in the conference title discussion after beating the daylights out of Stanford 44-6 last night.

So the rumblings have begun, perhaps more in cyberspace than Heritage Hall, for the swift ouster of coach Clay Helton.

Helton wouldn’t have been my first choice, either. The guy I wanted to run the program is currently the interim head coach at LSU — Ed Orgeron. Having said that, it’s complaining over spilled milk. Any discussion about a new USC coach is complaining over spilled milk. Helton should ride out the year.

Consider the instability that has pummeled the program since Pete Carroll left to return to the NFL in 2010. Four coaches. Three athletic directors. Scholarship sanctions. Bowl bans. The latter has to do with prestige. The sanctions drain the talent level. The first two are a measure of accountability, chain of command. These things matter when trying to get 11 people on a field to work as one.

It could easily be argued that two of those coaches — Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkesian — were blind stabs to rekindle Carroll’s run. Neither one of them could even come close, Kiffin the micromanager, Sarkesian an undisciplined addict. Kiffin may be laughing now as offensive coordinator at Alabama, but in the recesses of his mind, he knows he blew the best coaching job he would ever have in LA.

The hiring of Helton, in my opinion, wasn’t an attempt to rediscover Carroll’s results. It was a move to completely break free from that era. It’s over. Been so for a long time. Carson Palmer hasn’t played for Carroll in 14 years, for Pete’s sake.

Helton wants to create a nasty team that smashes opponents in the face, think Stanford. Recall he was given a Sarkesian recruiting class of finesse players, think Oregon. This rebuild of a bridge over troubled waters for USC simply won’t take a day. It’s more than a playbook. It’s the hearts and minds of the players.

Carroll was the last time USC undertook such a drastic change and succeeded. His career coaching the Trojans started out at 1-4 and finished with a whimper at the Las Vegas Bowl. Next thing you know, the Trojans ruled LA as much as the Showtime Lakers did.

Understand, I’m still not sold on Helton, either. I wanted Orgeron. I think he’ll perform famously in the Bayou.

But canning the guy halfway through season one? Please.

And I await your hatred should the Trojans fall to Arizona State tonight.