TOJ Guest Post – Belichick The Chess Master

A guest post on TOJ, looking at how Bill Belichick turns the game of football into a glorified chess match better than any coach in the NFL

Today’s guest post comes courtesy of Kevin Kelly from GET Broken Record. If you are interested in contributing a guest post, send an email request with your idea to

Bill Belichick plays chess with human beings. And he’s better at this particular version of the game than any man alive.

Normal chess is man against man, mind against mind, strategy and tactical maneuvers engineered to attack while simultaneously defending.

Football is a complicated version of chess. Complicated for three reasons:

1. Only a few people realize it’s happening. Everyone else, the players included, are caught up in the excitement of the moment. 100,000 screaming fans, millions more watching at home, touchdown dances, cheerleaders, fireworks, explosions, the whole nine yards. But high atop the field watching quietly in the booth, a few select men sit quietly, studying, analyzing. They don’t see the sweat dripping off the faces of the athletes competing; they see pieces moving on a board. They watch. They look for patterns, holes, strengths and weaknesses not only in their own pieces, but also in the movements of the opponent.

2. There are multiple games being played simultaneously, and both games are using the same set of pieces. For example, the Offensive Coordinator and Defensive Coordinator both watch the game from the booth, and they play against a corresponding set of coordinators. If New York’s O.Coordinator bests New England’s defense, it means nothing if New York’s Defense gets trumped by the O.Coordinator for the Patriots. And it happens on the fly. All of this information, dozens of statistics and conditions and tangible pieces of evidence that suggest the what, where and how to succeed is then passed from the booth down to the coach.

3. This is where Belichick’s genius comes into play. He is a master at thin-slicing. He’s given an incredible amount of information and in the blink of an eye can deduce what needs to happen, to which he consistently adds resolve. Setting specific pieces into motion at certain times to evoke a reaction that butterfly effects a result two possessions or quarters or games later. It really is an incredible thing.

Rex Ryan screamed last Sunday. He screamed last Monday. On Tuesday, he probably yelled again for good measure. He talks trash. It has come to define him. But this Sunday he faces the Gridiron’s Bobby Fischer in a must-win situation. When Fischer beat the Russian Champion Boris Spassky in 1972 in a best of 7 series, Fischer didn’t show up for the first game. He intentionally took the loss. And it baffled the Russian. Without words, without doing anything at all, he planted a seed that chipped away at the best player in the world. Fischer took the series a few days later and became the first American Champion…ever.

Silence has a way of baffling the loud and outspoken. It’s a move they don’t understand, only drawing them further and further in, until it’s far too late.

If the Jets are to win on Sunday, their leaders need to shy away from the immediacy of the scream, away from the excitement of the moment and the roar of the crowd, and focus instead on the pieces on the board as Belichick has done for the last 20 years. It’s the NFL. Both sides have muscle, strength, and conditioning, top tier talent. All of that means nothing if you lose your mental, as reason walks out when emotion walks in. This is where New York needs to improve. And this is exactly what New England will look to exploit. Football is chess with living pieces. And in the immortal words of Bobby Fischer: Chess is war over the board. The object is to crush the opponent’s mind.

Rex’s Pride and Joy Needs To Lead Way On Sunday

It is always about the defense. Ever since Rex Ryan has taken over, he really hasn’t made much of an effort to hide his biased love for that side of the football. The offense is his ugly stepchild who he will occasionally make an effort to give some affection to but in reality his pride and joy, his baby, is his defense.

It will be on that pride and joy to lead the way to a Jets victory Sunday. Starting with a Rex Ryan/Mike Pettine game plan that can slow down Tom Brady and his legion of wide receivers, scatbacks, and tight ends. Similar to the playoff game, it will take a mix of zone and heavy pressure combined with getting the most value out of the Jets top player on that side of the football, Darrelle Revis.

Revis needs to be everywhere on Sunday. I would guess he will spend the bulk of his time on Wes Welker, but there will be times to slide him over to either Deion Branch or one of the Patriots tight ends.  On the whole the Jets secondary needs to be physical, extremely physical. Welker, Deion Branch, and Chad Ochocinco need to be pushed around, jammed and drilled when they come over the middle.

