Before we begin, a short disclaimer: This is a sometimes-incomprehensible compilation of my thoughts about the New England Patriots. It does not have a recurring theme, per se, but it instead tries to cover as many topics as possible. In other words, it’s a cluster-you-know-what of ideas. Enjoy!
I follow the NFL. I watch college football on Saturdays and 9 hours of NFL football on Sundays. I also play football myself. Drawing from my experiences with the sport, I have come to two conclusions:
1) You need to be able to protect your quarterback and
2) prevent the other team’s signal caller from beating you.
If I’m playing the Vikings and Adrian Peterson rushes the ball 30 times for 150 yards and two touchdowns, then I pat him on the back. This means that his offensive line was just flat out tougher than my defensive line/linebacking corps. Nothing I can do about that. If Donovan McNabb is shredding my secondary, slinging balls east and west, and marching up and down the field with ease, then that’s when you know something is wrong with your football team. Most of the time Adrian Peterson isn’t going to be able to stomp on you like that. Chances are he’s going to either fumble, tweak an ankle, get his bell rung, or his offensive line is going to miss assignments or flat out run out of steam by the end of the game. But McNabb? If he is sitting in the Shotgun and playing pitch-and-catch all day, that includes no physical ramifications whatsoever. So what does my team need to do to succeed? Make sure McNabb is never comfortable in the pocket. Confuse him with intricate blitzes and schemes. Punish him whenever possible. I’ll take my chances with Peterson.
Turn that the other way around. If my QB has a good day, then I have most likely earned a ‘W’. That’s just the way football works. It is similar in other sports: if I have enough guys who are willing to go balls-to-the-wall on defense and collect more rebounds than the other team, then it frees up my best player to pick his spots and score the rock. Do you think Kevin Durant would be the same offensive entity that he is if he was forced to guard the opposing team’s All Star and grab ten boards every night? No. The same way that Tom Brady would struggle to put up points if he was under duress every snap.
Speaking of Brady, I have chosen to bring to you a 2011-2012 New England Patriots preview/outlook.
In Bill We Trust: the phrase has almost turned cliche. What does it mean, exactly? Is Belichick a football God? Is he exempt from making bonehead decisions, often reserved for the likes of Al Davis in Oakland, or Whoever Is Coaching The Browns On a Year to Year Basis? The phrase rings true to Patriots fans who remember Bill turning a 6th round pick into Hall of Famer, Tom Brady, and who reminisces the days of the dominant defenses of the early 2000’s. The phrase reminds us of ’07, when Belichick snatched Wes Welker (went on to catch 112 balls) from Miami for next to nothing and also saved Randy Moss (caught an NFL record 23 Brady-thrown TD passes) from his grave in Oakland. But is the simple sentence “In Bill We Trust” a crutch for Pats fans? Is it an excuse to excuse Belichick from making questionable calls? How about when the Pats failed to convert on 4th and 2 against the Colts, and it cost them a game? How about when Belichick failed to prepare his team accordingly against the Ravens in the ’09 playoffs and again against the Jets last season? The Patriots entire 2007 draft class are no longer with the team. Just some food for thought before we get started.
Coming back to my first thought: protect the QB and pressure the opposing one. New England, appropriately, considers themselves safe at the QB position. Tom Brady orchestrates an offense that scored the most via the air last year than anybody else in football. I don’t want to beat a dead horse because, well, beating a dead horse doesn’t sound appetizing, but I want to touch on Brady and his possible legacy.
Let’s say Brady, who is 34, plays until he is 39. That’s six more seasons. For speculative purposes, let’s conservatively project his next six campaigns. Remember, he is coming off an MVP season; these numbers are prudent.
