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Patriots Progress Report – Week 2

Taking a quick look at the first two weeks, here’s my progress report on what we’ve seen so far.  Obviously it’s far too early to jump to any real conclusions, and I believe we’ll see an improvement in the coming weeks – especially as the defense begins to get more comfortable:


The Law Firm has lead the way rushing so far for New England. (FILE:Icon/SMI)

Quarterback – Brady played another MVP like performance yesterday in Foxboro. The reigning offensive player of the year hit multiple receivers, running a variety of routes all over the field. Quick decision making was a big part of Brady’s game at times, as the San Diego pass rush got to him early in the contest. A collective sigh of relief was given after a low hit by a San Diego defensive lineman.  Brady’s lone big mistakes were overthrowing Deion Branch in the end zone, and under throwing the pass during the controversial fourth down play.

Grade: A-

Running Backs – Danny Woodhead and The Law Firm shared carries during this affair with both backs proving their worth to this team. Woodhead played the role once again of a four down back who can step up in the run, pass, or pass blocking game. However by Woodhead throwing his body at lineman like a little gnat, it could end up costing Brady some pretty big hits down the line. In pass blocking situations, a larger back may be a solution such as a Sammy Morris or even little Gronkowski as well.  The Law Firm showed some great technique running between the tackles, bouncing it outside, running people over, and carrying tacklers for extra yardage. His run on 3rd and short with three minutes to go sealed the game.

Grade: B

Wide Receivers – Deion Branch’s game yesterday reminded me of his Super Bowl MVP performance in 2004. His yards after the catch, his awareness on the football field, and superb route running were all outstanding during yesterday’s contest. Wes Welker added 7 catches, though did look lost on a few plays during the no-huddle. I am not sure if it was because of how loud it was, but he had his hands up in confusion multiple times during the game. Chad Ochocino had a few grabs of his own, as he slowly gets accustomed to the Patriots offense.

Grade: B+

Tight Ends – What else is there to be said about these two guys that hasn’t been said already? Gronkowski and Hernandez were both massive parts of this offense and passing game. It is amazing how difficult it was for the San Diego defensive backs to match up with these guys, especially in the red zone. Hernandez impresses me just as much with his shiftiness after the catch, than what he does before and during. Gronkowski did have one holding call that could have been avoided, as the only sour spot to these guys performance yesterday.

Grade: A-

Offensive Line – Matt Light’s block which sprung The Law Firm for the game sealing touchdown was text book. He did a great job blocking a guy who usually gives him fits. Logan Mankins continues to dazzle and become a force in the middle of that line, and Brian Waters could be the unsung hero of this group stepping in after only a few weeks on this team. It shows his football smarts and work ethic to pick up this offense that quickly. Sea Bass was beat a few times, and the bonus holding call on Light turned out to be some drive killers.

Grade: B-

Defensive Line – Outside of Vince Wilfork’s nimble interception and lengthy return, the line was a non factor. There was zero pressure on Rivers outside of that one ball he lofted into Sergio Brown’s hands.  The pocket didn’t collapse at all. They didn’t cave the middle in to set off the edge rushers. Albert Haynesworth and Shaun Ellis weren’t uttered once, except when Albert was hurt for a few plays. Andre Carter made a clean hit, in my opinion, on Rivers which ended up extending a drive for the Chargers.

The Patriots will not beat the elite teams without a pass rush. Show me what you showed against your preseason opponents blitzing guys from everywhere.

Grade: C-

Linebackers: After blowing a wide open tackle by the end zone in the first quarter, Jerod Mayo redeemed himself with a huge tackle on Mike Tolbert on fourth down. He also had a massive forced fumble late in the game as well. Brandon Spikes was blown off the ball multiple times as Ryan Matthews and Tolbert both ran for huge chunks of yardage. Dane Fletcher had an average day with four tackles. The long and short of it is, these guys have to get to the quarterback to give the DB’s a better shot at making plays.

Grade: C

Defensive Backs: Devin McCourty is being given a pass by some of the media outlets after the first two weeks. My opinion is, he doesn’t deserve it. McCourty is going to be asked to match up with the number one receiver on each team they play. He has regressed over the first two weeks since late in
the season last year. Him laughing and smiling after getting beat for a touchdown late in the game that pulled San Diego within one score is unacceptable. McCourty did make some big plays, but getting torched for 170 and 150 in the last two weeks respectively isn’t going to cut it. The whole secondary just looks confused and in disarray.