It is all hands on deck in the secondary. Brodney Pool, Kyle Wilson, and Donald Stickland are going to spend the majority of the game on the field, not on the bench.  I don’t trust anybody outside of Revis to cover either Welker or Rob Gronkowski one on one, so the Jets better be ready to double whomever he isn’t on.

In the front seven, the Jets can’t go crazy sending 7 or 8 man blitzes because Brady will target away from Revis and dice up man coverage. Calvin Pace and newly acquired Aaron Maybin need to take advantage of their pass rush opportunities. Muhammad Wilkerson needs to build off last week and continue to get a push up front.

Brady can be susceptible to interceptions. He threw four against Buffalo a couple of weeks ago and we all remember how David Harris picked him off in the playoffs, along with the two times the Jets intercepted him in week 2 of the regular season last year. The Jets will need a turnover or two and to keep their offense reasonably in check. In both of their victories over New England last season, the Jets offense scored 28 points The Patriots averaged 17.5 points in those two games.

I would say if the Jets allow 24 points or less, they are giving the team a reasonable shot at a victory. Let’s hope Rex and his baby are up to the challenge.

New York Jets – Formula For The “Upset”

Panic has taken over surrounding the New York Jets, as they head into New England as 9 point underdogs. Most people have written the team off after watching Mark Sanchez get hit like a piñata last week in primetime and the Baltimore Ravens roll over them like they were a glorified JV team. The nice part about this game is that all it takes is a Jets win, coupled with a Buffalo loss to put them in first place in the AFC East.

Of course winning in New England is easier said than done, especially with Tom Brady racking up record breaking passing statistics. There is one thing indisputable about the Patriots. They can throw the damn football. Brady is the best quarterback in the league and has a full arsenal at his disposal, led by slot receiver Wes Welker who is playing the best football of his career and tight end Rob Gronkowski, who seems to catch a touchdown every 2.5 seconds. Yet, there is another thing that is indisputable, the New York Jets should be confident about getting to Brady and slowing down his mighty machine. They have done it before and they have the personnel to do it again.

New England is about as one dimensional as it gets. They have one of the league’s worst defenses and they show no commitment to running the football. Unfortunately, as of late the Jets have also been one dimensional and that dimension is turning the football over.

The Jets must get back to what made them the AFC’s second best team the past two years, which is relying on their defense, running game, special teams, and a controlled passing attack. Don’t talk yourself out of the fact that this is a winnable game for the Jets. It absolutely is, but a few things need to occur.

First off, Rex Ryan needs to bring his A game when it comes to the defensive game-plan. He beat Brady in the chess game last January, but can he do it again? The pass rush must show up, hopefully with a boost from Aaron Maybin again, and players like Kyle Wilson, Donald Strickland, Brodney Pool, and Eric Smith need to be at the top of their game.

The special teams needs to make plays and win their third of the game. A few big kick returns…solid kick coverage…no missed field goals…and accurate punting, will go a long way to a Jets victory.

Finally, the offense needs to find itself. Call it embracing the ugly. Wrap your arms around the 3 yard carry, the screen pass, and the occasional play action shot down field. Keep it simple and protect the football. If the Jets pick their spots they can beat the New England secondary but Mark Sanchez shouldn’t throw more than 26 times on Sunday. He has averaged a touch over 25 attempts in his three career victories against New England, so keep his dropbacks in that range.

We all watched last week, it is understandable why most people don’t expect a Jets victory. However, let’s not make this out to be the 1996 Jets by the 1972 Dolphins. The Jets got a shot on Sunday and it is a good one

New York Jets: How To Get The Swagger Back

Prior to their last meeting with the New England Patriots, the New York Jets were heavy underdogs. You may remember the massacre they undertook in the 2010 regular season and how everybody had already crowned the 14-2 Patriots as Super Bowl champs. Nobody gave the Jets a shot the last time they traveled up north to face their rivals.

Did the Jets stop running their mouths in the week leading up to the game? Of course not. Did they go into New England, 100 percent certain they were more than capable of ending the Patriots season? Of course they did. These were Rex Ryan’s Jets, who simply didn’t give a damn what you thought about them, how they acted, and what they said.

