Friday, September 03, 2010

New England Patriots season preview

A great man once said, ‘it is what it is’, and that has never applied to the New England Patriots as much as it will this coming NFL season. For all the questions around defence, the running game and Tom Brady’s bizarre mullet, the answers are sitting there, staring at us all unerringly in the face.

Before leaping to the glaringly obvious conclusion, a closer look at the elements that will make up the Patriots year.

When it comes to defence, Bill Belichick is going to earn every cent of his pay cheque over the next several months. The Patriots have a severe lack of defensive depth, particularly at defensive back, and will at times resemble a frat house with the number of fresh, young faces in the defensive eleven. This works two ways. You could argue that the Patriots are going to be way too raw on defense. Or you could argue that Belichick is working with fresh ‘clay’ to mould. What is clear is, the Patriots ‘D’ is going to be young. Real young. The Patriots drafted and signed twelve prospects, with five of those coming in the first 90 selections of the NFL draft. Several of those dozen players are going to see plenty of field time right out of the gate, most of them on defence.

You could say the ‘D’ is a question mark, but in reality it is fairly obvious that it will struggle at first, the real question is, will Belichick be able to turn this raw crew into anything resembling a functioning NFL ‘D’? We should have some idea by week six, October 17th as the Patriots take the field against Baltimore after their bye week.

The good news is on the other side of the ball. With Wes Welker’s timely and speedy return from injury, the Patriots look set to be explosive through the air yet again. Randy Moss will continue to draw double team, deep coverage while Welker and his ‘Mini-Me’ version of himself, Julian Edelman, mop up ‘under’ the coverage. Meanwhile, Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski has been drawing rave reviews in the pre-season, and looks like a nice new set of hands for Brady to aim at. ‘It is what it is’, the Patriots are going to have no problem moving the rock through the air.


There's a new kid in town; Rob Gronkowski

Of course, with the lack of solidity in the running game, they are going to have to.

Has anybody seen Laurence Maroney this off-season? Maroney sightings are akin to Bigfoot sightings, few and far between. The Patriots look like they are going to run by committee with, right now, Taylor, Taylor and Morris leading the way (sounds like a law firm!). That could change at a moments notice.

The thing is, New England has done this before, and done it quite well. While it is a veritable pain in the neck for Fantasy NFL owners, who can’t pick a Patriots RB with any peace of mind, it can be effective. Throw in the ageless Kevin Faulk on third-downs, and the Patriots will run more effectively than some people give them a chance to. Probably not well enough to make people stop saying ‘the Patriots running game is an issue’, however.

Everything ‘is what it is’ so far, and there’s no reason to get away from that mantra when talking about the chap behind center. In this day and age of (rightfully so) protected Quarterbacks and (more debatably) frequently penalized defensive backs, the ‘Field General’ position is more important than ever before. Lucky for New England, they have one of the best. A truly fascinating season lies ahead for Tom Brady. He is now two years removed from reconstructive knee surgery. He should be able to plant and throw with more ease than last season. His crew of wide receivers is deep and talented. He now has a new tight end to play with. He has plenty to prove with the Patriots dragging their heels on his contract.



Add everything up and number 12 is primed for a huge season.

When all is said and done, there should be no great mystery, definitely in the early to mid sections of the Patriots season. As the season progresses, Belichick will have the defense playing tighter, better football and the Patriots will be tougher to score on. For the opening section though, they will continue to struggle to get teams off the field on third down, however they will have no problems scoring their own points. Ready for some high scoring shoot-outs? You better be, ‘cause they are on the way.

That’s the predictable part. What we don’t know is, will the Patriots find a way to come out on top in close games? Can Belichick weave some more defensive magic, using essentially ‘lesser’ components?

One sure thing, with an initially suspect defensive group and, on the flip side, a potentially explosive passing attack, the Patriots certainly are not going to be boring.

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Irish National baseball team
Team Ireland at the European Championships, Croatia, 2000.

A nice little mention for this blog on Fox Sports

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