Looking Ahead to the 2015 Season
Defending the crown is always the toughest thing to do for a champion as winning back to back titles is almost unheard of in a league with so much parody. But, the Patriots will try to do just that this season as many obstacles stand in the way. First and foremost, the Patriots as an organization need to get past this Deflate Gate garbage and focus on winning games. Bill Belichick is the best in the business at keeping his teams focused in the face of adversity, so I would expect a Pats team that is ready to roll over opponents. The Tom Brady suspension is still looming over the team and no one knows just how long he will be out. If it is indeed the full four games this could dramatically change playoff standing for the Pats. There's a chance the suspension is completely rescinded as well but that's more on the unlikely side, so the Pats must prepare second year QB Jimmy G to start some games this season. The positive about the suspension is since it was handed down so early; the Pats have had all off season to fully prepare Garoppolo to be the Day 1 starter. He’s shown a lot of improvement, at least in my eyes, from last preseason to this one. While possibly seeing the greatest QB ever have to sit out some games sucks, I must say I'm very excited to see what Garoppolo can bring to the table for the Pats if he is indeed needed.
Outside of the entire unknown at the QB position to start the year the Patriots also must deal with an inordinate amount of roster turnover at the cornerback position. A spot that was considered a strength of the team last season is now the glaring weakness heading into the season. Darrelle Revis left town to go back to the Jets for the money. The Pats then did not pick up Brandon Browner's option as they didn't see the need for him with Revis gone. Then, Belichick decided to complete the position overhaul by releasing Fonzie Dennard and Kyle Arrington. Both guys quickly found new homes so any chance of a reunion went out the door too. So the team lost four of its most talented corners and now the depth chart is full of question marks. The Patriots signed two guys with experience who haven't had amazing careers in Bradley Fletcher and Robert McClain. There is also the prospect of some young guys stepping up this season. The Patriots seems to be putting all their eggs in the Malcolm Butler basket, which is a bold move considering he’s never seen real starter time in the NFL. I could see both Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler finding a niche here as starters in New England, but I could also see them fall victim to the rough history the team has with young corners progressing. Both have certainly shown flashes of good potential and then both quickly make me second guess that. It’s nice though that the safeties behind these guys are a very talented group. Devin McCourty is a top safety in the game and Chung’s career was revamped last season and hopefully he continues to build on it. Duron Harmon is still young and has potential as well. That is the bright spot in the secondary; the back end is strong and can help make up for the possible struggling corners. This group is the most important on the team in that if they come out and ball the defense could be really good with the front seven Belichick has built. If the secondary flounders, we may be in for a rough year watching teams convert long third downs all day on us. Even though the unknown at this position is scary, I’m going to cross my fingers and hope for the best when season gets under way.
There are the positives though and that would be the front seven on defense. This area was greatly improved and seen as a spot that needed to be addressed based on drafting by Belichick. The Pats signed Jabaal Sheard to a 2 year deal and there is a sense of high expectation for this guy coming in. I'm sticking with the wait and see approach, but hopefully he can come in and contribute immediately. He definitely looks the part so far and I can’t wait to finally have a legit sub for Ninko and Chandler out there at end so both don’t have to play 90%+ snaps a game. With these three possibly being able to rotate in and out keeping fresh legs, the pass rush could be potent this season. The line backing core is the most talented group on the team, health permitting obviously. We have yet to get a full season of the anticipated Collins, Hightower and Mayo combo, but if this is the season we do, we’re all in for a real treat. Jamie Collins is already a stud and only getting better, same with Hightower. Mayo is a seasoned vet who is very dependable. All three players complement each other very well and these guys should be the playmakers for the defense this season. Belichick also went out and drafted two edge guys in Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers. The DE/OLB position is now suddenly a deep one for the team as it includes a good mix of vets and young guns. This should make for some great rotation among the defensive line during the season keeping rushers fresh. The glaring hole left at defensive tackle by Wilfork's departure was quickly filled as the Patriots got a steal in the first round in Malcom Brown who will now be the man in the middle hopefully for the next decade. The team still has high hopes for explosive Dominque Easley as well. And the depth of the position is finished out with run stuffers Branch and Siliga. The front seven is full of variety and talent which will make up for the possible weaker secondary. If this front seven can generate consistent pass rush quickly on QBs, the secondary won't be asked to do too much and the defense could flourish. The key word there is could as we haven't seen the Patriots have a consistent and potent pass rush since the dynasty days. Even last season, it was the secondary that would be so great at times it would bail out the slow pass rush because of the talent back there. That won't be the case this season. If the defense gives QBs time like they did to Rodgers in the Green Bay game this past year, we will see shades of the horrid 2011 defense back. It all starts up front with this defense. They have the talent to be the impact players on defense so it’s time for them to meet that potential.