It was a beautiful thing to watch, the entire football world lavishing praise on the classy Patriots, who kept their bougie heads too high to step into the fray with the Jets outside of a few subtle references from Wes Welker. Tom Brady would shred up an idiotic Antonio Cromartie for calling him an A—Hole and New England would laugh in the face of a bumbling Rex Ryan. Yet, when they took the field, it was the Jets who punched New England in the mouth. It was Tom Brady who looked idiotic trying to move the ball against the Jets defense. It was Bill Belicheck outcoached by Rex Ryan and yes it was Mark Sanchez, that same guy you all want to cut, throwing for 3 touchdowns and leading his team to a win.

This week the Jets are 9 point underdogs. They have already been written off for the 2011 season by those who cover the league and sadly by many of their fans. Let’s be honest, nobody expects them to win.

This is the time for the Jets to go back to their roots. Run their mouth. Run the football. Run out another epic defense performance against a supposedly unstoppable Patriots offense. Break out the Flight Boys celebration all over that field just like they did last time. The Jets from last two years wouldn’t give a damn about New England still seething over that loss and how much their showboating irritated their rivals. They would simply be ready to cue up more of it.

I am all for the return to the Ground and Pound. Three runs and a punt can be a victory sometimes. Don’t get caught up in trying to go pass for pass with New England. Run the football at them consistently and set up your play action shots down the field. Let your defense and special teams make plays, while your offense doesn’t beat you. The Jets have stopped New England before and they can do it again. New England isn’t infallible, in case you forgot the Buffalo game from a couple of weeks ago.

One win can do wonders in the NFL and despite many of you thinking the season is over, a Jets victory coupled with a Buffalo loss to Philadelphia, puts them in first place…exactly where we though they’d be after 5 games.

2-2 Is Not Time For New York Jets To Panic

Rex Ryan is right. It is time to return to the Ground and Pound, to smashing mouths and putting hats on people. Even if just to rev up a team that for the past two weeks has not only lost games, but has been beaten up emotionally and physically. Despite falling to 2-2 after getting knocked around in Oakland and Baltimore, the Jets still have time to get where they want to go. Ryan is toning down the Super Bowl talk for now and that’s a good thing. The Jets are not looking like a club that is headed for Indianapolis these days. However it only early October. Nobody gets awarded a ticket punched for the big dance yet anyway.

The “Ground and Pound” was the essential label the 2009 Jets carried with them in their luggage every week. Thomas Jones was the hammer. Shonn Greene the closer. With All Pro bodyguards Alan Faneca, Nick Mangold, Damien Woody and D’Brickshaw Ferguson all paving the way. Jones is a Chief though now. Faneca and Woody are now retired and Mangold has been out for two weeks. With news of the “return” the obvious concern will be as to whether or not the Jets are daydreaming when they say they want THIS foundation on offense again, minus THAT personnel.

The Jets have replaced Woody with the struggling Wayne Hunter at RT.  Rookie Colin Baxter has done his best to cover up the loss of Mangold while the always maligned Vlad Ducasse has been shifting places with Matt Slauson up front. It hasn’t worked out well. Shonn Greene has had no room to run and LaDainian Tomlinson, when he’s not catching screen passes has not found a hole yet either. Let’s not even talk about what has gone on when Sanchez has gone back to throw.

The solution? Ryan’s calls for using less three WR sets that have featured the star trio of Burress, Holmes and Mason, but have rendered little production. By adding more skill position blocking types with the names of Mulligan, Baker and Conner, jersey sales may not flourish, but the Jets may start plowing space.

Even if a bigger return to the ground (in 2009 the Jets ran the ball 61 percent of the time. This year the Jets have THROWN it 62 percent of the time) fails to move the chains all game, it still may be the wise move. Just defining a personality on offense at all, could cure a group that is stuck between running plays with too many wideouts in the formation, and passing plays that attempt to show the growth of Mark Sanchez off despite the inability to protect him.

