Archive for February, 2012

Patriots Need The “Threat Factor”

Monday night on Patriots Fourth and Two, Russ Goldman asked me if I thought the Patriots needed a deep threat. After one epically convoluted answer, I resolved myself to a wish-washy position and I want to clarify how I feel about this issue.

When it came down to it, I said no, the Patriots do not need to go out searching for that deep threat. I think there is a reason why Tiquan Underwood was signed back to the team and bringing in big name wideouts hasn’t fared well as of late. I think what the Patriots need is the threat of a deep threat, or as I will now refer to it, the “Threat Factor”.

The Patriots don’t need another big name receiver like Chad Ochocinco. They just need the threat factor, somebody to keep defenders on their toes. (FILE:Icon/SMI)

The Patriots need that guy who can receive the ball from anywhere on the field. As fellow blogger Steve Balestrieri put it, this offense doesn’t air out the ball. They’ve changed their ways since parting with Randy Moss, their last deep threat option.

They need a guy who opposing defenses have to account for every time he is on the field. Somebody who can receive over the middle and also tip toe the sidelines. This somebody has to have good speed and a big enough build so defenders have a tough time pushing him off his routes.

The Patriots do not need a number one receiver. Their offense is more dynamic than most with their incorporation of the tight end position. I also have no doubt that Wes Welker will be back on the team, so their slot option is set. What they need the third piece, the piece that opens up the field. By opening up the field, the running game improves and Tom Brady has more options to work with.

Mike Wallace is a restricted free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He is an interesting option to keep your eye on. In order for the Patriots to receive him, they would most likely have to give up one of their first round draft picks. This season Wallace made it to the Pro Bowl and led wide receivers in the AFC North with 72 catches and 1,193 receiving yards. The Steelers are seriously tight on cash so don’t be surprised if Wallace becomes available. Also don’t be surprised if he is picked up by the Baltimore Ravens or Cincinnati Bengals who have more money to spare and can make an addition by subtracting a tough divisional opponent.

So no, the Patriots do not need to go out and make the deep threat their top priority. Would it help, yes, but is it necessary, no. What they need to do is develop the threat factor on their offense and give defenses another thing to worry about aside from Welker and the tight ends.

Patriots Offseason Has Potential to Wow

After yet another heartbreaking loss in the Super Bowl, Bill Belichick has a fresh offseason in front of him. According to the USA Today, an unbelievable 600 free agents could hit the market when their contracts expire on March 31. Compared to the hurried offseason of last year, this one has potential.

Instead of hurrying up to make moves, owners and coaches are able to take a more detailed look at the available players. Preseason planning can get underway sooner and the all important, quarterback/receiver relationships can being to develop. It’s a chemistry thing and this offseason should be full of it.

So that brings us to the Patriots. The decisions they will make this offseason have the potential to dramatically improve their roster. In addition to negotiating on the open market, they have two picks in both the first and second rounds of the draft. Picks 27, 31, 48 and 63 respectively. They also have a pick in the third and fourth rounds. They traded away their upper round picks so all deals should be done early in the draft. That is, if they do not trade away their spots to other teams.

Andre Carter could be back for the Patriots but they should consider bringing in some younger talent to create a pass rush. (FILE:Icon/SMI)

Where the Patriots really need help is on the defensive line. It seems like we’ve been saying it for years but it became glaringly obvious this season how little pass rush the Patriots have. Andre Carter and Mark Anderson were about as close as the team came, but both of them are free agents and age could be a factor. While Anderson will only be 29 at the start of next season, Carter will be 33. Carter will also be coming back from a season ending quad injury. It wouldn’t hurt Belichick to actually use one of those draft picks to pick up a defensive end.

Another piece the Patriots need to pick up is a true wide receiver. They’ve got the slot position pretty well set so long as they work out a deal with Wes Welker or franchise him. Yes he did have a big time drop but he is the reason the Patriots can march down the field. He is a chain mover and that is incredibly valuable. He takes a lot of hard hits and a body can only take so much, so I do not expect him to get a long deal, probably somewhere in the 3-5 year range. He also isn’t Calvin Johnson so he needs to be realistic with his monetary expectations.

