Posted on: August 10, 2009 1:03 am

Second Annual Patriots Preview

Last year I had the lofty ambition of doing a preview for every team in the NFL.  Obviously that never got off the ground, but I do want to do another one for the Patriots this year.  First let me just say that Last year's preview clearly goes to show that no one can predict everything that can happen.  Tom Brady got hurt and Matt Cassel stepped up in a big way.  I predicted Victor Hobson to play a big role, he didn't even make the team.  So despite the deficiencies of last year's preview here is take two.


Our savior has returned to us!  After tearing his ACL in the first game of the season last year Tom Brady will take the field again this year for the Patriots.  Obviously if Brady is healthy he's one of the best if not the best quarterback in the game.  The question will be how he has recovered from offseason surgery.  He's had almost a full year to recover and early indications are that the knee does not seem to be bothering him.  If Brady is healthy, this position is all set.  Should brady go down, the situation is not nearly as reassuring.  Although Brady's heir apparent Kevin O'Connell will be backing him u p, he is at this point a completely unproven commodity.  Behind him, former Raiders quarterback Andrew Walter and Undrafted Rookie free agent Brian Hoyer will fight for the final backup spot.

Running Backs:

This unit is actually very underrated.  They finished 6th in the NFL in rushing last year.  The reason they're overlooked is that the team does not have a feature back.  Instead they use a commitee approach.  The only back on the roster with the potential to be a feature back is Laurence Maroney.  He has been hampered by injuries throughout his career including breaking a bone in his shoulder last season.  When healthy Maroney has great athleticism and burst, but at times he can dance and shows reluctance to hit the hole.  This year is a big year for Maroney.  He needs to stay healthy and run the way he did in the playoffs 2 seasons ago.  If he fails to do that it could be the end of the road for him.  Behind Maroney is the team's leading rusher from last season Sammy Morris.  What you see is what you get with Morris.  He's consistent, but he isn't going to wow anybody.  I expect a solid season out of him.  Filling out the group is Fred Taylor.   Taylor has obviously had an incredible career and the only question with the Patriots is how much gas he has left in the tank.  If he can still be a vestige of his former self, this signing will be a boon for the Pats.  BenJarvus Green-Ellis was productive at times for the Pats last season, but may find himself hard pressed to make the roster at a position as deep as this one.  Kevin Faulk is still the best third down running back in the league and is a great recieving option out of the backfield and deadly on draws as his over 6 YPC from last year will attest.  He is getting a bit long in the tooth though and the team needs to start thinking about his replacement.

Wide Reciever:

What can you say about the Pats Wide Recievers?  Randy Moss is one of the Best deep threats in the game.  He just bolts past defensive backs and finds the endzone.  Wes Welker is a pass catching machine.  He's a master of getting first downs and is not afraid to take a hit going over the middle.  Most coaches would be happy with two prime talents like Moss and Welker, but that's not the Belichick we know and love.  He went out and traded for Eagles reciever Greg Lewis and signed free agent Joey Galloway.  Galloway will likely line up on the opposite side of Moss with Welker in the slot.  If Galloway can still run like he used to than teams are going to have to account for him going deep as well as Moss.  The number of headaches this will provide for opposing defensive coordinators is staggering.  Greg Lewis seems posed to fill the fourth wide reciever spot and the fifth spot will likely go to a special teams player like Sam Aiken.  Rookie Brandon Tate will likely start the season on PUP and may not see the field this season.

Tight Ends:

This is one of the most interesting position battles on the team.  Benjamin Watson has never really lived up to his potential as a first round draft pick.  He has all the athleticism in the world, but he is inconsistent.  His blocking has improved, but his utility in the passing game just isn't all that high.  The team has the same problem with David Thomas who has great hands, but also managed to single handedly lose the team a game against the Colts last season with a stupid penalty.  In the hope of Solidifying the Tight End situation Belichick brought in two new tight ends.  Alex Smith, and Chris Baker.  Smith was regarded as the next great young tight end after a stellar rookie season.  Unfortunately he regressed every year after that.  Baker has been a solid player but unspectacular.  I expect a tight battle in camp and think that Thomas will likely be the odd man out.  I don't expect a lot out of this Unit as the tight end is not particularly central to the team's offensive scheme and the fact that I think this is the weekest Unit on the Offense despite the depth.

