Saturday, September 6, 2014

Thoughts on the 2014 Patriots Season


What to Make of the 2014 Season

          The 2014 off season could go down as one of the more
memorable ones in Patriots’ history. Bill Belichick stepped outside of his shell a little bit by going out and signing the game’s best corner (arguably) in Darrelle Revis, a very good corner in Brandon Browner and a solid wide out in Brandon LaFell. These additions to the team on top of the talent coming back from injury last season could equal that elusive fourth ring for the Pats. All of these additions and the previous talent on the team now has for higher expectations this season than ever before. The Patriots are closing in on a decade long drought for a title and now they are primed to make it happen.

            Bill Belichick, being himself, made a couple of ballsy moves this preseason which surprised many to say the least. First he cut three veterans which many had pegged to make the team in Kelly, Smith and Anderson, and then, Bill went out and dealt Logan Mankins for a fourth rounder and TE Tim Wright. The cutting of Anderson and Smith was a smaller surprise, but the cutting of Kelly came as a real eye opener, as the Pats interior DL is very young (Siliga, Jones, Vellano, Easley) and very old (Wilfork). Trading Logan Mankins was a move made purely for money reasons. Mankins was asked to take a pay cut and denied that so, he then, in turn, was dealt off to help fill a weak TE spot and gain a draft pick.

            So even with these surprises, the 53-man roster is set and this team looks like the same old Patriots who will win the AFC East and win about 11-14 games on the year as they always do. The overall talent on this roster is the best we have seen since the 2007 season, which we all remember vividly. The Patriots are primed to have a Top 5 defense with the secondary’s additions and a Top 5 offense if Gronk can stay healthy. There is a chance that this is the Patriots most dominant team ever (remember I said chance). While some spots on the roster looks to be deep and very talented other spots are weaker and could be prone to some issues. Here’s a quick look at each position with thoughts on their expectations for the season:

·         Quarterback (2): Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo

o   When Tom Brady is around and healthy there’s nothing less you can expect than an elite QB leading the Patriots. He may be 37, but even with last season’s struggles he made some very nice things happen. He hasn’t showed signs of slowing too much just yet either. Hopefully we don’t have to see Jimmy G this year, but man this kid went and beat out Ryan Mallet for the backup spot in just 3-4 months; impressive.

·         Running Back (5): Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, James White, Brandon Bolden, James Develin

o   Some fans will probably be spilt on this depending upon how you feel about Ridley’s fumbling issue and Vereen’s health issues. Personally, I think Ridley is a great RB and if he is given the carries his production could be near the top of the league. I also think he can get over the fumbling issues and it may also be a little overblown of an issue, too. RBs fumble, it happens. Ridley is a very productive back given the shot and that’s who I want carrying the load for us on Sundays. Vereen has struggled throughout his entire career to stay healthy consistently, but when he is healthy he is one of the most dynamic backs in the league. If you are an optimist on both of these players and both turn out in a positive light, then the RB situation will be looking very pretty for the Patriots. If not, they could be in some trouble at this position with White not looking too good in preseason games and Bolden being just an average player at best.

·         Tight end (3): Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui, Tim Wright

o   This position could be back to the dominance of 2012 if Gronk can play 16 games (huge IF) and Tim Wright can fill the Hernandez role that everyone keeps talking about. If Wright can be that mismatch in the middle of the field and Gronk can play a healthy 16 games, this positional group could be a reason for offensive dominance.

·          Wide receiver (5):  Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson, Brandon LaFell, Kenbrell Thompkins

o   The addition of LaFell adds some veteran and taller presence to the WR corps. Julian Edelman will continue to be Brady’s go to WR target in this offense. If Amendola can stay healthy, he can make himself one of the go to guys as well, but again, this is a big if. The talent for Danny is there but the health isn’t. Outside of that, Dobson has a very high ceiling as a young WR, but the foot injury may have slowed him down a little bit. If Dobson can reach his potential though, he could put up some big games with Brady and maybe be that deep threat on the outside that the team has been missing since Moss. Kenbrell Thompkins could be a solid producer in this offense, but I don’t see his ceiling has being too high so I don’t expect much more than he did last season. Overall, if Amendola can stay healthy, this group is pretty diverse and talented compared to last season. Instead of causing Brady headaches, this group this season could make his life much easier.

