The Ringer’s Bill Simmons sat down with former Patriots executive Mike Lombardi for his latest podcast and it’s must-listen work. Lombardi dives in deep about the dynamics within the Patriots organization and provides his analysis of the rest of the league- with sentiments you can probably guess are shared inside Gillette Stadium.
Lombardi is a dynamic speaker with some great insight. He’s been a confidant of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick for over two decades and he’s a part of the “inner circle.”
Listen to the podcast below.
I’ve transcribed the Patriots-relevant segments below. Other topics include the NFC East, Matt Ryan and the Falcons, and the Buccaneers. I recommend listening to the whole podcast.
On working with Bill Belichick and the Patriots
“That was a great experience. To get back with Bill again, and you know it was fun, having been with Bill from 91-96 and having a relationship with him since then, and then actually working with him daily was really great. It was fun, it was enjoyable, and Bill hasn’t changed and no matter how much success the man has, that’s the thing you have to really admire about it.
“It’s what I call the Born to Run theory. He doesn’t mind playing [Bruce Springsteen’s] Born to Run every single day. He’ll play it, do the same thing over and over, it doesn’t matter, he’s not [Frank] Sinatra, he doesn’t want to play My Way or Strangers in the Night. I mean, Bill will play Born to Run every day. And I think that’s what makes him so great.”
“He loves [football]. I don’t think he thinks it’s work. It’s just his way of what he loves to do and he does it really well. And even though for most coaches the longer they do it, you think it gets easier for them, there’s no corner that he cuts and there’s nothing that he leaves out and every single part of his day is spent working. I’m a friend of his, but I’m also a fan of his because I’ve watched him and nobody works harder.”
On week 1 against the Cardinals and team bonding
“[Counting the Patriots out against the Cardinals] was the theme the whole week. The problem they had during the preseason was they never were able to bond their team. This whole notion that you have to go away to camp is ridiculous because you’re going away to camp with 90 players, 50 of them aren’t going to be on the team, so you’re bonding with who?
“But when you can get a trip like year were went to the Super Bowl, we spent a week in San Diego after losing to Green Bay- that week won the Super Bowl for us. We bonded the team we got together. This trip to Arizona bonded the team. It got them together because this is a team sport and even though [Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski] didn’t play, and [Patriots quarterback Tom] Brady wasn’t there, and they didn’t have Dion Lewis, which is a huge miss too, they were able to find a way to win the game and it bonded the team and it gave the team a sense of confidence.
“Which is what [Belichick] wanted to start the season. And had they won or lost, I think that’s what he was trying to accomplish, and look, whenever he’s an underdog like this, and you count him out, that’s when he’ll motivate his team every single day that message is being drilled.”
On growth of running back James White
“Well, when we first drafted James White, he had a LaDainian Tomlinson look to him in practice, in the first couple practices without pads. And when the pads came on, he didn’t run with any power or advance the ball. One thing for running backs, space runs are easy, you’re out there in space, you run. But you got to make yards after contact. That’s the key back. And James wasn’t able to do that early in his career [and] why he was inactive so much.
“And then lately, he’s been more pass receiver than runner and I thought there’s been flashes of times- the Redskin game he made a couple of plays- but there’s been times- the Miami game, the last game of the year, he catches a slant and he doesn’t score on it, but he runs it down to the one yard line, there have been flashes of it. I thought on Sunday against Arizona there was, and I think they’ll need him to do that. They need D.J. Foster, the rookie from Arizona State, to give them some explosive plays, too. He’s a lot like James White- receiver/runner.”
On committing to the run game this offseason
“The key for the Patriots season is simply this: they’ve got to get teams to respect the running game enough to where they can’t just play nickel the whole game. When we walked off the field in Denver, that was the goal of the offseason. We cannot play a team that just basically says to us, or say to them, ‘look, we’re just going to line up in dime, if you want to run the ball, you’ll get two yards. We’re going to line up and dime and no matter what you want to do we’re not going to do anything.’
“That became problematic and so now [Patriots offensive coordinator Josh] McDaniels and the offensive staff has the ability, if you stay base against them, they’re going to spread you out, if you want to go nickel, they’ll run it. 3rd and 12, LeGarrette Blount, first down. We’re going to run it on you if you want to play nickel, here you go.”
On Patriots four point plays and red zone defense
“And I think the one disappointment to them if you look at it is the red zone defense. Third and 10, down in the red zone, they have a chance to get off the field. Red zone, I’ll drop another one on you, to me, the most important play in football is third down red zones. They’re four-point plays. Really, the networks should get them sponsored. They should call them the Four Point Plays, really they should.
