Former New England Patriots coaching assistant Michael Lombardi has been hitting the podcast circuit this season as he assumes the role of football subject matter expert for FOX. To be fair, he’s doing an excellent job and there’s also a good nugget of information in every interview.
For instance, did you know that the Patriots brought in Browns WR Terrelle Pryor for a work out early in 2015 but they balked because he didn’t have practice squad eligibility and the Patriots couldn’t make a corresponding roster move? Lombardi said the Patriots regret not bringing him back. Imagine if Pryor, who has emerged as the only good thing about the Cleveland Browns this year, was a part of the Patriots offense?
Note: I don’t buy the whole “couldn’t make a corresponding roster move.” The Patriots worked out Pryor on September 14th. They traded with the Texans for WR Keshawn Martin on September 16th and released WR Chris Harper. There’s your move.
Lombardi also joins The Ringer’s Bill Simmons every Friday to discuss the upcoming slate of games.
Last week, Lombardi and Simmons spoke the morning after the Patriots 27-0 victory over the Texans.
“Were you surprised at all by last night?,” Simmons asked.
“You know I was,” Lombardi admitted. “It was a challenge and I think that it was a culture win. Those are the kind of things you have to propel yourself through, like they did in Arizona, and I think this game also allowed them to come closer as a team.”
“One of the adages that Belichick always subscribes to, and it’s called the Inverse Theory by Charlie Munger, and basically instead of saying what will it take to win, you ask the question, what can we do to avoid losing. And Belichick always that approach and the number one thing to avoid losing is not to turn the ball over.
“And I thought last night, Houston took that approach. They felt like, okay, it’s not going to take a lot of points to win this game. They’re not going to score a lot on our defense. So if we play it conservatively and play it safe and kick field goals or run the ball on third and 10, we won’t give them the game. And what happened was that they gave the Patriots game.
“And when you look at the Houston offense, I think what you see if a team that can make explosive, big plays, but the more third downs that come up, the more chances Brock Osweiler has to mess it up. And I think for $18 million, I don’t know if you’re a Texans fan that you can feel really good that Brock Osweiler is the answer.
“Now we lost the game last year in Denver the first time, and if you recall, Patrick Chung got called for a horrendous holding call after Alan Branch sacked him [Osweiler] on third down, I think it would have been 4th and goal from the 19. Could’ve put the game away, it would’ve given us home field advantage. But that call in the end zone was atrocious. Osweiler really made a few throws in the game, but we got beat in the running game. So Osweiler has yet to prove that he can execute a sustainable drive. He can make some throws down the field.
“They have some great skill players. They needed to get Lamar Miller going. They tried because of the coverage that the Patriots were playing, but for the most part, I think what we learned about the Texans last night, was don’t give them the big play. Make them drive the ball down the field, and put the ball on Osweiler’s hands on key downs- third downs- and see if he can deliver. And he couldn’t last night.”
On Bill Belichick’s coaching mentality
“He’s never going to flinch. I mean, that’s the thing about Belichick. I’ve often said this about Bill. The beauty of his skill is he’s so patient. If he was in the homebuilding business, and I’ve said this a million times to my friends, he would build one home a year. It’d be the greatest home ever, but it would only be one home a year.”
“So if you’re going to try and stand the test of time with him and try to see who blinks first, he’s never blinking. And I agree [with Simmons]. Houston should’ve [dinked and dunked] but Belichick sat there and said the longer it takes them to score, the less we have to play in the game. So he was more than content to keep letting them take those check downs, run the ball on third and 12, it really reduced the game for him and they did him a favor.”
On Jacoby Brissett
“I thought Jacoby missed some throws and I think he was in a tough spot. I think he didn’t process as quickly. I thought Josh McDaniels did a great job of letting him high-low read. The first third down he’s got James White open for a first down, could run down the sideline, might even get the ball in the red zone, and he tries to throw the nine route up to Hogan and it’s incomplete and he missed Hogan later in the game.