·         Offensive line (10): Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Dan Connolly, Josh Kline, Ryan Wendell, Marcus Cannon, Jordan Devey Cameron Fleming (R), Bryan Stork (R), Chris Barker

o   The Logan Mankins trade has left the Patriots with very big questions at guard. The tackle positions should be fine with Solder, Vollmer and Cannon all very good to start there. The guard spot is open to a lot of questions since Mankins is now gone. For some reason, Cannon hasn’t turned into the guard he was supposed to be and there are rumors around that Vollmer may be used at guard. This sounds a little sketchy to say the least. Dan Connolly will be the other guard, but he really slowed last season and struggled. He was voted as team captain, so hopefully that can translate into more consistent play from him too. The center position is also scary. Ryan Wendell really struggled last season and is primed to start this season too, which I’m not a fan of. Hopefully Stork can eventually step up and win the starting job by mid-season. The biggest question still remains at left guard and who will fill the void. Will it be Cannon, Vollmer, Kline or Devey? I don’t really care who it is, but that person better be able to protect the franchise and run block effectively. The offensive line killed us at times last season and sadly, nothing really changes my mind about them this season. Hopefully they improve and are a lot better than last season.

·         Defensive linemen (9): Vince Wilfork, Sealver Siliga, Dominique Easley (R), Chris Jones, Joe Vellano, Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Michael Buchanan, Zach Moore (R)

o   Like I talked about before, the cutting of Tommy Kelly was a real surprise that still has me scratching my head. The interior line outside of Big Vince is very young and has a lot of question marks. Nobody knows the status of Siliga, Jones or Easley and Joe Vellano just isn’t that good in my opinion. I think BB could be banking a lot on a big season from Siliga and Easley for this line. Hopefully they produce because I don’t see Vince Wilfork being his old self all season long at this age.

o   Looking at the DE spot, there is a lot of potential there. Chandler Jones seems to be due for a monster season in which he could rack up a high sack total. Rob Ninkovich will most likely continue to be the solid player that he always is, making the right play consistently. From there, the depth is a little weak with only Buchanan and Moore as the DE backups. This may leave Jones and Nink gassed as they were a lot last season too. Hopefully Buchanan can make a leap in his performance and become a solid sub rusher to give Nink and Jones some rest at times. Overall the DE and DT spots are not as deep as most would like, but the front lines are still very strong. If everyone can stay healthy, I think they can be fine.

·         Linebackers (5): Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Darius Fleming, Chris White

o   This group could be the most talented on the team. Jerod Mayo is the QB on defense and one of the team’s leaders and one of the best LB’s in the league. Jamie Collins showed us all what his full potential could be as a playmaker in the playoffs last season. If he can keep that same level of play all season and grow on it, we really have a special talent on our hands at LB. Dont’a Hightower is primed for another season of getting better. He will also be playing a better suited role for himself this season as the loss of Mayo last year made things tough on the young LB. I expect both of the young LBs to have big seasons for this team.

·         Defensive Backs (10): Darrelle Revis, Logan Ryan, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Malcolm Butler (R), Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Patrick Chung, Nate Ebner, Tavon Wilson

o   This group is easily without a doubt the deepest position on the team. BB went out and signed Revis and Browner to anchor the position with talent while we still have a solid player in Arrington and a couple growing young players in Dennard and Ryan. McCourty is primed for a huge season as he will be benefitting a lot from Revis’ presence. The other safety spot is still a big question mark though. Chung looks to be the starter Week 1 but hopefully Harmon can further develop and win the job or even the seldom talked about Tavon Wilson. Outside of the other safety spot, this defensive backfield has few weaknesses. This group of CBs will be able to match up vs. any team in the league.

Overall, I believe that both the offense and the defense can be Top 5 units in the league. Obviously health will play the biggest factor here. If this team can stay relatively healthy, then they will be looking at 12+ wins on the season. The talent this team has is insane and could be the most talented team BB has ever fielded depending upon how some players develop. The raw talent on the defensive side of the ball just makes me starry eyed. There has been rumor of the defense obviously dropping into a 3-4 most of the time which sounds amazing since this puts all players in the front 7 in positions suited for them. Chandler Jones as a stand-up OLB could mean a monster season from him add that onto one of the league’s best secondary’s and line backing corps and you have a Top 5 defense. The offense will be fine as long as Brady is around. If Gronk is healthy, they can be lethal. Obviously he just makes things so much easier for Brady and the other WRs and makes the offense go. If Gronk is healthy and the other weapons (Dobson, LaFell and KT) can develop then there is no reason why the offense can’t be a Top 5 unit again.

            The expectation for this season, for me, is a Super Bowl victory. It sounds greedy, but I think this team has more talent than some of the previous Super Bowl teams. The league’s best QB and CB are in NE, what else would you want? This defense could be as good as the 2004 squad while the offense could get back to putting up the number they did in 2011-12. This season is definitely Super Bowl or bust for our lovely Pats. The talent that BB put together leaves us no other option but to expect to be in the thick of it again in January. Hopefully this is the season we get over the hump.

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