If I had it my way the Patriots would draft Justin Blackmon out of Oklahoma State University. He and QB Brandon Weeden had great chemistry that created an explosive offense. Blackmon had 121 catches for 1,522 yards and 18 TDs. Unfortunately he will probably go in the top 10 and there’s no way Belichick will jump up that far, but I would still love to have him on the Patriots.

What I do see as a possibility is Brandon Lloyd coming to New England. There are just too many pieces falling into place. Josh McDaniels is the offensive coordinator (Lloyd has has tremendous success with him at the helm), Lloyd is an unrestricted free agent, and Deion Branch and Chad Ochocinco didn’t exactly perform for the Patriots, so there’s room for an upgrade.

Overall I think the Patriots will find most of their pieces on the free agent market. They currently have $101,827,381 committed to their 2012 roster. The estimated salary cap for 2012 is somewhere between $121 and $125 million, it has not been set yet. While $5 million does need to be set aside for rookies, the Patriots are not tight on cash so they have a lot of options. As the offseason rolls on, look for the Patriots to pick up veteran leaders and versatile players that can fit into the Belichick system.

Patriots Leave It All On The Field But Fall to Giants 21-17

The sight was all too familiar. With just over three minutes left in the game the ball was back in Eli Manning’s hands and the New York Giants were marching down the field. An incredibly athletic sideline grab by Mario Manningham helped set up what would be the final score of the game.

The Patriots had :57 seconds to march down the field but incomplete passes ate away at the clock. The final hail mary attempt was almost good enough but the deflection tipped just wide of Rob Gronkowski in the endzone.

And with that, the confetti fell, and for the second time, Manning and the Giants beat Tom Brady in the Super Bowl with the final score 21-17.

This was an incredibly evenly matched game, except in the two categories that matter most. The Patriots turned the ball over once whereas the Giants got lucky. Hakeem Nicks and Ahmad Bradshaw both fumbled the ball but New England couldn’t recover. And then there was the time of possession. The Giants had the ball for just over 37 minutes and the Patriots had it for just about 15 minutes less (22:55). That’s an entire quarter if you think about it.

But the Patriots battled throughout the entire game. The defense once again stood tall. Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes both had eight tackles and Mark Anderson (1.5), Rob Ninkovich (.5) and Brandon Deadrick (1) all contributed with sacks. You never would have known this was the same defense that started the season. They really showed up when it counted this postseason and it made a big difference.

As for the offense, Rob Gronkowski was missed. It was obvious Brady was looking for Wes Welker as a substitute but unfortunately the Giants must have figured that would be the case. He had 7 receptions for 60 yards. Aaron Hernandez had a solid game (8rec, 67yds, 1TD) and I think he’s poised for an even better season next year.

The Patriots’ drive that sticks out most in my mind came in the fourth quarter. It was the drive right before the one I described at the beginning of this post. 9:24 left in the game and the Patriots are making progress down the field while eating up some valuable clock. Brady has the team at the Giant’s 44 yard line on second down. Two incomplete passes later, Zoltan Mesko is forced to punt and Manning takes over.

If the Patriots had been able to get that first down, if they had made it into field goal range, if, if, if. It could go on all night but the bottom line is, it didn’t happen. But what showed was that they didn’t quit. The character of this team spoke for itself. They left everything on the field and did all they could to bring Robert Kraft a championship in memory of Myra.

It has been a whirlwind of a season for the Patriots. From the lockout, to the passing of Myra Kraft, to the team’s fifth Super Bowl appearance since 2000, you never knew what you were going to get. That’s the beauty of being a New England Patriots fan. You trust in Bill and know that with him and Tom Brady at the helm, it will all work out, one way or another.

The Gronkowski Effect and How It Could Affect Giants

We may never know whether or not Rob Gronkowski’s ankle is 100%. When Sunday comes around, the biggest question will be, how does he feel? But no matter what, when he’s on the field, the New York Giants have to account for him.