The Jets are currently 30th in the NFL in rushing. Yet by going back to grinding it out, Gang Green can still reestablish control over two key broad concepts that have been lost. First, that they are the more physical team. One that won’t beat itself (Baltimore score 21 defensive points thanks to turnovers by Sanchez) by handing teams touchdowns. Second, that the defense will again be asked to carry the primary responsibility for field position and scoreboard maintenance. After all, there would be little need to improve upon a 22.9 points per game average in 2010  if the Defense can return to their under 19 points per game average of 2010.

Then there is the AFC. A conference without a powerhouse club dominating both sides of the ball. Sure there are five 3-1 teams, but break them all down and you’ll notice that all have their own issues and potential firestorms awaiting them as well.

The Pats are second in the NFL in scoring but 20th in points allowed. With some health concerns to key players like LB Jerod Mayo, expected out a month, and big Albert Haynesworth who has already missed two games.

The Ravens brutalized the Jets offense but QB Joe Flacco and his top accomplice RB Ray Rice had minimal affect on the party. If there is to be a playoff rematch in January, the Jets by then could be months along with the resurgent Ground and Pound.. If so, then expect the 10-9 type of grind it out game that both teams endured last season instead of the wild 34-17 one they just played.

The Texans and Chargers are 3-1 but they are, well, the Texans and Chargers. One franchise trying to rid itself of the tag of dramatic fourth quarter chokers. The other coached by Norv Turner, who always seems to turn promising team outlooks into crushing season ending defeats in January.

The Bills and Titans are both off to exciting and surprising starts but are newbies to the upper crust. The Bills can light it up on offense and comeback from way down to do it. The Titans are 1st in the NFL in allowing just 14 points per game. This duo will have to prove over a longer period than just four games.

As Joe Namath noted last week, it is dangerous for teams to rest on their laurels and maybe these Jets did. to a degree. Regardless, Namath and other detractors better not discount the importance of achievment. The experience and success that two consecutive month long road runs to the AFC title game, will do wonders in keeping the club focused on seeing the big picture, through this early season storm.

The past two games have given the Jets and those who die hard with them an understandable reason for concern. With a talented roster, a conference with no complete and fully healthy team, and Ryan who has too much belief in his team to quit, it’s a situation that doesn’t call for widespread panic just yet either

TOJ Roundtable Week 4 – Jets/Ravens Predictions

Joe Caporoso: 12 Pack

Rob Celletti: In looking at the first 35 regular season games under Rex Ryan, you’d be hard-pressed to find two in a row which featured a subpar defensive performance.  That’s a large enough sample size for me.  I think the Jets defense has a strong bounce-back performance and leads the team to a hard-fought 20-17 victory. The Jets have two reasons to play with a vengeance on Sunday night: 1) they’ll remember last year’s excruciating 10-9 opening night loss at home to the Ravens, and 2) they’ll want to make up for last week’s shocking effort on defense and prove some of their doubters wrong.

TJ Rosenthal: JETS WIN IF: They come out inspired off of both the loss to Oakland and the Joe Namath comments. The players love Rex Ryan and will play aggressively out of the gates for him to back his faith in them. The offense may not be pretty throughout but will be effective on certain drives. The defense will play their best game of the year. Ray Rice will get his yards but the Jets will have Boldin smothered on Revis Island and Antonio Cromartie will bounce back with a key interception on a deep ball intended for Torrey Smith. Jets 23-20

RAVENS WIN IF: The Jets fail to match to the Ravens physically and emotionally. Joe Flacco will pick on a banged up Antonio Cromartie and Ray Rice wears down a defense that got torched by Darren McFadden a week ago. Mark Sanchez forces a few in areas patrolled by Ed Reed. The run game struggles. Again. Ravens 27-Jets 17.

Justin Fritze: I will take heat for this, but there are overwhelming feelings that the Jets are just not up to it against the Ravens they way they are built. Without Mangold calling protections they can’t handle the blitz or get enough time to play the West Coast short passing game. They will be forced to toss it up the field and save for a few long passes to Dustin Keller over the middle, they will struggle getting it to either Holmes or Burress because of Ed Reed’s ability to chameleon his double coverage. If the Jets survive, it will be on turnovers, but I still say Ravens 21-17.