I went back and watched some of the big plays made in the first and second quarter against the Patriots and seeing how out of position the safeties and defensive backs were was astonishing. However, the fact Rivers had all day to throw made this a lot easier for the wide receivers. Patrick Chung played a great game playing the spy on Antonio Gates limiting him to zero productivity. This unit HAS to get better over the next few weeks.

Grade: D+

Coaching: Bill had a great game plan on the offensive side of the ball, passing at will against a Chargers pass defense that typically gives Brady and New England problems. The fourth and four play call was questionable, and I was actually thinking Brady would punt it, much like Cassell did in Buffalo in 2008.  The defensive schemes need to improve and they need to start getting after the quarterback. Teams who are disciplined will beat this team down the line.

Grade: B

Overall: The team is 2-0, and at the end of the day all that matters is the ‘W’ column.   The lack of pass rush and suspect secondary are things that hopefully can fix themselves as the season goes on.  These were the same issues we had all of last season.  Perhaps the lack of OTA’s and a shortened training camp are also results of poor execution in those areas.  The offense is clicking on all cylinders, which is always a good thing.  If you can’t put points on the board, you can’t win, end of story.  Let’s look for an improvement on the defensive side of the ball and continued success moving the ball up and down the field over the next few weeks.  Progression, not regression, is the key going forward.   Grade:  B+

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A little less than a week from now there will be Tuesday Morning Quarterback sessions going on around the New England area as we get set for New England’s first game against the Dolphins next Monday night. Sports radio and other media outlets will be talking about the play calling, play making, and of course the final outcome.

Each player on this roster has a “job” to do, and the quality of their work will vastly determine whether there is a number one in the win column for your New England Patriots next Tuesday morning.  In the meantime here’s a look at some of the upcoming positional battles between the Pats and the Phins and see who presumably will come out on top.


Brady will finally see his first meaningful action of the 2011 season next Monday night in Miami. (FILE:Icon/SMI)

Quarterbacks – When you think of the word quarterback and the NFL, Tom Brady is probably the first one that comes to mind. If you are living in the New England area, he is most likely the only one. The reigning league MVP typically struggles down in Miami Gardens. Brady will see his first action that counts with an offense that put up the most points in the NFL last season, and a new wide receiver in Chad Ochocinco. Look for Brady to get into a rhythm early to potentially help set up the run late in the game to wear down the Miami defense.

Last year our special teams and defense made the game a lot more lopsided than it really was. Old nemesis Jason Taylor is back in orange and green so that may pose a threat to Brady. Chad Henne was booed early in training camp and is thought of more as a game manager than a game winner.

Historically these quarterbacks give the Patriots issues, especially over the last couple of seasons. Think of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Mark Sanchez, Colt McCoy, among others. You have to give the edge to the Patriots here due to experience and most importantly, talent.

Advantage – PATRIOTS

Running Backs – Reggie Bush took his talents to South Beach in the off season and has sworn his injury woes were left behind in New Orleans. Look for Bush to play a big role in the screen game and running outside the tackles to help set up the play action. Rookie running back Daniel Thomas will also play a big role, assuming he has picked up the offense, as he struggled late in camp. Bush is still a game changer and playmaker with breakaway speed and evasive moves.

The Patriots yet again will be going with a running back by committee. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, and the two rookies should see spots in the rotation. Woodhead will be a third down option due to his pass blocking ability and getting open quickly out of the backfield. With Bush playing most off his games indoors and on turf during his career, it will be interesting to see how he does in the Miami humidity and natural field. I give a slight edge to Miami here, due to the playmaking ability and breakaway speed. One missed tackle and Reggie is gone.

Advantage – DOLPHINS

Wide Receivers – Is Ochocinco picking up the offense? Will Wes Welker be more reliable than last year after being one year removed from his knee injury after battling a year where he dropped passes? Is Taylor Price going to emerge as a threat when the Patriots go into their spread package? Outside of the pass rush, this is the one area I think raises the most questions going into the season.