Offensive Line:

This Unit returns all of it's starters from last season.  At left tackle Matt Light is an Above average left takle but not by any means elite.  He can have problems handling speedy edge rushers but is for the most part solid in pass protection.  Left Guard Logan Mankins is an animal and a dominant run blocker.  Dan Koppen is an intelligent Center who makes good calls at the line of scrimmage.  Right Guard Stephen Neal is a good guard when healthy but that has been a problem in the past.  Right Tackle Nick Kaczur is the starter that I'm least enthused about.  I just dodn't think he's particularly good.  Fortunately the Nick Kaczur days may be limited with the drafting of Tackle Sebastian Vollmer in the second round.  The massive German is raw but if anyone can turn a raw toolsy lineman into a dominating blocker it's line coach Dante Scarnecchia.  The other back ups include jack of all trades Russ Hochsten, tackle Ryan O'Callaghan and a slew of other players fighting it out for the remaining slots.

Defensive Line:

In my opinion this is the best defensive line in football.  Sure they don't put up Gaudy stats but that's not their job.  Their job is to occupy blockers and they do that better than anyone.  Richard Seymour led the team in sacks with 8 last season which is a great number for a 3-4 end.  Vince Wilfork is a dominating Nose tackle in the middle who constantly demands a double team and plugs up two gaps.  He's also in a contract year so I expect him to be extra motivated.  Ty Warren may be the least spectacular of the three, but is still a great 3-4 end.  Add into the mix 2nd roudn pick Ron Brace as well as Mike Wright who can play all 3 line positions and this is a good deep group.


Up until now I've been painting a pretty rosy picture, but unfortunately that stops here.  This grouping has two great strongpoints and 2 glaring weaknesses.  Jerod Mayo had a fantastic rookie campaign collecting defensive rookie of the year honors.  He looks like he should be a fixture in the middle of the Pats defense for years to come.  Unfortunately the spot next to him is a little less certain.  Despite the fact that we all love Tedy Bruschi, his best years are behind him.  He doesn't have the speed and the playmaking ability that once defined his career.  This spot will be filled by some combination of Bruschi in conjunction with Paris Lenon a free agent pickup who led the Lions in tackles last year.  Gary Guyton will be used mostly in passing situations as he's quick and good in coverage but needs to work on his ability against the run.  On the outside, Adailus Thomas is a very solid player.  He brings freakish athleticism to the position and although he hasn't been the superstar we expected, he has been productive.  On the otherside, the situation has cleared up a bit with the signing of Derrick Burgess.  That does not mean the team is out of th woods there yet though.  Burgess has never played OLB in a 3-4 scheme and will need to adjust.  Also getting time should be Pierre Woods who is solid against the run but a liability as a pass rusher, and Sean Crable who has good height for the position in addition to great pass rushing moves but needed to add strength and missed all of last season due to an injury.  If Crable has developed, and Burgess adjusts the outside spot should wreak havock on opposing QB's

Defensive Backfield:

This was undoubtedly the weakest spot on the team last year  The team allowed far too many 3rd down conversions and touchdown passes.  To address this, Belichick completely revamped the secondary.  The two starters for most of the year, Ellis Hobbs and Deltha O'Neil are gone.  To replace them Beichick brought in Leigh Bodden who was very productive with the Browns before going to that football abyss in Detroit.  Sean Springs also came over after being released by the Redskins.  Springs has been a very productive corner over the years, but at his age it'll be interesting to see how much he has in the tank.  As old as Springs may be, the depth behind him is very young.  Two drafts picks from last year return in Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite.  Wheatley has been set back by injuris thus far in his career, but Wilhite has made the msot of his opportunities.  With a good camp he could challenge one of the veterans for a starting job.  Belichick also added corner Darius Butler in the second round of this years draft.  Butler is an impressive athlete with a 43 inch verticle jump.  He may be used sparingly in the beginning but should be seen more and more in subpackages as the season progresses.  The Safety positon is actually loaded with Underrated James Sanders, Brandon Meriweather who will look to ocntinue the improvements he made from his rookie to sophmore season.  They added Patrick Chung wholooks to be a Rodney Harrison clone and they will get back Tank Williams who missed all of last season with a knee injury.

