Direct Snap: Patriots' Bill Belichick could help his porous secondary by doing the unthinkable

Jason Cole
Yahoo! Sports

Admittedly, this is never going to happen and I can't blame New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Still, imagine if he could forgive former assistant Eric Mangini and hire him next week to run the Patriots' secondary for the rest of the season.

Trust me, you don't need to send me emails explaining the situation or talking about what an idiot I am for even suggesting that Belichick rehire his personal Benedict Arnold – the person who revealed the Patriots' videotaping practices in 2007. I get it, it's impossible. But it could save a season and bring Belichick's Patriots the title that has eluded them twice in the past five years and will likely escape them against this season based on what you can see from a distance.

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The Patriots pass defense, which last year was the worst to ever reach a Super Bowl, hasn't improved much statistically this season. Last week, the Patriots danced with defeat before finally putting away the New York Jets in overtime. However, the lasting image of that game, if you're a New England fan, is Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez carving up the Patriots' secondary. In fact, if not for an ugly drop by wide-open New York rookie wide receiver Stephen Hill, the Patriots probably would have lost.

That came on the heels of Seattle Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson torching the Patriots for six plays of 20-yards or longer, including the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter in Week 6. Sure, the game-winner featured the Patriots lining up with three rookies in the secondary, but there were plenty of problems before that.

Patriots fans will likely counter that there's no reason to freak out. For instance, the Patriots were 5-3 at the midpoint last season and will likely be there again once they dispose of the Rams in London on Sunday. Last year, the Patriots then reeled off eight consecutive wins to close the regular season.

The difference, though, was that the 2011 Patriots lost to quality teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers and the eventual-champion New York Giants in the first half. Moreover, while their defense put up ugly numbers last season, that happened against the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Tony Romo.

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This season, the only high-caliber quarterbacks the Patriots have faced are Joe Flacco and Peyton Manning. The only even remotely scary one left on the schedule is Matt Schaub.

In other words, New England is still putting up miserable numbers but against lesser players and teams this season. That's a bad combination. Despite drafting defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont'a Hightower, the Patriots' defense is getting torched for 8.1 yards per pass attempt against them. That's the fifth-worst average in the league.

Telling is the fact that opponents are also throwing 37.1 passes a game against the Patriots. That's the 10th-most in the league and of the teams that have been thrown on more, only the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings have winning records.

Again, this is happening against a lot of mediocre-to-bad quarterbacks, such as Sanchez, Wilson, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jake Locker. What's going to happen if the Patriots have to go against some serious throwers?

Of course, there's always my improbable solution. With a bye coming up, Belichick could rescue his former pupil from television purgatory and get him back into coaching. Would Mangini do it? He should, even if being a secondary coach is below the coordinator status he seeks. When you've been stuck in a studio for two years, you should leap at the chance to leave.

More important, Mangini is a good secondary coach. Under his guidance from 2000 to 2005, the Patriots were generally middle of the pack (if not near the top) of the league in rankings against the pass. Even all these years and controversies later, Belichick privately speaks highly of Mangini's work with defensive backs – which did include Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy and Rodney Harrison at some point.

But would Belichick ever hire Mangini again? Would he forgive Mangini for his role in Spygate (something Mangini has said he regrets doing)? Sadly, that's not even a question worth asking. Even if it could help the Patriots, it's too much to ask.


1. Atlanta Falcons (6-0): Are they really improved? Game against Philly will be telling because of matchups.
2. New York Giants (5-2): Big chance in Big D for some revenge and some distance in the NFC East.
3. Chicago Bears (5-1): Better win the next two because the second-half schedule is absolutely brutal.
4. San Francisco 49ers (5-2): Scheduling quirk: Arizona will be the only game they play in 22-day stretch.
5. Houston Texans (6-1): Schedule alert – Texans have one game vs. a team with a winning record in next five weeks.

[More: Seahawks cornerback changes Twitter handle in preparation to cover Megatron]


28. Cleveland Browns (1-6): Hopefully Joe Banner gives GM Tom Heckert a chance to stick around. Roster is improving.
29. Oakland Raiders (2-4): Let's get this straight: You had to take the Jaguars to overtime, at home, before you could win?
30. Carolina Panthers (1-5): So how down is QB Cam Newton going to be after he gets thrashed by Chicago? Oh, boy.
31. Kansas City Chiefs (1-5): Losing your job to Brady Quinn is like losing to comedian Jeff Ross in a looks contest.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5): This team was already bad on offense and then Blaine Gabbert and Maurice Jones-Drew got hurt.


It's nice to see that NFL players, courtesy of, finally agree with many of us in the media that Tim Tebow is vastly overrated. He was No. 1 with 34 percent of the vote, a huge margin over teammate Mark Sanchez and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (8 percent each). But the real question is how exactly will Tebow's legion of supporters blame this poll on the media? As a side note, Ray Lewis was the highest ranking defensive player on the overrated list. That's a tidbit for you Baltimore loonies who still think Lewis is the best defensive player in the NFL.

[More: Forbes: The NFL's most (and least) liked players]

As NFL coaches and players continue to weigh in on the inherent unfairness of the regular Thursday night games (Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler discussed it last week), the league needs to take note of one thing in particular. No team should have the advantage of hosting two Thursday games. Detroit has that advantage. It hosts Green Bay in the annual Thanksgiving Day game and then hosts Atlanta in Week 16. It's going to be hard for the league to get around the Thursday games in the future because of the money it makes, but don't allow one team to have such an advantage.

Interesting side note to the Redskins-Steelers game: Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III has completed 133 of 189 passes for a phenomenal 70.4 completion percentage. That puts him on pace to break the rookie record of 66.4 percent (196 of 295) set in 2004 by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, his counterpart on Sunday. Also, if Griffin can maintain this pace, he would be only the fifth quarterback to post a 70 percent mark. Drew Brees has done it twice, including a record 71.2 percent last season, along with Steve Young, Joe Montana and Ken Anderson.

Since the beginning of the 2011 season, there have been four instances where a defense has been drawn offside by a hard count on a fourth-and-short situation (the offense needing five yards or less). The interesting part is that Cleveland has done it twice (Phil Taylor last season and Billy Winn last week in a loss to Indianapolis). In addition to that pair, the Browns signed defensive end Juqua Parker as a free agent this offseason. He pulled that stunt last year when he was with Philadelphia. Talk about corning the market.

Congrats to Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman, who has thrown for more than 300 yards in back-to-back games for the first time in his four-year career. It's nearly three straight (he had 299 against Washington). Although Tampa Bay has gone 1-2 in its past three games, Freeman is again showing signs of being the franchise quarterback the Buccaneers have been searching for since the days of Doug Williams.

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