2011-12: 16 games, 340 completions (65%) , 4,100 yards, 34 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 12 wins
2012-13: 16 games, 325 completions (64%), 4,000 yards, 32 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 11 wins
2013-14: 16 games, 325 completions (63%), 3,800 yards, 31 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 10 wins
2014-15: 15 games, 320 completions (62%), 3,500 yards, 28 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 10 wins,
2015-16: 16 games, 315 completions (61%), 3,300 yards, 28 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 9 wins
2016-17: 16 games, 300 completions (60%), 3,000 yards, 25 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 8 wins
His 56,444 yards would make him, presuming Peyton Manning plays for another few years, fourth all time in that category. He would also rank fourth in completions and fourth in touchdowns, while throwing for nearly 100 fewer interceptions than Dan Marino. He also would have the second best QB rating of any player in the NFL Hall of Fame, just behind Steve Young. His four Superbowl appearances tie him with Joe Montana for the most all time, and that is assuming he doesn’t make another one in his career. Could we make the case for Tom Brady as the greatest NFL player of all time? He was more efficient and won more titles than Marino, Favre, Young, and Manning. He is on pace to have better career numbers than Joe Montana. All I know is that Brady has a surplus of talent at the skill positions. Ochocinco, Branch, Welker, Edelman, Gronkowski, Hernandez, Woodhead, Green-Ellis, Vereen, and Ridley are all players who could impact the stat sheet this season. Only time will tell.
As far as protecting Brady, the Pats have a solid group on the o-line. Logan Mankins is oft considered one of the elite guards in the game. Dan Koppen is average, but shares a tremendous bond with Brady that really only a center and QB can know. Sebastian Vollmer and Matt Light combine to make an interesting duo of teacher and student- with first round pick Nate Solder providing depth. The team signed former Pro Bowler Brian Waters to shore up the right side of the line. The group may not be elite, but it doesn’t need to be elite to be effective. Brady raises their level of play.
Getting after the QB is a different question. After years of operating out of the 3-4 defense, Belichick has moved to the 4-3 after a slew of free agent acquisitions. As you may have heard, he traded for 6’6, 335 pound behemoth Albert Haynesworth to plug up the middle alongside All-Pro Vince Wilfork. He snatched Shaun Ellis away from the New York Jets, hoping Ellis can provide useful intelligence on their Arch Rivals and play a meaningful role at defensive end. Andre Carter, a gym rat who is obsessed with sculpting his body has signed. Carter looked good in the preseason and will most likely occupy a starting DE spot. Jermaine Cunningham will probably see time as a sub-package pass rusher, a la Tully Banta-Cain in ’10. Don’t forget about the slew of hefty A gap cloggers that Bill has also added to the roster, including Myron Pryor and Kyle Love. I guess you can never have too much beef up front.
A good pass rush enables the Patriots questionable secondary (at this time, Jason Barrett is a starting safety. Gulp.) to lock up receivers quickly and force bad throws from quarterbacks. Remember, the key to winning games is making the likes of Romo, Roethlisberger, and Rivers feel apprehensive.
The Patriots will probably win anywhere from 11-14 games this year. They will usually outscore opponents to a degree that is unstoppable in the regular season. In their two losses in 2010, they allowed 28 and 35 points, respectively. If Brady and company can put up 30 every Sunday, then they will win the AFC East.
Patriots fans have grown accustomed to being satisfied with AFC East championships. The Pats have lost their last three playoff games, dating back to the Superbowl loss to the Giants in ’07. Playoff football is an entirely different animal than regular season football. Possessions are at a minimum, field position is important, penalties can sway the outcomes of games, the weather is unpredictable, mental mistakes are costly. The Patriots cannot afford to lose another playoff game due to pressure on Brady. When the three-and-outs begin to occur with frequency, the defense must spend more time on the field. More time on the field = less time communicating about strategy on the sidelines and less time to rest. Not a good formula.
Belichick is rolling the dice that his new defense and a couple of new faces can bolster a unit that was supposedly “rebuilding” last season. If the Pats rebuild mode includes a 14-2 regular season and first round bye, I’m okay with that.
Don’t forget, Pats fans, “In Bill We Trust”.