Offensively the Patriots look to be a juggernaut again with Brady at the helm. They did a great job addressing needs in the draft as they grabbed Tre Jackson who could be a plug and play starter this season at guard. They also drafted Shaq Mason who will provide depth at the guard and center spot. The offensive line is always the key when it comes to this team. Example A would be last season when the offensive line was horrible the first four weeks we saw the "decline" of Brady at the team started 2-2. Once the OLine got its shit together and gave Brady time the team went on a tear and eventually won the Super Bowl thanks to great OLine play in January for the first time in a while. Solder and Vollmer are both mainstays on the line and I trust both to consistently do their job week to week. Tre Jackson, Bryan Stork and Ryan Wendell inside together are going to be a nice combo, and I have a lot of expectations for them. It always starts up front and the offensive line does have a solid deep group that should be able to keep Brady upright and happy throughout the year.
The skill positions for the Patriots are ever so talented. The Pats added Reggie Wayne to further bolster their receiving core. Brandon LaFell has yet to get himself off the PUP and it looks like he may head into the season on it as well, but the addition of Wayne and the depth with Edelman and Amendola should make up for his absence in the meantime. Edelman is still going to be the man of this group this season, but I am excited to see if Amendola can build on his great postseason and make this season his best yet in New England. The tight end group is deep again and by deep I mean two deep. Normally it’s just Gronk and that’s it, but now the addition of Scott Chandler makes for some nasty 2 TE sets on offense with two big boys in the middle. The red zone offense is going to be scary good with the height these two bring to the table. Obviously Gronk is going to be far and away the best receiver on the team and put up the most stats, because, well, he’s Gronk. But I expect a very under the radar but solid season from Chandler as well.
The running back group is weaker than it has been in recent years in my opinion, but Blount will be the main work horse which I have no problem with. Blount should be in for a pretty good season if he gets the main workload week to week, but we all know how Belichick runs out random players some weeks and lets them shine. Brandon Bolden is still here and always a dependable option in the backfield. James White has shown his flashes of Vereen-type play, but those are some really big shoes to fill if he really wants to be compared to Vereen. Jonas Gray is a guy that people want to see more of after his outing against Indy, but I’m indifferent on him. All I care about is whoever is getting the carries is making the most plays with it and getting positive yards almost every time. I always hope the Pats turn to the run more and more every season and I’m still going to preach that now. If Blount comes out and balls getting the carries, the Pats should ride him as much as they can. A successful bruising run game only makes passing the ball easier and making things easy for TB means great things will happen.
Overall the team improved at almost every position in the offseason and preseason except for cornerback. The offensive and defensive lines got some talent and depth. The skill postions are still good and the line backers are maybe the most talented group. This is still a great team we have here and the ending record really depends on Brady’s status. If Brady gets no suspension, I fully expect another division title, probably another bye week too and full on contention for a repeat. If Brady does get four games, I still expect the Pats to win the division it will just be a closer call and they may not get the bye week in the playoffs. No matter what, if the Patriots have overall good health and Tom Brady playing QB in January, this team always has a chance to win it all. This team again will be in the thick of things late in the season and this time they are defending champs looking to REPEAT. How great would that be? A repeat… It’s still early, but I can dream. Just remember one thing through it all: LETS GO PATS!!!