An old-fashioned tampering battle over Caserio for the Patriots and Texans

An old-fashioned tampering battle over Caserio for the Patriots and Texans

Hey, maybe the Texans didn’t tamper with Nick Caserio.

I mean, they couldn’t be so naïve as to think firing their general manager last Friday – a day after former Patriots chaplain and current Texans VP of Player Development Jack Easterby was at the Patriots ring ceremony – then requesting permission to speak with Caserio about the vacancy wasn’t going to set off alarm bells, could they?

And they – meaning Easterby, Texans coach Bill O’Brien and Texans owner Cal McNair – couldn’t have believed the request to yank Caserio wasn’t going to be met with A) resistance and B) suspicion. So, I’m prone to giving them the benefit of the doubt that they couldn’t so blatantly telegraph their intentions and not expect some fallout.

Because if they did tamper and the investigation the Patriots have requested the league to begin into L’Affaire Caserio uncovers evidence, there’s a simple old saying that applies.

Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Patriots history dating back to 1996 is littered with proof that, when the Patriots – and that means both Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick – believe their employees are being pilfered outside the rules, they are going to take action.

It happened in 1997 when Bill Parcells negotiated his exit from the Patriots to join the Jets kicking off the so-called Border War. And Belichick’s return to New England from New York in 2000 was every bit as messy and led to a Cold War between Big Bill and Little Bill that took a few years to thaw.

The agitation with Eric Mangini when he went to the Jets after the 2005 season was rooted in the belief Mangini was trying to convince Patriots assistants and players to join him in New York while he was still a member of the Patriots coaching staff.

The irritation that flowed from that led to a tit-for-tat snitching contest between the two teams over video personnel and that ballooned into SpyGate which, less than a decade later, may have indirectly birthed Deflategate.

Now the Patriots have seen all manner of employees light out for the territories over the past few years. Matt Patricia went to the Lions. Josh McDaniels nearly went to the Colts. Brian Flores went to the Dolphins. Assistants and front-office personnel have accompanied them. They’ve seen former coaches – after stops elsewhere – land in head jobs in other cities and tap Patriots players as free agents and executives to join them.

But those occasions at least came during the period when people were moving around anyway – after the season and before the draft. For the Texans to fire a seemingly capable GM in Brian Gaine in June and expect they could extract Caserio seems like it was a little too bold a maneuver for the Patriots to merely shrug at.

So here we are.

And now the Patriots are going to fight against O’Brien and Easterby who reportedly has gained “juice” within the Texans organization since being hired by Gaine. 

Easterby is, according to Houston Chronicle writer John McLain, going to be involved in the interviews to replace Gaine. The Patriots seem to believe he – or someone with the Texans – has already been involved in more than that.

The bone over which the two franchises will now fight – Caserio – finds himself in an uncomfortable position. I don’t know if  I’ve encountered a more principled, ego-free, honest, hardworking executive with the Patriots than Caserio in the time I’ve covered the team.

But it takes two to tango and if Easterby or O’Brien made inquiries to Caserio or Caserio’s agent prior to the Texans canning Gaine and Caserio indicated he was game for a change then we have a sticky situation for one of Belichick’s most loyal and valuable lieutenants to deal with.

The turnover on the Patriots staff in the past few years has been massive. And the Patriots have done what they could when they could to stem it by either blocking requested interviews as they did with Caserio and director of college scouting Monti Ossenfort or convincing coaches like McDaniels to stay.

Where do things go from here?

Well, Caserio – who still hasn’t been granted permission to interview – could stay and the Texans (if found “guilty”) could still be penalized.

Or the Patriots could let Caserio go, deal with a pretty important loss and take whatever compensation Houston is forced to give.

Or there could be a fight after the tampering charge is resolved as to whether or not Caserio already was a high-level employee of the Patriots and is therefore ineligible to leave as he’s under contract.

One thing that’s guaranteed to come from this? Hard feelings.


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Why Bill Belichick cited Dwight Eisenhower when discussing preparation for Cowboys game

Why Bill Belichick cited Dwight Eisenhower when discussing preparation for Cowboys game

FOXBORO — You might remember it for the moment in which Dion Lewis undressed the Cowboys defense. You might remember it as the beginning of the end for a Patriots offensive line that was slowly torn apart by injury. You might remember it as the game that looked like a Caravaggio painting.