The release of Brandon Tate came of no surprise to folks here, especially with the new kickoff rules, and returners being expendable. Look for a lot of underneath stuff from Brady with quick hitches, slants, and crossing routes. Vontae Davis will most likely be locked on Ochocinco and he typically plays great games against Brady and the Patriots.

Brandon Marshall perhaps underachieved from a touchdown perspective last year, but between the numbers, this guy is one of the best in the game. His height may cause issues for Devin McCourty or Leigh Bodden, however if they frustrate him early and make him a non factor, he has been known to tank it in the second half of games.

Brian Hartline is a streaky receiver on the outside, and Davone Bess typically puts up good numbers against the Patriots. However a receiver is typically made by the guy throwing him the ball, so I give this edge to the Patriots.

Advantage – PATRIOTS

Tomorrow we will continue with the tight ends, line of scrimmage, and the linebackers.

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Q&A With Former Patriot Jarvis Green

Here’s the complete transcript of my recent interview with former Patriot, Jarvis Green. Green was drafted in the fourth round (126th overall) by the New England Patriots in the 2002 NFL Draft, and played with the Patriots from 2002 to 2009.

Thanks for taking the time out of your schedule to talk to me, much appreciated.

JG: No problem, any time man.

Are you officially retired from the game and filed your papers with the NFL?

JG: That’s funny you say that.  I remember them saying how Randy (Moss) filed retirement papers etc, and that was more the old way of doing things I thought.  Now it’s if you’ve been out of the game for so many months you are retired.

I noticed in your twitter feed a few nights ago it was nice to have a cold beer and watch some football.  Do you have any desire to get back onto the field?

JG: Not at all Mike.  I’m having back surgery next week and waking up with phantom aches and pains it just isn’t worth it.  I’m enjoying my time with my wife and kids and not getting beat up. I bought into a company 17 months ago and never made it public until it was established.  It is First Millennium Construction based out of Louisiana.    I’m still working 12-14 hours a day with my business and helping my son who is in 8th grade playing football as well.

What do you miss most, I’m sure the new CBA made a comeback a little more appealing with the big reduction of two a day practices?


“These young players don’t have a clue how hard it used to be, and how easy they have it now.” – Jarvis Green (FILE:Icon/SMI)

JG: Funny you ask that, I called into the training room the other day to check on the guys and I spoke to Matt Light.  I told him jokingly I sure picked a heck of a time to retire.  These young players don’t have a clue how hard it used to be, and how easy they have it now.

2007 ended in such a surprising and depressing way for the organization, how long did it take for you to get over that, if at all?

JG: I didn’t sleep for three weeks.  It was a crazy year, and we were unbeatable.  We were a perfect team, and it just didn’t work out.   That team was one of the greatest teams ever, even with the result at year’s end.

Last year’s team exceeded many people’s expectations in the regular season, but fell short yet again in the post season.  What was lacking from last year’s team, perhaps something the SB championship teams had that you were a part of?

JG: Faces change, coaches change, and people change.  When I was a part of the teams that won titles here, we had players like Bruschi, Seymour, Junior, Ty, Mike Wright, and Rodney.  There was a trust factor, a swagger when you looked into the eyes of those guys in meetings.  I could look at any one of those guys in a meeting and know  “it’s time to go get it”.  That is what I miss most about football, is being with those guys who will give you the shirt off their back.  I’m not sure if that is present in New England now, but that is what I felt was a big part to our success, outside of executing on the field.

The Patriots seem to have brought in some veteran presence onto the defensive line, some of whom comes with baggage from previous teams, how do you think Albert Haynesworth , Shaun Ellis, and Andre Carter fit into the Patriot system?

JG: They are all great players whom have had huge success in the past, but winning isn’t just on Sundays.  Winning is in the film room, weight room, and in training camp.   We will see week 1 how they fit into the system.

Explain to me your relationship with Bill Belichick.  Do you still keep in touch?  How was it to play for him whom is known as a guy who pays attention to the smallest of details?

JG: I have the utmost respect for Coach Belichick.  I’ve learned a lot from him but haven’t spoken to him since I went through free agency.  He moves a room when he talks and enters it, and pays attention to every last detail.

Whom from your time here in New England do you still keep in touch with?