We may never know how Rob Gronkowski’s ankle actually feels but the Giants have to prepare for 100%. (FILE:Icon/SMI)

Gronkowski has been one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets all season. He is second only to Wes Welker in receptions (90) and has 17 touchdowns this year. And in addition to that, he’s broken the NFL record for the most receiving yards (1,327) and the most touchdowns by a tight end in a season. All this, and it’s only his second year in the league.

In addition to his red zone skills, Gronk’s 6’6″, 265lb frame is difficult for most defenders to deal with. Patriots fans likely remember the number of times we have seen him drag several defenders downfield to pick up those crucial yards after catch. There have been enough times during his short career to make you realize, this guy is a machine. The Giants have to account for his strength and know how to bring him down.

During the AFC Championship game when Bernard Pollard caused Gronkowski to roll his ankle it looked like it could have been the kiss of death. However, a quick limp to the locker room and Gronkowski was back for more. Right there he showed that he’s a warrior, and no injury will keep him off the field. High ankle sprain or not, he is resilient and a key offensive factor.

The Patriots offensive line will have their hands full on Sunday. Sebastian Vollmer is going to be back in the lineup and there’s invaluable experience with Logan Mankins and Matt Light. But Gronkowski is also a key part of that line. He not only catches the touchdowns, but also helps execute the run game. He is a key blocker on many plays and that’s an area where his ankle could get the best of him.

The Giants defensive line is explosive. There’s no doubt they are going to be physical with him and test his ankle. The position he will be in to block will put a lot more pressure on his ankle than running a route will. A route can be adjusted, but a block is at the command of the defender. Wherever those G-Men move, Gronkowski and the o-line will have to move. If Gronkowski is on the line, expect added pressure on his side.

We certainly will not know how Gronkowski is feeling before the big game. That’s the Belichick way. But just because mum’s the word, that doesn’t make the Giants job any easier. They’ve got to prepare for a 100% healthy Gronkowski because otherwise, they could end up getting burned.

So Far Patriots Coach Bill Belichick Appears Upbeat Heading Into Sunday’s Game

Ordinarily Bill Belichick has about as much personality as a British Royal Guard. You can almost recite his press conferences before they happen. His go-to phrases “all three phases of the game”, “we’re looking ahead to next week” have become routine.

The Super Bowl is nothing new for Bill Belichick. But this time, he seems to be enjoying himself. (FILE:Icon/SMI)

But on Sunday, something unusual happened. Belichick was…happy. Believe it or not, when he showed up to Lucas Oil Stadium to meet the media, he seemed like he was actually excited to be there. He was happy to see all the media members and answer their questions. It was a rare sight from one of the most stoic men in the NFL.

Is this new found happiness real or is it a distraction technique? These two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl reporters are working every angle imaginable. Writing a column every single day is tough when there’s not much news coming from either team. Belichick knows this. The main news has been the health of Rob Gronkowski and whether or not Eli Manning is an elite quarterback. Mix in a little bit of conversation about Peyton Manning’s future and that pretty much covers the weeks so far.

But on Sunday all that changed. With one flash of his smile, Belichick changed the focus of the media. At least for a little while. We started thinking, maybe he is human, maybe he is actually excited to be back in the Super Bowl. After all, what he has done as a coach is unbelievable and something to be incredibly proud of. It’s about time he soak it in and appreciate it. You never know, this could be the last time he ever sees the Super Bowl lights.

Knowing Belichick, he could have easily planned this. He could have taken one for the team and held the heat of the media. The guys could unpack and settle in knowing they have a little bit of breathing room with a Belichick smile. Many players say he actually is a funny guy but as fans and media members, we only get a snippet of that man.

I’m just saying Belichick knows what he’s doing. He knows his attitude sets the tone for his team. He’s enjoying this time in Indianapolis but still taking care of business. At least for one day he managed to quiet the rematch conversations and remind us, this is the Super Bowl, it’s O.K. to be excited.