Tom Brady probably remembers it as a game in which he and Josh McDaniels had to throw an entire game plan out the window in order to move the football. 

"Yeah, it was a lot of adjustments today," Brady said at the time. "I don't think we practiced much of what they were doing."

The Patriots won the game, 30-6, so safe to assume they figured things out. But in the first half, they scored what was to that point in the season a low of 13 points. Brady was knocked down five times in the first 30 minutes for just the second time in his career — and the first time in 13 seasons. Coming off of a 40-point outing in Buffalo, a 51-point explosion against the Jaguars at home, and a bye week, Brady and his teammates were left searching for answers early on that week against Dallas.

"They played a few different fronts, few different coverages, stuff they hadn't shown," Brady said. "They came in with an approach. I thought we settled in, made some plays there to start the second half. But we gotta play better."

Why bring this up now? Why is this relevant? 

Well, that was the last time the Patriots played the Cowboys. Since then a lot has happened, but Brady is still the starting quarterback, McDaniels is still the Patriots offensive coordinator, and Bill Belichick is still the head coach. On the other side, Jason Garrett is still the Cowboys head coach, and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli remains the boss on that side of the football. 

Part of the reason the Patriots were confounded four years ago in Arlington was because Marinelli is a he-does-what-he-does type of coach. He's been in the NFL since 1996. He loves his zone coverages. Tampa 2 — essentially Cover 2 with two deep safeties, where an athletic linebacker is charged with taking the deep middle of the field -- is his weapon of choice. He likes four-man "over" fronts, where players slice through gaps to get up the field in the hopes of creating play-altering penetration at the line of scrimmage. 

Ahead of that 2015 matchup, Belichick was confident that the Patriots wouldn't have the rug pulled out from under them offensively. 

"One thing about Rod," Belichick said at the time, "I don’t think you’re going to see much different. I think he’ll be the first to tell you that he believes in what he’s doing, he’s not going to change a lot. He’s had a lot of success — probably no reason to change it. Will there be a couple of game-plan things for us — I’m sure obviously there will — but overall they believe in what they’re doing, they do it well, they’ve had a lot of success with it. 

"I mean, I can’t imagine him putting in a new defense this week. That would be so out of character for them. They don’t need to do that. I don’t think they believe in that. But they have a lot of variety in what they do in terms of the front. They don’t run a million different coverages, but they run them well. They’re sound, they make you beat them. They don’t give you a lot of easy plays. You’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to block them, you’ve got to get open, you’ve got to protect, you’ve got to have enough to beat the scheme, and they play hard and they know what they’re doing. That’s what it’s always been. I can’t imagine it’s going to be much different than that."

Apparently, for the first 30 minutes of that game — seeing more three-man fronts and defensive-back heavy packages — it was. The question now is, do the Cowboys have the ability to do that again?

They're a better defense now than they were then. In 2015, Dallas finished 23rd in yards allowed and 16th in points. This year, they're 15th and seventh in those respective categories. And the Patriots offense might not be as equipped to post 30 points as they were when they had Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, LeGarrette Blount and Lewis. 

They were loaded with smart, experienced players that day at Jerry World. Players who'd been through battles with Brady and might be more prepared to toss a game plan out the window after the first half or the first few drives. Edelman remains, and James White can adapt without question. But what about Jakobi Meyers or N'Keal Harry or newly-acquired Mohamed Sanu? Or Isaiah Wynn, for that matter, who's expected to make his return off of injured reserve Sunday?

"You can't practice everything," Brady said after beating the Cowboys, lamenting some of what the Patriots did offensively that day. 

The same holds true now. It may be even more so given the experience level of New England's offensive personnel. 

Asked about facing the unknown on game day, Belichick acknowledged it's impossible to be ready for everything. But that's not something that will be any different this week against Marinelli because it's true every week. 

"I would say when you game plan in this league," Belichick said, "you never really know what the other team is going to do, all right? I know there are a lot of experts out there who have it all figured out. Unfortunately I'm not in that group, all right? The team's played four, five, six other teams and they've done different things against different teams for different reasons. They play you. You haven't played them so you don't really know what they're going to do. 