Special Teams:

This Unit suffered some turnover this year.  Long time long snapper Lonie Paxton left to join the Broncos.  Nathanial Hodel and rookie Jake Ingram will battle to replace him.  Kick Returner Ellis Hobbs is also gone it's really anyone's guess at this point who will replace him but some candidates are Darius Butler, Brandon Tate (if he plays this season), Julian Edelman, and Laurence Maroney (Although I'd be surprised to see that with his injury history).  Despite the turnover, the team does return Kicker Stephen Gostowski who is about as good as it gets at Kicker.  He is consistent has a good leg and booms kickoffs.  At punter the team will likely return punter Chris Hanson.  hanson doesn't have the strongest leg in the NFL but he is a master of directional punting which Belichick really likes

Team Strength:

The Passing offense.  Even without Tom Brady this was a potent Unit.  with Brady they're downright filthy.  I look for great things out o fthem this yeear.

Team Weakness:

The Linebackers.  This is a unit in transition that doesn't seem to have all the pieces together yet.  there's some good young players and some aging veterans and i'm just not sure how well the unit will mesh. 


The Secondary, this group is completely different from last season's with three new starters whoever they may be.  Yet despite that they have a chance to be a very productive unit. 

Players who may Surprise:

Leigh Bodden and Shawn Crable.  Bodden was very good with the Browns.  I'll give him a pass for his crappy season last year as anyone could be terrible in Detroit.  If he returns to Browns form, he'll be a great picup and solidify one corner position.  Crable has a ton of potential and can fill one of the biggest need son the team in terms of being a pass rusher.  It will be interesting to see what a year in the system will do for him.


I'm not going to mess around with predicting a record, the team has a pretty tough schedule and anyone who's expecting them to go 16-0 will likely be disappointed.  Me I'm hoping for a superbowl.  This team has a potent offense, will be solid against the run and i think pass defense will be much improved from alst year.  All in all i think this team has as good a chance as any to win the superbowl.

Category: NFL
Posted on: May 5, 2009 1:02 pm

Defense Getting Old? I Don't Think So

The Argument that the Patriot's Defense is getting old is starting to get really old.  It's been said over and over again, oh the secondary is old, oh the linebackers are old.  The truth of the matter is this argument is outdated.  The Patriot's defense is no longer old.  In fact if anything it's young.  Let's take a look at the players on the defense.

We'll start with the defensive line, which, at least so far, I have yet to hear people accuse of being old.  Richard Seymour is 29, Ty Warren is 28, and Vince Wilfork is 27.  Obviously this is three guys in the prime of their careers.  The team has also taken a look at the future by bringing in Ron Brace in this year's draft.  Brace is 22.  That makes the Average age of the Starters on the Defensive Line 28.

At the Linebacker spot, the most commonly acused of being old, you have a little more of an argument.  Jerod Mayo is 23, Tedy Bruschi is 34, Adalius Thomas is 31, and let's say Pierre Woods is 27.  That makes the average age of the starters ~29.  I'll accept the argument that the starters are old, but keep in mind that Gary Guyton entering his second year will also see significant time in the middle, and the depth on the outside in terms of guys like Shawn Crable and Vince Redd is young. 

The secondary has also long been accused of being old, but no longer.  At Safety you have James Sanders and Brandon Meriweather, both 25.  At corner you will likely see Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden as the starters.  Bodden is 27 and Springs is 34.  The average here is actually the youngest of all at just a little under 28.  When you consider that the depth behind the starters is even younger, Patrick Chung, Darius Butler, Tyrone Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite are all young guys, you realize that the only part of this secondary that's old is Shawn Springs.

That makes the average age of the Patriots Defense 28, that's right around the average age of an NFL player, and that average is raised by 3 players. 

The fact is the Patriots have 3 starters on defense over 30.  One, Bruschi, will not be an every down player, Springs will get spelled by some of the younger guys and will not necessarily even be the opening day starter, and The one player who will be an every down player, Thomas, is the youngest of them all.  If you take out these three players then you see that the average age of the 8 remaining guys is 26.  In terms of depth, all the key depth players are either on the rise, or in their prime. 

Therefore, the Patriots' defense is not old.
Category: NFL
Posted on: June 28, 2008 10:13 pm

Patriots Preview

I've decided that I'm going to attempt to preview all of the NFL teams in the upcoming months.  I'm going to start with the team that I know best in the New England Patriots.  I hope to provide a comprehensive overview of the players and the overall strength of the team. 


