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Bernard Pollard and I Argued Over His Claim Tom Brady is 'a System QB'

Baltimore Ravens Vs. New England Patriots 2012 AFC Championship Game At Gillette Stadium


Baltimore Ravens Vs. New England Patriots 2012 AFC Championship Game At Gillette Stadium

In case you missed it, just before the holiday Bernard Pollard, long time NFL defensive back/the Typhoid Mary of Patriots injuries and the bane of my existence who cost the Patriots shots at anywhere between one and four Super Bowls, called Tom Brady a “System Quarterback.” And added that Peyton Manning was a better QB because “he WAS the system.”

I of course reacted as you’d assume I would. With a calm, healthy respect for the opinions of a former Super Bowl champion who played his best against the Patriots and gameplanned against both quarterbacks on numerous occasions in a long career. I kid. Staying in character, I more or less lost my shit:

Well since that post, Pollard and I have gone back and forth quite a bit on the subject. We decided to settle this like men. Which is to say, like an elite athlete drafted in the 2nd round out of Perdue with 133 career games on his resume and an aging fanboy with an almost dangerous fixation on the Patriots. We fought it out. With the social media equivalent of pistols at dawn: DMs. Here is the text of our conversations.

Jerry Thornton: Here’s my first question: So in Tom Brady’s 17 years as a starter, he’s been to 9 Super Bowls, won 6, taken his team to 13 AFC championship games including the last 8, won 2 league MVPs, had a 50 TD season and is currently 167 games over .500 for his career. And you call him “a System Quarterback.” Please tell me what that means, and don’t be afraid to explain it like I’m 4 years old.

Bernard Pollard: Brady has been and is very successful. When I say he’s a system QB I’m simply looking at three other quarterbacks that were successful in the same offense as him. Did they go to the playoffs or win Super Bowls, no. But given more time could they do some of the things Brady did, I think so. Ex. Matt Cassel led the 2008 Patriots to an 11-5 record. Some will say “We missed the playoffs… The schedule was weak… We went 18-1 the year before… The roster was loaded and he only won 11 games…” My answer to all of that jive is normally an 11-5 record gets you to the playoffs.

As for the Patriots offense. It was said “22-personnel behind a fullback”is the system they run. I’m here to tell the truth. “22 Personnel” is exactly what it says, personnel. That personnel is 2-wrs, 2Rbs(1 FB), 1TE. If we’re going to talk football let’s do it the right way. The system the Patriots run is a Shotgun version of a more simplified West Coast Offense. Can they attack from many different personnel looks, yes. Teams game plan each week on how to attack an opponent. If that means running a specific personnel group all game long (because the opponent can’t stop it) so be it. If they can’t stop it, keep running it. As for the different OCs comment. That doesn’t change what they do. This system was built and it evolved. It is mastered by coach BB (Patriots).

JT: I agree with some of your points. In 2000, Charlie Weis brought in his version of the Ehrhardt-Perkins Offense that, instead of naming plays with position letters and route tree numbers, assigns one word names to combinations (ie “Ghost, “Tosser,” and so on). But if it’s evolved over 20 years, as you correctly say, with different OCs and completely different personnel groupings but with the same QB, doesn’t that mean it’s not just one “system”?

BP: Players and coaches come and go. The foundation in NE was built (like you said with coach Weis). It didn’t matter who they hired or fired. Whoever came in was going to learn and run that system. Did it evolve, yes. It has to evolve. But it’s built on those principles. They just needed to insert the coach/player. Personnel groupings don’t matter if the team can’t succeed in that personnel. Another thing. The Patriots hired an OC within the organization. Anybody coming from outside the club would have to learn the system or come in looking to change what’s already been established. Josh McDaniels was the QB coach and then they promoted him to OC. McDaniels left for a coaching job and then they promoted O’Brien from within. McDaniels couldn’t build in Denver what he was used to in New England so he came back to his position as OC with the Patriots. It’s a system. One that Brady thrives in.

JT: But by saying it’s this “system,” are you implying Brady doesn’t deserve a huge share of the credit? And that the system takes advantages of his strengths? Pre-snap reads, looking off safeties, anticipation, accuracy, arm strength, going through progressions, etc.?

BP: Absolutely he does. That’s why he’s my #2 QB of all-time! You’re making my point for me. Credit to him and the coaches. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. I’ve seen three QBs step under center for the Patriots and be successful. That’s the system. Small sample size or big sample size it’s still success. Peyton Manning (my #1 QB of all-time) would line up in the same formation, with the same personnel, make calls at the LOS (line of scrimmage) based solely on what the defense gave him. I don’t think Brady could do that. That doesn’t take away from what he does well. That just means he’s a system QB.

JT: But you’re making my point for me. In this unstoppable “system” that gave 2007 Brady 50 TDs, 8 INTs and a league-best 117.2 Passer Rating, helped Matt Cassel to 21 TDs, 11 INTs and a 10th best 89.4 Passer Rating. With the same roster. And while we’re on the subject, Drew Bledsoe was 5-13 under Belichick and Weis. If it’s the system, why didn’t he and Cassel take a flamethrower to the league like Brady has?

BP: Great question. First thing. You don’t create a recipe and get it right on the first try. Sometimes it takes you a few tries before you master it. In Drew Bledsoe’s case he was a part of trial and error period. A ton of players have been on that end of the stick. It sucks. But hey he got a big deal out of it. As for the 50td season. 2007 was a special year for the Patriots. This is where you can “tweak” certain things in the playbook because you have a home-run hitter (Moss) that can go yard. 16-0 for the team and a trip to the SB. Record years for Brady (50tds pass) and Moss (23td catches). Now let’s fast forward to 2008. Teams went into the 2008 season refusing to allow Brady and Moss to beat them deep. In 2008 Randy drew double coverage with a deep safety over the top. When Cassel came in, he was just trying to win games. With all of that being said Cassel and Moss still connected for 11tds. The bar was set in 2007. To blame Cassel for not having another “special’’ year is not fair to him. He won 11 games in that system!