“And that is the most important play, and they were bad down there. Look, the Jets lose the opening game to Cincinnati and all you have to do is look at the four point plays. They’re 0 for 3 in red zone third downs [Editor’s note: Cardinals converted on 3rd and 10, 3rd and 1, and 3rd in 1 inside the red zone] and when you lose those four point plays, it’s tragic and that’s why you lose. And I think that’s where the theme will be this week. ‘Look, we got to get better in the red zone.’
“Typically, Belichick’s defense are good in the red zone, they haven’t been preseason and they haven’t been in the first game. They need to improve that because there’s going to be times where you’re going to get in a little bit of a game where those four points swing the game.
“I don’t think we give enough importance to the third down red zone plays. We lump them together in third downs...no, there should be a separate category. Third down red zone plays are critical and that’s what determines the game, and the Jets really gave up 13 points against Cincinnati. They’re 0 for 3 on the third down, they missed the field goal, and they missed the extra point, they beat Cincinnati. It’s there in the stat sheet. But they missed the four point plays, they lose the game.”
On the Colts defense and Indianapolis being overrated
“You look no further than the Indianapolis defensive drafts. They’re just horrendous. And then look at the New Orleans Saints defensive drafts. They’re the same team, they just have different uniforms. They can’t play defense, they have offenses that can score, but they just don’t have any defensive talent.
“And the question you have to ask yourself is what makes anyone think the Colts are going to be better on defense this year? They hired [Colts defensive coordinator] Ted Monachino, okay, great, that’s fine, I appreciate it, he’s a really good coach, but he can’t make them better on defense. They didn’t improve the talent of their defense.”
“[The talent level between the Texans and Colts is] not close. Everybody wants to romanticize about Andrew Luck, and I love Andrew Luck, he’s a talented player, he’s 16-15 on the road, counting playoffs. So let’s be honest here, if you’re a great quarterback, you go on the road and win. You win games on the road. And it’s not his fault.
“When you run a team in a dome, you can only evaluate your team correctly outside the dome because the dome allures you into thinking you’re better than you are. The crowd noise helps, you play better run defense, not the Colts case last week, not the Saints case last week, but typically that’s why.
“So when you play bad at home on defense and you’re a dome team, you’ve got problems and you’ve got to fix them. But the Colts didn’t fix them. They extended [head coach Chuck] Pagano’s contract, they extended [general manager Ryan] Grigson’s contract. And they added no new player to their team. [Cornerback] Patrick Robinson?”
On Colts running back Frank Gore
“And you know what? I think if Frank Gore were on the Patriots, he would probably be a good player. He would be a good player. But Frank Gore is going to run behind the line, they’re behind in games all the time, it’s hard to run the ball when you’re behind.”
On the Patriots attacking the Dolphins defensive line with tempo
“I think Miami is a challenging team, especially because their [defensive] front is so good. Their depth is not great in the front. I think what you’ll see [from] New England is a lot of tempo, hurry-up, no huddle to try and tire their defensive line out. [The Patriots] are playing at home so they can control the pace.
“Miami’s got to prove that...[First round pick Laremy] Tunsil is not a guard. Tunsil’s not a guard. That really affected them in the game. He played left guard. He plays guard like a tackle, which means he turns his shoulders too much and Seattle was running a ton of games on that side and it created a bunch of problems for them.
“But [Dolphins quarterback Ryan] Tannehill’s got to prove that he can hold onto the ball and he can make key catches. If they get the ball to [Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis] Landry, he breaks a ton of tackles. I think Miami is going to be a tough play. They’re not going to be a 4-12 team. Miami’s going to be a tough out. They’re going to be a tough out in New England this week.”
On the Bills falling to 0-2
“They don’t look like they have the ability to turn it around.”
On potential of Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo
“I’ve been fortunate enough, I’ve watched practice for two years and took a lot of reps, I thought Jimmy Garoppolo is a really good player. He does things really well and in the right scheme, in the right system, he can be really effective. He throws the ball vertically down the field better than [Patriots quarterback Tom Brady] does. And he can make throws all over the field. He can move around.
“And the players like him. You can see the team rallied around him. But that wasn’t surprising because when Jimmy has lunch every single day, he’s eating there with all the offensive linemen. He’s a true quarterback in terms of his leadership skills are there. He’s not aloof and he’s not not around the team. He’s involved and he’s really taken to watching and observing and understanding the program and working on his skill set, even though he knew he was back-up to Tom.”
On the 2015 AFC Championship loss to the Broncos
“We never changed the snap count. We couldn’t change the snap count. It became problematic because the center was struggling to get the snap count, so Von Miller knew that the snap was on one. I mean, that’s the whole advantage to football, is the snap count, and so that became a problem and I didn’t think that was going to be a problem.
“I think everybody on the New England sideline was confident going into that game. They came out with a formation that was different and [Jamie Collins] got beat on the double move. I think everyone was confident going into that game.
“And look, Stephen Gostkowski misses the only extra point of the season, or else there would be an overtime.”