Chris Celletti: I can’t help but think this is just a bad matchup at the wrong time for the Jets. If you think about it, since Rex Ryan took over as coach, there hasn’t really been a time where “panic” has set in. I think we’re about to reach that time. The Jets were dominated by an inferior team in Oakland last week, and face a much more sound and solid team this week in Baltimore. The Jets’ defense, especially their linebackers, look slow. On top of that, this is the best defense that the Jets will have faced so far this season, so the maligned running game may have serious issues. I by no means think the Jets will get blown out, but I could see the Ravens taking a close, low-scoring game. And then? Panic ensues.


Jets vs. Ravens: 12 Pack Of Predictions

The 12 pack took a beating last week as the New York Jets lost their first game of the regular season. Yet, just like the team we cover, we don’t die easy. Here are 12 predictions for Sunday night football –

1. The Baltimore Ravens are going to pick on Antonio Cromartie early and often. Wouldn’t you? He will pick up a couple of penalties and allow a big play or two, but will also come up with a big play which he couldn’t do last week. I don’t expect to see him at all on kick return.

2. Speaking of kick return, Joe McKnight will have a big night as the deep man and will have a bigger role back there moving forward even when Cromartie is 100 percent healthy.

3. I am setting the over/under at 55 yards for Shonn Greene, and I am taking the under.

4. Mark Sanchez is going to have the pass rush in his face all game and take a few sacks. However, he will also create a few big plays outside of the pocket when the play breaks down and also burn the Ravens in a few situations where they leave Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress one on one. He will throw for over 275 yards.

5. Ray Rice will have at least a combined 125 yards rushing and receiving and get in the end-zone once.

6. Joe Flacco will turn the football over at least once, however he will also beat the Jets down the for a touchdown pass of 40 yards or longer. The Jets will only sack him once.

7. Santonio Holmes is going to have his biggest game of the season, in both yardage and receptions. He will also score his second touchdown of the season.

8. Darrelle Revis will keep Anquan Boldin under 40 total yards receiving if he is matched up on him throughout the night.

9. Kenrick Ellis and Aaron Maybin will both be active. Nick Mangold will be a gametime decision and won’t end up playing, as the Jets smartly work to get him near 100 percent for New England next week.

10. Nick Folk will miss a field goal, he is due for one.

11. Derrick Mason will score his first touchdown of the season.

12. Am I being naive for picking the Jets to eek out a tight victory, 21-20? Maybe so. We’ll see. This won’t be a pretty game but the Jets will find a way to gut one out late.

Epitaph To The 2011 New York Jets Season

The New York Jets had a hell of a run this season, an emotional roller coaster that peeked when they hit the 2-0 mark, but came to an abrupt halt with a 34-24 loss to the Oakland Raiders. The loss ended a season that was supposed to see Rex Ryan’s team finally get over the hump to reach that elusive Super Bowl title, which has avoided the franchise since 1969. Unfortunately, that won’t be the case as the organization, fans, and local media members are forced to ponder where it went wrong before the season went down in flames in the Black Hole.

Joe Namath, the face of the franchise, has called out Rex Ryan and his lackadaisical preparation. The coach’s message clearly is falling on deaf ears in the locker room. The 2-1 record is a clear demonstration of that fact. Mark Sanchez, has regressed to a point that even Chad Henne is now considered more talented to him, after the division rival quarterback led his team to a brilliant 0-3 start. The defense is done. The running game is dead. Bury the Ground and Pound with the football they buried after the 45-3 New England loss last year and get ready for plenty of more games like that in the coming years.

This Jets team can’t compete in the stacked AFC anymore. In their own division, they are the third best team behind a Buffalo Bills team that hasn’t lost since the Jets beat them 38-7 in the final game of the 2010 regular season. Since then they have strung together a record breaking 3 game winning streak, winning in dominant fashion the past two weeks. The New England Patriots, who have lost 2 of the last 4 times they took the field in a game that matters, including once to the Jets in their own building to end their season, are also light years ahead of a bumbling Gang Green.

