Archive for August, 2010

Ten Things I Think About The New England Patriots

Each week I like to mention different subjects that are on my mind regarding the Pats, and last week gave me plenty to think about.

Last Thursday night we watched the Patriots lose 36-35 to the St. Louis Rams at Gillette Stadium, and this game was difficult to watch as a fan. After taking another look back I have some very strong opinions on what I saw and there are also other issues regarding the team that made me think this week as well.

So below are my “Ten Things I Think About The New England Patriots” for this week. 

1. The Loss to the Rams was obviously very disappointing. After watching the Patriots play two very good pre-season games I was expecting more progress to be made. Instead, I saw concerns that I had about this team going into the season.

The defense did not play well at all, and couldn’t rush the passer. They also couldn’t get off the field on third downs, and these two factors I watched them deal with all last season and was hoping not to see a repeat of it again this year.

It is only the pre-season so even for me it is way too early to make a judgement on this defense. They certainly looked sharp in the first two games, but that’s also why the pre-season is a difficult time to make any rash opinions.  I am concerned, but I know this young defense is a work in progress. I am just disappointed that I didn’t see another step forward.  Unfortunately instead, we saw that the Patriots took a step backwards.

2. Brandon Tate I feel is going to make an impact this season. Tate was definitely a positive to take out of the game Thursday night. He returned a kick-off back for a touchdown, and also had another nice return as well. He also got open, and made some decent catches.

His impact at first appears to be on special teams. He could give this unit a real boost in gaining valuable field position for the Patriots and looks to be a solid return man.

However, I am not ruling him out as a threat at wide receiver. I think he just needs more time to blossom in the passing game. As he gets more experience he could really be an asset as the season goes along on offense. He is a player to keep your eye on.

3. Rob Gronkowski continues to impress at tight end. Aaron Hernandez might not be the only tight end to be a factor this season. Gronkowski is showing the ability to block and catch the ball, and put up quite a performance last week.

Gronkowski is a physical presence on the field at tight end. I think he could be a help at first in the running game with his blocking ability, but I’m  looking forward watching what he does this season inside the red zone. He could turn out to be that receiver Brady can count on to catch touchdown passes.

4.The defensive backs are talented, but could really use some help with a pass rush. Even after this loss I am still encouraged by this unit. They are young, and still learning their jobs. Players like Devin McCourty, Darius Butler, and Patrick Chung have shown me the potential to be solid contributors this season. They appear to have the speed and the skill to be effective, and I think they’ll definitely get better.

To make their job easier would be some help from the front seven with a pass rush. The defensive backs then wouldn’t have to cover for such a long period of time.  Hopefully we’ll see some improvement there as the season goes on.

5. Tully Banta-Cain needs a partner on the other side to step up. I am still hearing criticism of this player and I just don’t understand it. He’s been a solid pass rusher, and I have seen him being actively involved in the rush defense.

What Banta-Cain and the Patriots really need is for the other outside linebacker be able to do his job. I watched Derrick Burgess last week get exposed in the running game, and also wasn’t able to rush the passer. His job could be vital to the Patriots defense this season, and I’m hopeful we see an improvement from him.  As for Banta-Cain, I think he’s doing his job. He just needs Burgess or someone else to step up on the other side of the defense.  

6. Zoltan Mesko did not have a good game punting against the St. Louis Rams. The punting has been an issue for several seasons with the Patriots.  We know the potential is there after watching him drop one of them inside the five yard line, but he was inconsistent. He has the potential to be a good punter and just needs to keep working and getting better.

7. Tom Brady looks sharp and ready to go for the opening game of the season. Against St. Louis, Brady was 18 – 22 for 273 yards, with three touchdown passes. He looked just like the old Tom Brady I have seen lead the Patriots to three Super Bowl Championships. I wouldn’t be shocked if this season he ends up being the MVP of the NFL.  

8. The Patriots know what they have in Laurence Maroney. I already wrote about this, but I think it is important to discuss once again. I’ve been watching the television shows, and listening on the radio bringing up the question of Maroney’s future with the Pats.  