Quarterbacks:  There isn't much to say that hasn't been said about the group's leader Tom Brady.  He threw for 50 touchdowns last year setting an NFL record as well as leading the league in completion percentage, yards, and passer rating.  He will look to continue his success this year with mainly the same supporting cast.  Backing him up will be an interesting battle in training camp.  The Patriots took Quarterback Kevin O'Connell in the fourth round of the draft and he seems likely to get a roster spot.  That leaves the two other quarterbacks from last years squad fighting for the backup position.  Matt Cassell has the most experience in the Patriots system, but hasn't shown much in the few opportunities he's had, most notably in the game against the Dolphins last year in which he threw an interception and was promptly replaced.  Matt Gutierrez did not get on the field last year in his first year with the team and is an unproven commodity.

Running Backs:  Many times there is a question of which running game is going to show up for the Patriots.  The team returns their starter Laurence Maroney.  Maroney has at time appeared dominant while at other times wholly ineffective.  He turned it on in the playoffs last year and the Patriots hope that this is the player that will show up in the fall.  Backing him up will be Sammy Morris who ran effectively last year before suffering a freak injury that ended his season.  Kevin Faulk remains one of the better third down backs in the NFL and is deadly coming off of screens and draws.  He lacks the ability to be an every down back so that job falls to Maroney and Morris

Wide Recievers:  Here also the Patriots return a player fresh off a record setting season.  Randy Moss last year broke the record for touchdown receptions surpassing the old record held by Jerry Rice.  He will look to have another productive season alongside slot specialist Wes Welker who tied for the NFL lead in receptions last year with 117.  This duo work extremely well together as when moss is double teamed, it opens the underneath routes that welker preys upon.  When teams focus on Welker, Moss burns them deep.  The recieving corps did lose reciever Donte Stallworth to free agency, however he had been slipping in the depth chart during the season and the team feels that reciever Jabbar Gaffney will be an adequate replacement.  The team will also hope that Chad Jackson can fill the potential he had when the Patriots drafted him in the second round.  Thus far he has been hampered by injuries, but he should be coming in healthy this season and If there was ever a time for him to show some development it's now.  Behind these players is a hodgepodge of others who will battle for the fifth reciver spot on the roster.  At this point my prediction would be for Kelley Washington to get the spot in light of his great work on special teams especially as a gunner on punts. 

Tight Ends:  The pats have a solid group of tight ends though definetly not an elite grouping.  Ben Watson is the leader of the group and had a solid year although abbreviated due to injuries and overshadowed by the group at wide reciever.  He can dissappear at times and needs to show more consistency in his play.  Behind him is David Thomas who most say has the best hands on the team.  He didn't get on the field last year due to a foot injury, but looks to be healthy going into training camp.  The team also brought in Marcus Pollard who will look to fit in somehow with this group.  This group lacks a true blocking tight end as all three of the above are more recieving tight ends.  I would not be surprised to see them add another tight end to come in and block in three tight end sets. 

Offensive Line:  This is a group that performed very well all year long and then completely laid an egg in the superbowl.  The unit returns three Pro Bowlers in Matt Light, Logan Mankins, and Dan Koppen.  Light is a bit of an enigma.  He can at times stop elite pass rushers dead in their tracks and at others players can eat him up.  Mankins is an animal at the left guard spot.  He plays with the mean streak that teams love to see in their lineman and is a dominant run blocker.  Koppen is a very intelligent center who rarely makes the wrong call at the line.  On the other side Stephen Neal is a decent player but is often hurt and definetly not a superstar.  at the right tackle comes one of the more interesting story lines going into training camp.  The presumptive starter Nick Kaczur was involved in an offseason incident involving oxycodone and it is unknown as of now whether there will be discipline from the NFL.  If he is suspended then Ryan O'Callaghan will move to fill his spot.  O'Callaghan has a shot to be the starter regardless as there is not much of a drop off between the two players.  I see this being a hotly contested battle in training camp.  The team also signed free agent Oliver Ross who has also had a very productive year.  As backups the team has Russ Hochstein who can play both guards and the center position in addition to Wesley Britt, and Billy Yates.


Defensive Line:  This is one of the better defensive lines in the NFL.  The group doesn't necessarily put up the numbers of a 4-3 front, however, their job is to occupy blockers and the big bodies up front do that as well as anyone else.  The leader of the line is Richard Seymour who missed his first pro bowl in five seasons last year as a result of being injured.  Vince Wilfork is an absolute beast on the inside who constantly commands a double team.  At the other end Ty Warren is the best pass rusher of the group and compliments the other two exceptionally.  At backup the patriots have defensive end Jarvis Green who would start on most teams.  Mike Wright and Le Kevin Smith round out the unit.