JG: I keep in touch with Matt Light, Coach Peppers, and Ty Warren.  I have more friends up there then I do in Louisiana.   I will make it back up there this year to catch a game and see everyone from top to bottom in the organization.

After your stint in NE, you played for the Houston Texans, how was that different outside of the success ratio, to your experience in New England?

JG: It was different, it was very different.  I was homesick.   I mean that in seeing how guys show up on time, to the chemistry inside the locker room, and how when in New England we were all brothers fighting for one cause.

Do you think the internship you did at Rolls Royce in Walpole, while you were a Patriots player gave you some good experience that you might be able to use some way in retirement?

JG: This helped me incredibly.  I met with the CFO everyday of a 1.9 billion dollar a year business.  I was a sponge and always writing things down.  He taught me to “always be thinking” and to have a Plan B.  That is a main reason why guys 2-3 years after they retire are bankrupt and divorced. They didn’t have a Plan B.  I was an engineering major in college, but this was great business knowledge I gained while here.

How were you treated by the Patriots fans while you were a player?

JG: New England is a great place to play football.  Sometimes I think the fans were more into it than the players!   But I have many friends up here that I still keep in touch with.

I noticed via your website you are very involved in your charity.  Explain to me a little bit about the Jarvis Green Foundation and how it came to be and how our readers can help and donate.

JG: This can be found on my website www.jarvisgreen.com It is in place to help disadvantaged single moms.  Mom’s who have lost family members to Katrina as I did during that big tragedy.

 

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Preseason Opener – One Hitters

Some quick thoughts from last night’s game:

  • The quality of play was SLOPPY. I’ve seen preseason openers before, but this was borderline Pop Warner quality. No OTA’s and mini camps were very apparent last night.
  • The new kick off rule is making kickers look like Superman. However the rookie from UMass basically split the uprights. And WTF is up with guys taking it out from 8 yards deep?
  • Hoyer looked like very composed, comfortable and surprisingly has a great arm.
  • Reviewing every touchdown is going to be like watching paint dry. It is BAD for the game of football and takes a ton of the emotion out of a scoring play, knowing it is going to be reviewed and probably overturned. This rule will not make it to next season.
  • Seeing how fired up 3rd, 4th string, and spot players get after making a big play is a feel good moment all around. Seeing a guy wearing #3 waiting to receive a meaningless 4th quarter kickoff probably pissing his pants saying to himself  “Man this is where I gotta make my impression, my moment….” .
  • Dane Fletcher looked like a defensive captain out there. I loved him showing blitz, dropping into protection, shooting the gap and making tackles for a loss consistently.
  • Kyle Love missed a handful of tackles, but did show the ability to get through blockers and attack the ball carrier.
  • Aaron Hernandez won’t lose another ball the rest of the season.
  • Same goes for Danny Woodhead.
  • Julien Edelman worked his way down to the #5 WR last night and back up kick returner.
  • Did our Ridley get hazed, or is that his real haircut? Either way, he looked great running between the tackles, bouncing runs outside, and catching balls out of the backfield.
  • Seeing Kevin Faulk not just on the sidelines, but coaching younger players was a great thing to witness.
  • Ryan Mallett will pay much more attention to the play clock going forward. How many times in 2010 did Brady get a delay of game call? I can count at least three, painful to watch especially from a team like this.
  • Gary Guyton was a non factor.
  • Randy Cross doesn’t know his ass from his elbow.
  • Zolak had a six pack of Blue Moon before he got on the air last night.
  • Taylor Price did as much as he could last night to help his own cause. That comeback route and sprint down the sidelines was text book.
  • Nate Solder played amazing. I watched him specifically for about 10 straight plays, he man handled anyone who came his way.
  • What I said about Darius Butler in my last column remains true, he is as close to the hot seat as you can be after one preseason game. How on earth do you let 3rd and 4th string guys beat you on dig routes and deep slants?
  • We will see the starters for at least a quarter next week.
  • The Sam Adams guy is a definite stoner.
  • When the UNH and UMass coaches were getting interviewed, I wish someone slapped that wangsta kid in the background.