“I think he’s a work in progress. I think he’s not anything did he flash, like Jimmy Garoppolo flashed, but remember Jimmy Garoppolo in his rookie season, the last game against Buffalo, didn’t look very good either. So it’s going to take some time.”
On Patriots special teams
“Look, the hero of the game is Ryan Allen. I mean Ryan Allen the punter, he’s going to get the Patriots of the Week because he did a remarkable job of turning field position, keeping them pinned up, and the special teams of the Patriots is what they work on.
“Belichick tells the team every single day in team meetings, look we get our toughness from kick off coverage. That’s who we are. We’ve got to cover kicks, we’ve got to be tough in covering kicks because games come down to being able to set the tempo on covering kicks. And Brandon Bolden has a unique ability to get the ball out and they did that last night.”
On Jamie Collins
“You know, and when I was in the building I would tell Jamie Collins this, the team really is as good as he wants them to be. He sets the tone and when he plays good, the team plays good defensively.”
Lombardi’s role with the Patriots
“My role varied because of my relationship with Bill that went back to 1991 when I was with the Browns and Bill came in, so it was a little bit of everything. It was about players, it was about plays, it was about schemes, so I was able to try to help them any way possible in terms of scouting the opponent, working on the draft, a lot of different things that all suited my interests. And I never really just wanted to work on one thing, I liked working on a lot of different things, go to practice every day, work on the team next year, work on the current team that we’re looking at. It was fun for two seasons to do that job.
“The year was incredible, the 14 season, even the 15 season was incredible, to watch him [Bill Belichick] work again, having been with him from 91 through 95, and to come back and watch him do his thing all over again, and knowing how much success he had was really an enjoyment for me. It was a good two year run and it really helped me understand that all the things we did in Cleveland actually were pretty good.”
On Malcolm Butler
“You know, we like to say, look, if we would have thought Malcolm would be this good we would’ve picked him in the first round. With that being said, our arm’s length doesn’t pat ourselves on the back that much. You have to understand that Malcolm was at West Alabama, so you went back, you looked at his high school history, Vicksburg High School, didn’t have really grades, had to go to Junior College, didn’t have grades to get to another place, so circumstantially he was at West Alabama not because he couldn’t play, but because of other things, academics, that played into it.
“We had this thing in Cleveland called the few, the proud, the free, and that was after the draft, we would invite as many guys as we could. Now this was back in 91, 92, 93, people weren’t doing this. It was the [?] approach to scouting. So we invited all these players in, we found Orlando Brown in that group, Wally Williams, we would find guys. And we would say, look, we’ll give you a try out, if you’re good we’ll sign you to a contract, if not we’ll send you home.
“And that’s essentially what we started back in 14 when I went to the Patriots, we kind of reinvented the few, the proud, the free, brought [Butler] in, and instantly once you saw Malcolm Butler go through a day of workouts, you said wow, and he signed a contract immediately. It was that obvious. He got a nickname Lil’ Deion from the first practice.
“You could see his quickness, you could see his explosiveness, you could see his ability, and all of those things you saw on tape, but because it’s West Alabama, and the level of comp- one of my pet peeves in football is when you hear people on TV say I’ve watched every single game on this college player, it’s insane because college is about level of comp, not watching every tape.
“Like I could watch a player play against Alabama and that’s going to be a heck of a lot more valuable than watching him play against Vanderbilt, all due respect to Vanderbilt. So it’s all about level of comp. So you don’t know when you’re watching Malcolm Butler at West Alabama, he looks like he can run, he’s got quickness, he’s got instincts, he guesses, which a great corner always has great ability to guess, so you saw all those things, but you just weren’t sure. And then once we brought him in it was pretty obvious.”
Lombardi touches on Garoppolo and Brissett, which you can read here courtesy of Kevin Duffy of MassLive, and also Josh McDaniels, which you can read here from Duffy.