JT: Thank you. I am obviously very wise. So here are two very intelligent questions:

1) Isn’t Peyton Manning a “System QB”? I read a million times that he was the master of Tom Moore’s Levels Concept. Where they would send two or three receivers running out-routes and in-cuts to the same side of the formation and Peyton would target whichever one the coverage didn’t roll to. They even adopted it in Denver when he went there. Why isn’t that a system?

2) If it’s just the scheme and not the QB, how do you explain Brady elevating his game in clutch moments, 4th quarters, overtimes and the postseason and Manning setting records for playoff losses and one-and-dones?

BP: First question

Coach Moore had level concepts but that’s not his system. The play I believe you’re referring to we called “dbl Marvin.” This was out of a 3×1 formation allowing the outside and inside wr to run 5-7yd inside breaking route and the Y (or wr) runs either a seam or seven. They adopted it in Denver simply because Peyton couldn’t/didn’t (want to) run Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking scheme (with a little west coast flame). Peyton ran what he was used to and was successful doing it with another team.

Brady is obviously great. I think the more he played the more his confidence grew. I don’t think any football player can or will question his heart. He’s done incredible things for his team, the city and young QBs in this world. Going to NINE Super Bowls and winning six is unheard of. Having said that. I question after seeing back-up QBs play in the same system have success. If Cassel, Garoppolo, and Brissett had time in the same system could they not do some of the same things? I also think my style of play created problems for him and his teammates. While I understand he won a lot it was something about big hit momentum changers that made him and his teammates question catching, running or even throwing to a certain area. As for Manning, one and done’s killed him. I think one of his downfalls was his coaches didn’t draw a line with him. He was the system. Very smart, but sometimes his own worst enemy. Trying to do everything. I’ve NEVER seen him shook. He just made self inflicting painful mistakes that cost him probably a couple more rings.

JT: So then why, since we always hear “the NFL is a copycat league,” wouldn’t the other 31 coaches just implement a system like the one that turned Brady, Cassel, Garoppolo and Brissett into winners? Or for that matter, how is it that Josh McDaniels couldn’t use the system to magically transition Tim Tebow into a pro or Bill O’Brien couldn’t transform Brock Osweiler into an All Pro?

BP: Teams have tried and it’s failed. I’ve heard you and so many others say “Coach BB had 6 losing seasons before he got it right.” Well, you and I both know that’s not today’s NFL. Owners want to win now. Position coaches and front office guys have left the Patriots organization for promotions in other organizations trying to implement the “Patriot way,” but it’s been unsuccessful. The “Patriot way” is a culture. It’s a recipe that’s been through the fire. Thinking someone can just take the recipe without the hard work and ingredients and get instant success is foolishness. The “Patriot Way” took time to build and only works for the Patriots.

JT: You’ve got the wrong man, my friend. The idea Belichick failed in Cleveland is a fallacy. He had built that team into a contender, with a powerhouse staff (see the “Football Life” episode “The 1995 Browns”), when Art Modell neutered him like a veterinarian does a dog when he announced the move to Baltimore in the middle of the season. But that’s a discussion for another time. And now that you’re acknowledging the system is actually “The Patriot Way, based on hard work and the culture of the organization from the coach on down, I admit I’m having a hard time staying mad. How have you been getting along with Patriots fans these last few days?

BP: Lol yes, that’s another conversation.

The “Patriot Way” is the culture that have systems in them lol.

I’ve been talking to a ton of Patriot fans. Some are angry and I understand. And some have respected my list. Some fans started out rough but their hearts were softened and we now can hold a conversation. My intentions aren’t to discredit Tom Brady at all. I’m just not a regular person “ranking” my top 5-10 QBs. I have time, blood, sweat and tears invested in this game. I’ve also played against the two QBs I mentioned. I think I’ve earned the right for my voice to be heard (I honestly was just commenting on a tweet lol). I love this game. This game has been good to me and so many other players and coaches. The fans play a huge part in that. There’s no doubt their voices need to be heard as well. That’s why I take the time to interact with them. Regardless if they like me or not. I’m appreciative.

JT: Fair enough. I sincerely appreciate you taking the time. Final question: You cost us – cost ME – Tom Brady’s 2008 season (you and Roger Goodell are the only people who’ve ever taken starts away from him). Cost us the 2011 Super Bowl with the tackle on Gronk that turned him from a 17-TD tight end to a decoy against the Giants. Then cost us a trip to the 2012 Super Bowl with a fumble return touchdown, and interception and a forced fumble hit on Stevan Ridley. So am I right to say you were also responsible for Wes Welker’s non-contact knee injury when you were with Houston in 2009? You were on the field. Did you or did you not use your Patriots-injuring power to blow out his ACL telepathically from across the formation? Please answer honestly.

BP: LOL!!! I just play the game. I love contact. Hitting is what I did really well. A lot of guys have felt the pain but for some odd reason Patriots players get the attention.

Thank you.

And so there you have it. As I recall Pollard’s entire career as a continuous tape loop of him coming after the Patriots like Fred O’Bannion, relentlessly swinging the FAH-Q stick of injuries, he did play his ass off. And has been a good sport about taking the abuse on line, when 90% of ex-athletes would’ve gotten carpal tunnel in their thumbs from hitting the Mute button. He didn’t convince me Brady’s a “System QB” or that Manning was better, because a heavenly host of angels coming down from the clouds playing golden harps and singing that to me couldn’t convince me. But I appreciate him taking the time.

Still, goddammit: