(Dec. 3, 2003) -- When something works well in the National Football League, you can be sure that other teams are going to copy it. So it's very surprising that no teams are really willing to do what the New England Patriots are doing on defense.
The only words you hear when coaches and general managers talk about defense are "younger" and "faster." There are some fast young players on New England's defense, but generally the two words that best describe this group are "grizzled" and "veteran."
I look at the New England defense and see guys like Ted Washington, Mike Vrabel, Roman Phifer, Willie McGinest, Tedy Bruschi, Ty Law, Rodney Harrison and Anthony Pleasant. I'm looking at all those guys and thinking, "They are so untrendy." These are older, experienced, veteran football players. They are not stars in the sense of what we perceive to be stars. We're not talking about guys you'll see doing TV commercials, like Brian Urlacher or Ray Lewis.
So whom do you talk about when you talk about the New England defense? You talk about head coach Bill Belichick or defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. They've assembled good, really solid football players who fly under the radar screen. They are experienced and they fit the criteria the Patriots want. They are tough and they are able to digest a lot of information and go out on the field and be as diversified a defense as I've seen in the NFL.
It works so well for them because the older players are more adept at learning. They can absorb a lot more information during the week. That allows the Patriots defense to be more creative and more flexible. They adapt to what the opposing offense is doing.
Granted, New England has definitely injected new players into the lineup. Rookie Eugene Wilson starts at safety. Rookie cornerback Asante Samuels gets playing time. First-round pick Ty Warren and fourth-round pick Dan Klecko are part of the defensive line rotation. So much of it has been due to injuries, but obviously the plan was to work some young guys in there. You can't have all grizzled veterans. You always want to have a good mix.
And remember, we're talking about a defense that has played very well despite playing without probably their most explosive player, Rosevelt Colvin, who they lost in the second game of the year. And they've had so many other key players lose time to injury -- Ted Johnson at linebacker, Ted Washington on the line. It's amazing how many guys have missed time. That makes it even more impressive.
But I still wonder: This team won a Super Bowl just two years ago, and they're threatening to get back to the Super Bowl this season. Why haven't other teams tried to duplicate what they have done? Maybe they just believe more in youth.
Well, youth isn't always a good thing. Youth makes mistakes, and youth doesn't adapt as well to situations during the game.
It reminds me of Jeff Van Note, the former Atlanta Falcons center who was always fighting off the challenge of some young player they just drafted. The young players always had greater potential. But potential, Van Note said, was just an old French word that means he's not worth a dang yet.
When the Patriots decide to get creative on defense, it can be a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. I'm watching from the broadcast booth and it looks very complicated, because they can all move around and you don't know what they're going to do. I can't imagine what it looks like to a quarterback who's on the field, watching all this movement right in front of him as the ball is about to be snapped.
It's one of the better defenses in the NFL. Yes, they did give up 34 points to Indianapolis last week, but the Colts have one of the best offenses in the NFL and they're even better at home.
What was interesting last week was how much respect the Patriots showed the Colts. They were actually conservative on defense, which is something I usually never see. They showed so much respect for Peyton Manning and all the skill players the Colts have.
So do you think that if they didn't show that respect, if they didn't play conservative against the Colts, then they wouldn't have allowed 34 points? My take is that they probably would have given up 44 points instead.
So I ask again: Why aren't people copying the New England Patriots? Maybe they can't coach it like the Patriots. Maybe they don't have the eye New England has for that second-tier player who fits its system so well. It's probably a little of both.
I don't have the answer. Of course, neither do most teams in the league.