I think Maroney will still be on this team when the season begins. I also think he will have a postive impact on the Patriots this season. He knows this is the last year of his contract so he needs to have a good year.  That usually brings out the best in the majority of players and I have no reason to believe Maroney will be any different.

9. Bill Polian and the Colts need to stop complaining in the media about the rule changes. This subject indirectly effects the Patriots. The umpire starting this season is now behind the quarterback instead of being behind the linebackers on defense.

This change does effect how quickly you can hike the ball. A quarterback has to wait until the umpire is behind the running back. If he hikes the ball before the umpire is set, it is a penalty.

Bill Polian has already spoken out about this rule change – which he voted for. But let’s face it, the positioning of the umpire effects all the teams – not just Indianapolis.  Needless to say I am sick and tired of this general manager complaining in public about the rules.

If Polian has a problem with it, talk to the League. Why does the public have to know about every issue Polian has with the NFL? I am sick and tired of hearing about his complaints.

10. The last pre-season game is a complete waste of time. I don’t think you will see the starters playing much this Thursday against the Giants. I would be in favor of eliminating this game to give the teams one extra week to prepare for the opening game.  I think the coaches probably know at this point who is making the team.

Well, I certainly had a good amount on my mind and would love to hear your feedback.  I am sure I will have plenty to write about next week, so be sure to look for next week’s edition as well.

The Patriots Know What They Have In Laurence Maroney

There has been speculation recently in the newspapers, and on the talk shows regarding the future of Patriots running back Laurence Maroney. The Pats tailback has barely played in the pre-season, and didn’t even get a snap during New England’s pre-season loss to the Rams Thursday night. However, I think too much is being read into his lack of playing time thus far.

The Patriots know what they have in Laurence Maroney. I think he is the same back that came into the league when New England drafted him in 2006 out of Minnesota. He teases you with his potential of breaking a big run, yet he also frustrates you with not finding the holes to run through.

I think many fans, including myself, thought he would be more like the Vikings’ Adrian Petereson. There were high expectations given to Maroney, and I think many fans are just frustrated that his potential has not become a reality. He is a decent back that still averages 4.2 yards per carry for his career, which when you compare this statistic with other former Patriots running backs, you might be shocked at the reality. His career average per carry is actually right there with these running backs.

It may be a little early to give up on Patriots runningback Laurence Maroney. (PHOTO: Icon/SMI)

Antowain Smith was a good solid running back with the Patriots. He was an important part of the 2001 and 2003 Super Bowl championship teams, and his career average per carry was 3.9 yards.

One would believe that a guy like Curtis Martin, who is a potential Hall of Famer, must have a higher average than Laurence Maroney? Yet Martin’s career average per carry was just 4 yards.

Corey Dillon was also a great back during New England’s 2004 Super Bowl championship run, and had an incredible season that year with the Patriots. His career average per carry was 4.3 yards. 

When you think about it for all of his faults, Maroney is not a terrible running back. I think many fans and media members clearly believed he was going to be an elite back, and unless he proves he can finally be productive on a consistant basis he’s not likely to be considered as one of the better running backs in the game. Despite that he still has his moments, and the Patriots need production from him this season.

I believe in the eye test. When I watch him run he can irritate me as a fan. He tries too much to hit the home run instead of plowing forward for 4 yards. As frustrating as it may be he still gets his yards, and I think he runs hard. I also don’t think he is soft. I just think he is injury prone, and that upsets fans.

In regards to the Patriots, I think they know what they have in Maroney, and they might want to take a look at their other running backs. Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor were both injured a great deal last season. Before they make a decision coach Belichick might want to see what they have left, and despite his performance against New Orleans two weeks ago BenJarvus Green-Ellis is still an unknown quantity. He still needs more carries against first string players in order to prove he belongs.

