The past few months have been rather hard on the Patriots organization and its fan base. First the Patriots lost to the eventual Super Bowl champions the Baltimore Ravens, in the proc
ess losing superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski to another forearm injury that left his return date in serious limbo. Then fan favorite, and Tom Brady’s most trusted target, wide receiver Wes Welker signed with the Denver Broncos and Brady’s lifelong rival Peyton Manning. After that, losses of key players from last season included Danny Woodhead to the San Diego Chargers and Brandon Lloyd who still remains a free agent. The Patriots followed that up with a solid but unspectacular draft, which included trading out of the first round.
After that seemingly everything went straight downhill. Gronk continued to compile surgeries over the spring and summer and his availability for the start of the regular season is hazy at best. Then the Aaron Hernandez fiasco happened. He might be off to jail for a slew of things besides this case we know about right now, this man was something completely different from who we thought he was. Now the next piece of news to come out of Alfonzo Dennard possibly failing a sobriety test, but the details on this are still shady as there have been conflicting reports of what happened. The point is, its been a rough offseason to say the least. But while this has most people writing the Patriots off, I feel the opposite. I feel this is going to bring the best out of the Patriots and we’ll see the old Patriots identity come back. Yes, the identity that won this team three Super Bowls in four years. Let me give you an idea of what I mean.
Rebirth of the Running Game: The Patriots running game over the past seasons, dating back to 2007 when they made their run to the Super Bowl and almost touched perfection, has been rather lackluster. Players like Fred Taylor and Ben-Jarvis Green-Ellis have had their opportunities to carry the load, but last season is when Patriots fans finally saw its rebirth in full force. Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen were fantastic, carrying the team to a 7th overall finish in rushing. Not since the Corey Dillon days have the Patriots had a bruising running back who had a touch of explosion in him like Ridley does. With Ridley shouldering the brunt of the running game, Vereen comes in as the pass catching and change of speed back. He really started to come into his own by the end of the last season including some great receiving touchdowns. He should fit the Kevin Faulk “do-it-all” mould and do it well. In the Super Bowl days, the Patriots relied on the running game to control the game and dictate how things would happen. The Patriots haven’t been able to do this the last 6 years as if the passing game faulted, the Patriots would really struggle. The running game has been reborn under the tutelage of Ivan Fears, the running back coach, and they’re poised to continue to improve for years to come.
A Rebuilt Defense: The Patriots’ bane for these Super Bowl-less years has been the often inconsistent defense. Sure, players like Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo have been all-pros and pro-bowlers in these years, but they have really lacked as a combined unit. Well, after years and years of slowly building this team through the draft, the Patriots organization’s patience has finally begun to pay off. Young players like run stopping specialist Brandon Spikes, rush end Chandler Jones, slot corner Kyle Arrington, recently converted safety Devin McCourty, Dont’a Hightower, Alfonzo Dennard (so long as he sticks around) and Tavon Wilson just to name the some of the young stars, who go along with veterans brought in like safety Adrian Wilson and outside specialist Aqib Talib, will lead this defense into the future. Last year, stopping the run was this team’s speciality as they ranked 9th in the NFL, but it was the pass defense that left more than a little to be desired. This could been fixed this year as Aqib Talib will be around for an entire season, Adrian Wilson will provide some serious power and experience in the secondary and hopefully young players Arrington, Dennard and often injured Ras-I Dowling will be able to provide along with mainstay and former pro-bowler McCourty. The seeds have been planted, and patience will be rewarded with this newly built defence. The Patriots defense was the backbone of the team during the Super Bowl run with guys like Teddy Bruschi, Ty Law, Richard Seymour, Lawyer Milloy and Mike Vrabel just to name a few. The new wave is here, and ready to make their impact on the league.
The Passing Game will be Less Relied on: Back in the Super Bowl years, Brady wasn’t the same quarterback. He was more of a game manager compared to the passing machine that he is today. While the offensive records (50 touchdowns in a season, most team point in a season) look great, history tells us that he wasn’t successful in the end. As things would get closer and closer to the Super Bowl, teams would get stingier and less likely to give up big passing yards. When the passing wasn’t coming easy, Brady and the entire team would struggle, they couldn’t control the game unless they were marching up and down the field scoring points most drives. During the Super Bowl run, this wasn’t necessary. The running game and defense would allow Brady to manage the game and the Patriots could score timely points. As I pointed out in the previous two paragraphs, the running game and defense have experienced revivals in recent years so Brady doesn’t have to shoulder the entire load himself. Now you may say, “The Patriots won’t be able to throw the ball period with Welker and Hernandez gone and Gronkowski hurt for an extended period”. To this I say, look at the success Brady had with mediocre weapons. He managed three Super Bowl wins with his best weapons being Deion Branch and David Givens. It might not be ideal in terms of firepower, but Danny Amendola is a very nice possession receiver, and Julian Edelman, if healthy, should provide some dynamic play. Other than that, Brady is capable of making stars or at least very good players, out of unheralded guys. Look for guys like 4th round pick Josh Boyce and Donald Jones to have an impact on this season.
So in conclusion I say this: Relax guys, things may seem bleak, they may even seem hopeless. But the Patriots are notorious for bouncing back from unthinkable handicaps. The Patriots are built to function as a unit, not as individual players. And just remember, things are only as bad as you make them out to be. I still have faith in this team, and so should you.
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