A Genius Awaits the Browns

Len Pasquarelli believes that Bill Belichick is "a living, breathing genius". And he's lying in wait for one-time pupil Eric Mangini and the Cleveland Browns.

As that great American philosopher David Letterman has noted several times, there is no "off" position on the genius switch.

Good thing for the New England Patriots.

If money never sleeps, as the movie contends, then Bill Belichick, who is money in the bank, must be a raving insomniac. Certainly the Patriots' coach, whose team bumped its record to 6-1 on Sunday afternoon with a 28-18 victory over another NFL legend, Brett Favre, and the Minnesota Vikings, qualifies for Mensa status.

The society for brainiacs ought to award Belichick a gold-plated membership card. No Rip Van Winkle is this guy, who seems to almost never fall asleep at the wheel -- OK, we'll give the critics some of those fourth-and-inches calls the last couple years as validation that Belichick isn't always right -- let alone snooze for 20 years. He is a football Houdini, not only because Belichick rarely misses a trick, but also because the Patriots almost always escape with a win despite trap-type situations.

It's difficult to rate Belichick's best teams, particularly since New England has won three Super Bowls under his stewardship, but even his detractors will have to concede that this season ranks as one of his best coaching jobs.

And at this early juncture, arguably the best.

Granted a rare Sunday at home -- I'm flying to Indianapolis on Monday morning for the night's Colts-Texans rematch -- I was able to relax in the family room in front of the big-screen TV and view the Patriots-Vikings tussle. About halfway through the second quarter, avid and dangerously insightful NFL fan Susan Jane Pasquarelli (my wife, for those of you who have yet to figure that out) remarked when the Patriots had the ball: "Who are these guys?"

Of such relatively innocuous moments are column concepts occasionally born.

She's right, too, who are these guys? Next to quarterback Tom Brady -- start with the B&B tandem of Belichick and Brady and you can't often go wrong -- do even most of the knowledgeable New England fans know the identities of the 10 other guys who fill out the club's offensive unit? Chances are that because of injuries, and because the Pats are beat up enough that the guy toting the flute in the famed Revolutionary War photo might merit consideration as the franchise logo, most don't.

But it doesn't seem to matter.

One of the great fallacies of the Patriots' brilliant run over Belichick's tenure with the club is that the man is a genius on only one side of the ball. Belichick doesn't get nearly enough credit for how well he understands, and orchestrates, an offense.

Maybe he will this year.

Sure, there are few defensive minds like his, and Sunday again demonstrated that. Faced with the specter of defending the big-play prodigal, Randy Moss, Belichick cut off the long ball by positioning a safety in, like, Waltham, and daring Favre to try to get the ball vertically to the wide receiver. It's amazing the New England secondary didn't require cell phones to hear the coverage calls, so backed up off the line of scrimmage was the unit.

The Patriots' defense also started four rookies, and three other players with three or fewer seasons of previous experience, and the starting 11 averaged 2.36 seasons of prior regular-season experience. And the Pats allowed just two touchdowns and notched a key goal-line stand just before halftime.

But it might be on the "other" side of the ball where Belichick is woefully underrated and where he might actually earn the "genius" label.

A few years ago, when then-New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was titular leader of a unit whose impressive production helped to earn him the Denver head coaching gig, it was Belichick who actually called most of the plays the second half of the year. McDaniels deserves a lot of credit, as does a guy like Charlie Weis, for sure. But dust the New England offense for fingerprints, and you're apt to find a goodly bit of Belichick's DNA on the game plan as well.

Think about this: On Sunday, he was again without his best offensive lineman, left guard Logan Mankins, who hasn't played a snap this year because of a holdout. His top two tailbacks, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, both entered the NFL as undrafted college free agents. The latter was relegated by the hated New York Jets (Belichick must take particular relish in having made Woodhead into more than just a special teams afterthought) to the scrap heap a few weeks ago. Brady completed four passes to outside receivers.

And the Pats, who are the only franchise in the league without at least a nominal offensive or defensive coordinator, still won by 10 points.

Last year, Belichick traded his best defensive player, lineman Richard Seymour. This year it was Moss who was sent packing. The player slated to supplant Moss, second-year veteran Brandon Tate, has essentially done nothing. He came into Sunday's game with one reception, for three yards, since Moss exited. He caught three balls for 101 yards on Sunday, but a 32-yard grab was a fluke, when Minnesota safety Madieu Williams allowed an interception to go through his hands, and a 65-yard touchdown bomb resulted from a Brady scramble on which Tate adjusted his route.

Admittedly, I count Belichick as a friend. A few years ago, the kids for Christmas bought me a Belichick-style hoodie as a gift. So, yeah, cards on the table, I'm an unabashed supporter.

But it's fun, we can confirm having watched every second of Sunday's game, to have a living, breathing genius as a friend.


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