The season can’t go on. Nobody wants to suffer through watching the Jets lie down and take beatings the next four weeks. How could the Jets find a way past the Ravens who managed to get smacked around by a dominant Tennessee Titans team 9 days ago? Why bother to fly to New England, where the Jets haven’t won since the last time they went there? Miami owns the Jets and features Drew Brees Jr. aka Chad Henne under center. The San Diego Chargers never lose in the first half of the year and never lose to the Jets, except in 2009 when the Jets ended their season.

This team has never proven to have character since Rex Ryan has taken over. They don’t fight back. Remember in 2009, after they lost 6 of 7 to fall to 4-6 on the season. What happened? They gave up to finish with a 9-7 record, make the playoffs and win two road playoff games…pathetic.

How about last year after that brutal beat-down in New England, followed by an ugly loss to Miami? Remember how they went into Pittsburgh and won to basically clinch a playoff spot? They actually then had the audacity to end both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady’s season in their own buildings. No heart, no character, no fight. Those comeback victories in Denver, Detroit, Cleveland, and at home versus Houston in 2010…textbook same old Jets.

You would be a fool to think this team has the ability to get up off the mat after such a devastating week 3 regular season loss, where they were so thoroughly outplayed and manhandled that they looked like a Big East team. They only managed a 10 point lead at one point in the contest and were smashed around on a dropped kick return, a broken halfback option pass and reverse, and pass interference penalties.

Rex and the Jets had a nice run but all that is over now. Hand the crown over the Giants in New York. Let New England and Buffalo battle for the crown in the AFC East. Let the Ravens, Steelers, Chargers, Patriots, and Bills fight it out for a AFC Championship.

When it is over, it is over and after that Oakland loss…it is over.

NFL Week 3 Review: Not Buying Early Hype

1. Three games into the NFL season and the tickets are being punched for a Detroit Lions/Buffalo Bills Super Bowl match-up. Don’t get me wrong, Detroit is a talented team and their comeback over the Minnesota Vikings was a gutsy win to hang their hat on. Buffalo’s win over New England was even more impressive considering the way New England has handled them as of late and how they dug themselves out of a three possession hole for the second week in a row.

Yet, I have to laugh at the comments received about the New York Jets now being the third best team in the AFC East and when I hear talk of the Lions currently being a top five team in the NFL. The Bills have been down by 18 points in two straight weeks, there are plenty of flaws in their feel good story. They have found ways to win two tight games late, an admirable and important quality. Let’s see them handle being a favorite for a few weeks now. Let’s see them go on the road and take out some contenders. Let’s see them win a game when they aren’t capable of laying a 34 spot on the board. I am not buying it yet, not after 3 games.

The Lions have a beautiful thing on offense with Matthew Stafford throwing to Calvin Johnson. The comeback against Minnesota was a hell of a win, but if you haven’t noticed it, everybody is doing that this year. Again, let’s see them play as a favorite now and let’s see them stay ahead of Chicago in the standings into the second half of the year and how they handle the Packers and Saints down the stretch of their schedule. Are they a playoff contender? Sure, everybody is at this point. Are they one of the best teams in the league? I haven’t seen that yet, not after tight wins over Tampa Bay and Minnesota and beating the ACC caliber Kansas City Chiefs.

2. Nobody takes more cheap shots at the New York Giants than yours truly. I have been surrounded by a group of annoying Giants fans my whole life…otherwise known as all of my best friends. Yet, that doesn’t mean I won’t credit them for an impressive win over the Philadelphia Eagles on the road. I am aware Mike Vick didn’t play the fourth quarter but with the amount of injuries the Giants are dealing with, I am not taking anything away from them. How about North Jersey’s own Victor Cruz by the way? What a game. I am not sure who deserves their new contract less at this point Nnamdi Asomugha or Antonio Cromartie.

I do have to take time to mention what a dirtbag Antrel Rolle is on the field though. I am looking forward to Plaxico Burress giving him one of these shots on December 24th.

3. Week 5 Games to look forward:

  • Pittsburgh at Houston – Very interested to see how these two AFC contenders come out in this game.
  • New England at Oakland – Hoping Oakland can do to New England what they did to the Jets last weekend.
  • NY Jets at Baltimore – Game of the week and I’m not even being biased.