Remember everything we witness last night was from primarily backups and guys way down the depth chart against backups and guys deep down the opponents depth chart. That is all we have for comparison right now, but don’t put THAT much stock into it. Half the guys we saw last night, won’t be here come September.

Thank God football is back.

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Fantasy Football – Main Stream Phenomenon

I was driving down Route 1 the other day, because 93 is an absolute nightmare right now as all of you other North Shore readers know, and saw three signs that advertised hosting your Fantasy Football Draft here.  Hooters even promised a private war room with our own hostess.   The war room is more appealing than the hostess for any of you that have ventured into a Hooter’s anywhere in New England.  I’m running my league online this year, next year we’ll try an actual get together, but I was amazed at how commercial and in the public eye this hobby has become. 

Every year Fantasy Football becomes more and more mainstream and becomes part of almost every football fan and players conversation from late August until January.  When is your draft? What is your team name?  Who are you taking first round?  Why do they constantly give it to the back up RB down on the goal line?  Do I start Green against the Colts or Matthews against the Patriots?  Every one of us has had and will have this conversation over the next few weeks as the season gets underway.  It is amazing how big the NFL has become and Fantasy Football is a huge part of that.

Do you find yourself watching a meaningless NFC game in December?  I sure do when I have Steven Jackson playing (who is as consistent a yardage guy as there is in the NFL) and 10 points needed to make the playoffs.  Did you ever think you’d see the day you route for Reggie Wayne to have a big night in a Thursday Night game in Jacksonville?   Anyone remember that one?  What a heartbreaker for the Jags, and it definitely foreshadowed things to come for that God awful secondary.   The games become bigger for Fantasy buffs and when they become bigger, the ratings go up. 

TV contracts and revenue sharing were big pieces to the new CBA.  Ratings were and have never been higher for the NFL, and undoubtedly Fantasy Football has a decent hand in that.   Casinos, gambling websites, main stream sports websites all have seen dramatic spikes over the last half decade in football related activity.  The websites who give away free leagues and teams are all still making money in the long run.  Advertisement prices go through the roof during football season, so the ROI on offering free leagues is huge.  TV commercial airtime is at a premium with millions of viewers watching each Sunday and Monday rooting on players from their personally built franchises.  App Stores on Smart phones to manage teams and make last minute roster moves when a sideline reporter comes on during the “Start Em or Sit Em” Segment.  

Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Mike Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, and Tony Romo all face New England this season.  Will it not the biggest 60 minute emotional rollercoaster of the year?   Do you draft your home team guys?  Do you stay away from guys you know you’ll be facing in the regular season?  Could you care less about who you have as long as you win?  Everyone is different and has their own strategy on how to do things.   How do you handle situations like this?  I am interested to hear about it. 

I’d like to wish each and every one of you folks luck this year.  Some of you may find Fantasy Football a joke and annoying which is fine, everyone has their own take on it.  I’d like to hear some of your team names, and who you would take with #1 if you had it, also #6, as I have that pick in my draft.   Below is my mock first round. UNOFFICIAL of course, I’ll never use the word official on here again ;)

1) Adrian Peterson
2) Arian Foster
3) Ray Rice
4) Maurice Jones-Drew
5) Chris Johnson (I hear this guy may not show up until Week 11 Logan Mankins style, this pick may still be a stretch)
6) Michael Turner
7) Jamal Charles
8) Aaron Rodgers
9) Frank Gore
10) Mike Vick
11) Rashard Mendenhall
12) Andre Johnson

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Projected Starting Line Up

With the preseason about to get underway competition is going to be high with players fighting not just for starting jobs, but for roster spots as well. Here is my official 2011 Projected New England Patriots starting line-up.

Offense

QB: The MVP

RB: The Law Firm

WR: Wes Welker, Twitter Champion and Prius Advocate, Former SB MVP ‘preciate that boss’ Deion Branch (if they go 3 Wide)

TE: The Jacoby Elsbury of the Patriots ,  Aaron ’I faked Kyle Wilson out of his jock in the Jets Game so bad he is still looking for it’ Hernandez (if they go with a 2 TE Set)