Linebackers:  This unit underwent a major overhaul in the offseason.  This could be unit that puts up a lot of sacks as Mike Vrabel and Adalius Thomas should both play exculsively on the outside this year where they are both most comfortable.  Both are very effective edge rushers and Vrabel is an all pro from last season.  On the inside Tedy Bruschi will return for another season.  Although he is nowhere near the player he once was he can still be effective in small doses.  In order to make those doses small, the patriots brought in a pair of other linebackers to give the team a three man rotation at ILB.  The team signed free agent Victor Hobson from the Jets.  Hobson is already familiar with a similar defense from his time playing under Belichick disciple Eric Mangini.  He should adapt quickly and I think will be a very solid contributor to this defense.  The team also used the tenth pick in the draft to draft linebacker Jerod Mayo out of Tennessee.  Mayo is an athletic backer who excells in space and has the speed to be very effective in pass coverage.  The team also drafted outside linebacker Shawn Crable who is a bit of a project, but has the raw skills to be a monster pass rusher.  Another interesting player is Vince Redd.  He is very raw but has a great deal of size and athleticism that could allow him to stick around if he can make himself a spot on special teams.  There is also the possibility that Junior Seau could return for yet another NFL season, however that is an unknown at this point. 

Defensive Backfield:  In my opinion the shakiest unit on the team.  The loss of Asante Samuel will hurt as he was their most consistent player in the backfield.  Ellis Hobbs will now be asked to be the team's #1 corner and there is considerable doubt as to whether he can handle this.  The team signed free agent Fernando Bryant and at this time he is the presumptive starter opposite hobbs.  The team also signed corner Jason Webster and used a couple of draft picks here in Terrence Wheatley and Jason Wilhite.  Wheatley has a chance to make an impact this year as the nickel back while Wilhite will be in a battle to make the roster.  At safety the situtation is a little more stable.  The team lost Eugene Wilson, however he was falling on the depth chart and James Sanders is an extremely underrated starter.  Rodney Harrison will man the Strong Safety position and should be solid unless an injury crops up as they seem to have done in recent years.  Backing up Sanders will be Brandon Meriweather who started to come on late in the season last year and could have a chance to start at some point this season.  We just have to hope that he spent a lot of time on the juggs machine this offseason as he dropped at least five passes that should have been intercepted.  Backing up Harrison will be free agent pickup Tank Williams who was once a highly touted young safety, but had some rough years with the Vikings

Special Teams:  The team returns Kicker Stephen Gostkowski to handle kickoff and field goal duties.  Gostowski has a booming leg and can pin a team deep on kickoffs.  On field goals, he is solid but not exceptional and his ability to kick in the clutch is largely unknown as the team was ahead pretty much all of last season.  handling the punting duties will be Chris Hanson who is more of a dicrectional punter than a power punter.  He excells at pinning teams down near the goal line.  Punt retruns will likely be handled by Wes Welker as Belichick likes surehanded players to handle that spot.  Kickoff returns are a bit of an unknown at this point. It is likely that they will be handled by a variety of different people as the season goes on.  Maroney, Faulk, and Hobbs have all handled kicks in the past, but the team drafted special teams specialist Matt Slater who also has a chance to return kicks if he has a good camp.

Team Strength:  The passing game.  The record setting unit from last year is mostly intact.  Look for another good season from this group although it would be hard to replicate the success of last season.

Team Weakness:  The defensive backfield.  Already a weakness on the team, it was further hampered by the loss of Asante Samuel.  A lot will depend on the ability of the rookies to play as well as the performance of Fernando Bryant.

Wildcard:  The Linebackers.  What many people think to be a weakness on this team I think could turn out to be a big strength.  I think Hobson will perform much better than people expect and again a lot will depend on how well the rookies are able to develop. 

Chance to surpise:  Victor Hobson and Chad Jackson.  Not much is expected of Hobson so if he can come in and be solid I think that will be a welcome surprise for pats fants.  Chad Jackson is bordering on being labeled a bust.  If he's going to change that this is the year to do it.  I think he will surprise this year and eventually start opposite Randy Moss where he should face a lot of single coverage deep downfield. 

Record: 14-2  Although I would love to say 16-0 again I know that is highly unlikely.  I'm going to say they lose two this season.  They have a fairly easy schedule given how teams performed last year.  I think one loss will come to either the Colts or Chargers while the other will come in the last game of the season at the Bills as the Patriots will have their playoff spot wrapped up and the Bills will be fighting for a wild card spot.

Category: NFL
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com