"Are they going to treat you the way they treated somebody else? Are they going to treat you differently than the way they treated somebody else? It's not the same plays. It's not the same players. There's always an element of, 'Here's what they did the last four games.' But that's not against you. Teams will do different things against your team than they've done against other teams. As they should. Might not be a new play. They might just run different percentages of man coverage or zone coverage or split zone versus post-safety zone, or blitz zone versus regular zone, whatever it is. That's the way it is every week. 

"This is 45 years. I wish I could tell you a week where it hasn't been that way. But I wouldn't be able to. You take the information that you have. Sometimes the last three or four games may not mean anything. Maybe the only thing that means anything to you is just the last couple times you played a team. If you look at it that way, you might be right. You might be wrong. But you have to figure out what you're going to prepare for. So you're not going to prepare for eight games. There's 500 plays and they're going to run 60. That's just ridic ... You can't do that."

And, again, Belichick said that Marinelli probably won't unleash a bevy of unfamiliar plays against his offense at Gillette Stadium this week. But Belichick is expecting wrinkles.

"I don't think Rod's going to come up with six new blitzes and four new coverages this week," Belichick said. "But is he gonna play us the way he played Detroit? I don't know. Go ask him. Is he gonna play us the way he played Philadelphia and the Jets? I don't know the answer to that question. Not all those games are the same. There's elements that are the same, there's things that carry over, but they don't do the same thing on every play. 

"It's the same every week. You prepare for what you prepare for and then you get in the game. It's just like Eisenhower said: Preparation is important for the war and then once the battle starts, you can throw it all out the window. You play the war, fight the battle. That's what we do. Once the game starts, we try to figure out how the game is going, make adjustments, do the best we can at that point in time. The rest of the preparation doesn't really ... might be relevant but it might not."

There's been an unbelievable amount of information laid out by both the Patriots and Cowboys — Belichick and Garrett, McDaniels and Marinelli — since 2015. Trying to trace meaning from a game four years ago to this week's might be a fool's errand.

But the Patriots found out that day that Marinelli wasn't as predictable as they thought. Which may lead them to prepare for more this week, which could be a challenge given the challenges this offense is already facing. 

While this week will be about Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper and the others that've made this offense one of the most efficient in football in 2019, it's worth remembering what Marinelli and his defensive staff did to open that game four years ago. 

You can bet Brady and McDaniels will. 

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Bill Belichick gushes over Dak Prescott, whom Patriots scouted before NFL Draft

Bill Belichick gushes over Dak Prescott, whom Patriots scouted before NFL Draft

Dak Prescott will play his first NFL game against the New England Patriots on Sunday.

But Bill Belichick already is very familiar with the Dallas Cowboys quarterback.

Belichick confirmed Wednesday the Patriots scouted Prescott ahead of the 2016 NFL Draft, where they eventually selected Jacoby Brissett with the No. 91 overall pick.

"We do some work on everybody, but we used to hit those Mississippi State guys pretty good," Belichick told reporters in a press conference. "Got a lot of connections down there."

Among those connections is Joe Judge, the Patriots' special teams coordinator and wide receivers coach who played football at Mississippi State and worked there as a graduate assistant out of college.

Belichick, Judge and the Patriots could have drafted Prescott, who fell to Dallas at pick No. 135 in 2016. Since then, Belichick has watched the 26-year-old develop into one of the NFL's most well-rounded quarterbacks.

"Right now, he's super impressive," Belichick said. "This guy can throw the ball. He's very accurate, he's got great poise in the pocket, stands in there. He extend plays and run if he has to, but he doesn't do much of that unless he really needs to.

"He has great poise and discipline in the pocket, gets his eyes downfield. He's a great intermediate to deep ball thrower. 

" ... Just a great, great quarterback. Sideline throws, inside throws, in-cuts, posts, over routes, flag routes; you name it."

Prescott leads the NFL in passing yards through Week 11 with 3,221, well ahead of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (2,752). Dallas' 6-4 record suggests there's still room for Prescott to improve -- his nine interceptions are tied for seventh-most in the league -- but Belichick still ranks the fourth-year pro among the best QBs in the league.

"He’s having a great year this year," Belichick added. “Hard to see anybody playing much better than him."

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