C: Quietest Giant on the Field Dan Koppen

RT: Kick His Ass Sea-Bass Volmar

LT: Thankful to be here for 1 more year, maybe two Matt Light

RG: Special Teams Giant Dan Connolly

LG: Meanest Lineman in Football and resident farmer Logan Mankins

Defense

DL: Best Nosetackle in football Vince Wilfork

DL: Let’s hope the headaches gone Mike Wright

DL: Make sure you pay with cash and not credit card Albert Haynesworth

ILB: Camera phones and aderrol are no good Brandon Spikes

ILB: Gang tackle king Jerod Mayo

OLB: Resident Pandora autograph session king Gary Guyton

OLB: I’ve seen people come back from heart surgery quicker than a calf injury Jermaine Cunningham

CB: The Lions trash is the Patriots treasure Leign Bodden

CB: Taking reservations for McCourty Island Devin McCourty

SS: Good jams, and that was a champion play James Sanders

FS: So many cliche’s but I will go with Tigger, Bruce Springfield, and act like lil kids Brandon Meriweather

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Week 1 Preseason Preview

Week 1 Preseason Preview: Patriots vs Jaguars

Starters treat these games as an up tempo practice against opponents you typically don’t face on a regular basis. Do players get hurt? Sure. Did we all hold our breath when our newest defensive linemen planted the reigning NFL MVP into the turf a couple pre season games ago? I sure did. Seeing him do the typical MLB pitcher arm rotation stretch in visible pain, panic started to set in. This preseason may take a different approach with starters taking a few more snaps than usual.

With players only having two weeks of training camp under their belt and no OTA’s or mini camps, you will most likely see a lot more 70/75% speed from the first string guys. This will limit injuries, get some rust out, be a great visual for rookies and newcomers to the team, and slowly bring the players back into season ready football shape. Being in shape and being in football shape are two completely different things, I’m sure anyone who has played a sport can vouch for that.

For the game, I think you’ll see a very conservative approach both on offense and defense. If I was a betting man, I’d take the under on this all day. You’ll see a lot of the running game from a variety of backs. Our two new rookies will take a bulk of carries along with Sammy Morris. I think Bill wants to evaluate him closely to see what kind of role he will play. I personally and puzzled with the fact they are carrying a half dozen running backs this year.

From the quarterback perspective, you’ll see Tom Brady throw the proverbial bubble screen, draw to Kevin Faulk/Danny Woodhead, a slant or two to Wes Welker, and maybe if we are lucky, one deep ball. If they get close to the red zone, look for Rob Gronkowski, or a fade route or quick out to Chad Ochocinco. We’ll want to watch Nate Solder closely as well. I’m interested to see his highly touted footwork and how it translates into the NFL.

On defense, we will see Albert Haynesworthfor a few snaps. The coaches will take a very slow approach with him, and when he is ready, they will take the reins off. He has one full month to get into football shape, so these games mean nothing to a player like him. I would think we’ll see Jermaine Cunningham and Brandon Spikes a fair amount. Both of these guys, more so Cunningham, have to take a big leap forward this year and need to be a leader on defense. Jerod Mayo will be Jerod Mayo. He will make his 10 tackles a game, which somehow he gets credit for 20 of them, and be an animal going sideline to sideline. I am ready for him to make a big jump and a big play. He has yet to make one in a Patriots jersey that is a game changer, and he had a rough go of it in back to back playoff games.

The secondary will be competitive internally this year, with Leigh Bodden and Devin McCourty who seem to be locks to start. Who will be the nickel back? Will it be Darius Butler? I want to like this guy, I really do, but he is turning into a Jonathan Wilhite in my eyes, a more athletic Jonathan Wilhite for all of you Butler lovers. He NEEDS to make a big leap forward this year. At the safety position, let’s just say it is on SWOL and hopefully he plays smart, within the system, and clean. He also was Mr. Irrelevant in the 98.5 Toucher and Rich Criminal Fantasy draft, so please don’t get arrested.

Who to Watch: Nate Solder, RB’s, Edelman

Don’t Panic if They Suck: Brady, Ochocinco, McCourty

Be a Tad Concerned if They Suck: Butler, Tate, Morris

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MVP

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Makin Moves

Patriot fans have a reason to be excited given the last 24 hours of free agency frenzy. The boys in Foxboro not only addressed the defensive side of the ball, but the offense as well. Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocino are both marquee names in their respective positions. Both of these guys come with concerns, baggage, and a very “non Patriot” reputation. The tweeting, bull riding, head stomping, quitting on plays, and nascar driving are all things typically frowned upon by the man in the hoodie.

The names alone are causing a massive swirl on my Twitter and Facebook newsfeeds along with everyone else out there I’m sure. But that isn’t what excites me in this whole situation. What is impressive to me are the Patriots are doing something to address need. Typically their pompous, trust in Bill, last NFL dynasty mentality leaves fans scratching their heads and swearing at their monitor or tv set when we see whatever moves are made to “improve our football team”. The Patriots no doubt have been one of the most dominant teams in the league over the past decade, but they realize they need to improve and maintain the quality of players on the field and in the locker room to compete and stay atop the elite teams in the league.

Bill, Bob, and maybe even some of the veteran players came to a realization that we can’t remain a one dimensional team, on both sides of the ball. Dink, dunk, draw, quick slants, quick outs, and bubble screens can only get you so far. We need to stretch the field, don’t allow teams to put eight men in the box, and be less predictable on offense. On the defensive side, we need to get meaner, pressure the quarterback, get some mean ass mofos to clog the middle to allow Cunningham and the other LB’s to set the edge and rip the quarterback limb from limb. In theory, this is how it should all work. But knowing how the Patriots do their thing, this could be the complete opposite of their plan. But hey, at least they are doing something….. right?

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Where Do The Patriots Focus…

Is keeping TB12 upright the biggest priority? Is it finding him a weapon to stretch the field and take the top off the defense? Do we need that edge rusher that is going to make Mark Sanchez and other QB’s wet their pants? Should Logan Mankins be resigned to a long term deal and free up some cap space for this season? All of these are valid questions and valid concerns, but it all starts with balance.

We won three Super Bowls in four years, which seems like light years ago. Technically, it has been light years since we won the big game. We have had successful seasons, but haven’t been able to get it done in the postseason for one reason. They have been outmatched physically by tougher teams with more physical defenses. I can remember the days teams would fear walking into Foxboro because of the guys on the defensive side of the ball. Now people come in here just preparing to have TB12 throw the ball all over the field. James Sanders and Rob Ninkovich don’t make opposing teams devise a game plan for them as they did for Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, and Rodney Harrison. When you’ve been beaten by Jake Plummer, yes that Jake Plummer, Mark Sanchez, Joe Flacco, and Eli Manning in four out of your last 5 playoff losses, something has to give. Defense! It is a weak bend but don’t break defense that people do not fear.

The Patriots have to get back to being a more balanced team with someone looking to rip the head off the quarter back, a safety that will make you think twice about coming across the middle, and tough physical corners at the line. The whole defensive genius BB comparison has lost its luster with me. What has he done in the last seven years to support this comparison? Not much. They still are getting 300 plus yards put up on them a game at times from bums like Chad Henne, Ryan Bleeping Fitzpatrick, and Shaun Hill. Become more balanced and you finish strong at the finish line, rather than limping in. Having said this, I see someone like Roth from Cleveland being someone I’d bring in. He has been in Mangini’s system has been compared to a Logan Mankins on the defensive side of the ball.

Priority #2 is protecting the franchise. You start that by resigning Logan Mankins to a long term deal. This will free up a bunch of cap space for you to sign your other picks, resign guys like Wes Welker next season, and perhaps pick up someone who was cut from another team during the craziest two weeks in NFL history. Not only will the Mankins signing aid in keeping Brady upright, it will help in the development of Nate Solder, open up massive holes in the running game for Woodhead, The Law Firm, and the Smash/Dash rookies we drafted, and help in the screen schemes as well. Brady makes this team go, there is no question about that. If the offensive line can protect him, life in New England will be great for all parties involved. Brady also isn’t a spring chicken anymore, so having some tough hogs in the trenches may swing some more of the play calling into the running game, taking the pressure of TB12 to drop back 500 plus times a season.

The WR argument right now is null and void in my opinion. You won 14 games last year and laid an egg in the playoffs. The Patriots don’t win that game even with a burner on the outside. You are a brutal interception and an Alge Crumpler drop away from that being a completely different ball game. If they can pick up someone on the cheap like a Derek Mason, so be it. Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, and Roy Williams won’t even sniff the New England air. They don’t fit the mold here, and either does Ochocinco. Yes he is a big BB guy, and BB is a big Ochocinco guy, but they just are two conflicting personalities. Would I take a flyer on bringing number 81 back on a trial run? You bet your ass I would. If you tell me you don’t get excited on a play action fake where Brady hides the ball, and number 81 has his hand up with two steps on his man downfield calling for the ball, you’re lying to yourself.

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Top 5 Breakdown by Position

With the new CBA looking to be finalized by the end of the week, and the wildest and most crazy two weeks in NFL history closely approaching, I figured we could take a look at some of the top players at each position. These will be contested and debated no doubt, but this should wet the football palette until Free Agency and Training Camp begins, hopefully Monday.

The Men in the Trenches

Center

1) Nick Mangold – NY Jets
2) Olin Kreutz – Chicago Bears
3) Matt Birk – Baltimore Ravens
4) Jeff Saturday – Indianapolis Colts
5) Alex Mack – Cleveland Browns

Offensive Guard

1) Logan Mankins – New England Patriots
2) Jahri Evans – New Orleans Saints
3) Josh Stitton – Green Bay Packers
4) Chris Snee – New York Giants
5) Brian Waters – Kansas City Chiefs

Offensive Tackle

1) Joe Thomas – Cleveland Browns
2) Jake Long – Miami Dolphins
3) Jordan Gross – Carolina Panthers
4) Ryan Clady – Denver Broncos
5) Michael Roos – Tennessee Titans

Defensive Tackle

1) Haloti Ngata – Baltimore Ravens
2) Vince Wilfork – New England Patriots
3) Ndamukong Suh – Detroit Lions
4) Kevin Williams – Minnesota Vikings
5) Richard Seymour – Oakland Raiders

Defensive End

1) Julius Peppers – Carolina Panthers
2) Osi Umenyiora – New York Giants
3) John Abraham – Atlanta Falcons
4) Jared Allen – Minnesota Vikings
5) Mario Williams – Houston Texans

Backs and Backers

Linebackers

1) Ray Lewis – Baltimore Ravens
2) DeMarcus Ware – Dallas Cowboys
3) Patrick Willis – San Francisco 49ers
4) Clay Matthews – Green Bay Packers
5) Terrell Suggs – Baltimore Ravens

Cornerbacks

1) Darrelle Revis – New York Jets
2) Nnamdi Asomugha – Oakland Raiders
3) Champ Bailey – Denver Broncos
4) Charles Woodson – Green Bay Packers
5) Asante Samuel – Philadelphia Eagles

Safeties
1) Troy Polamalu – Piitsburgh Steelers
2) Ed Reed – Baltimore Ravens
3) Nick Collins – Green Bay Packers
4) Antrel Rolle – New York Giants
5) Adrian Wilson – Arizona Cardinals

Hands and Feet

Running Backs

1) Adrian Peterson – Minnesota Vikings
2) Chris Johnson – Tennessee Titans
3) Ray Rice – Baltimore Ravens
4) Maurice Jones Drew – Jacksonville Jaguars
5) Michael Turner – Atlanta Falcons

Wide Receivers

1) Andre Johnson – Houston Texans
2) Larry Fitzgerald – Arizona Cardinals
3) Roddy White – Atlanta Falcons
4) Calvin Johnson – Detroit Lions
5) Reggie Wayne – Indianapolis Colts

Tight Ends

1) Antonio Gates – San Diego Chargers
2) Dallas Clarke – Indianapolis Colts
3) Vernon Davis – San Francisco 49ers
4) Jason Witten – Dallas Cowboys
5) Jermichael Finley – Green Bay Packers

The Arms

Quarterbacks

1) Tom Brady – New England Patriots
2) Peyton Manning – Indianapolis Cots
3) Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers
4) Ben Roethlisberger – Pittsburgh Steelers
5) Michael Vick – Philadelphia Eagles

The Brains

Coaches

1) Bill Belichick – New England Patriots
2) Mike Tomlin – Pittsburgh Steelers
3) Mike McCarthy – Green Bay Packers
4) Andy Reed – Philadelphia Steelers
5) Rex Ryan – New York Jets

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