It’s also worth noting that the Patriots have been cautious with players in the past regarding injuries in the pre-season. Since Maroney has been injury prone, it’s possible the Pats could be saving him like they have done with other players. Randy Moss in his first year with the Pats did not play a down in the pre-season. Deion Branch also had a year where he sat out until the regular season. Tom Brady in 2008 was coming back from an injury, and the Patriots were cautious with him as well.

In the end only head coach Bill Belichick knows why Maroney hasn’t seen the field very much through these first three games. The good news for the running back was that Belichick gave him an endorsement on Friday where he said that Maroney “absolutely” can contribute this season. I believe that, and I would be shocked if he did not make the team.

So for now I think before we decide to completely give up on him, I think we may want to wait and see if he finally gets the chance to prove us wrong.  Also keep in mind that Maroney is in the final year of his contract, and those players do have a tendency to perform well when they’re playing for a new deal, so hopefully with plenty to prove this will finally be the year he becomes a productive player in New England’s offense.

What We Learned From Watching The Patriots Pre- Season Game Against The Rams

After watching the Patriots face off Thursday Night againt the St. Louis Rams at Gillette Stadium, I felt very disappointed by the team. On both offense and defense I thought the Patriots were embarrassing at times, and while the Patriots lost 36 – 35, don’t let the score fool you. It wasn’t that close.

The third pre-season game is usually the dress rehearsal for the opening game. Good teams usually beat up on bad teams, and it should have been a great opportunity to exploit a team that won just one game all last season. The worst part was that the Rams were even starting a rookie quarterback, with Sam Bradford starting in place of the injured A.J. Feeley.  This should have given them an opportunity to frustrate the rookie QB and potentially have a big night, and hopefully build on what they did the last couple of weeks.

Instead the opposite happened, and the Patriots defense made him look like Peyton Manning. To make matters worse the Rams kept the ball out of the hands of New England’s offense in the first half, and when they did have it they could barely move the chains and sustain a drive. 

When each team’s starters played against each other, the Rams won that battle and dominated the Pats in yardage, and time of possession. I didn’t recognize the Patriots team I saw Thursday night, and they certainly didn’t look like the one we watched in the previous two contests.

The Rams had no problem with the Patriots’ first defense, and were able to run the ball and pass with ease. They also allowed Bradford to finish the first half 15-of-22 for 189 yards and gave up two touchdowns passes.

On offense, the Patriots really had a tough time moving the ball against the Rams’ first team defense.  They gained just 14 yards during their first two possessions, and they really didn’t get things going until the second half.

One bright spot on the night was on special teams with wide receiver Brandon Tate, who ran the opening kick back for a touchdown. Following that play I was feeling pretty positive, and looking forward to what I thought would be a pretty good night.

Unfortunately it didn’t take long for that feeling to change. It was only a pre-season game and I understand that, but I was really hoping to see what I had witnessed in the first two games. Instead the Pats took a step back, and hopefully they can learn from their mistakes.

Just like I did last week, after each game I’ve gone back and looked at my “reasons to watch” article to see if they shed any light on the game.  As a result, below is an analysis of my ” five reasons to watch the Patriots pre-season game against the Rams”.   

1. Will the offensive line continue to protect Tom Brady? In the first half I thought the offensive line struggled somewhat to protect Tom Brady. He was under decent pressure in the first half. It wasn’t terrible, but the line was definitely better in the first two games. Also, there was not much room for the running backs to make yards. 

2. Who will emerge as the third receiver for the Pats? Brandon Tate I thought played very well. He only caught two balls, but got himself open. I definitely am encouraged by this young receiver. Julian Edelman did not play in this game.

At this point both receivers could still be the third option. I am actually not worried about this position anymore. Between Edelman and Tate I think one of them will emerge during the season. 

3. Will the young secondary continue to show signs that they will be able to cover and hit?  The young secondary took a step back in this game. The Rams receivers were open often. Devin McCourty I thought had a tough game.

They could not stop the Rams tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. He caught two touchdown passes and had four receptions.

I am hoping the young defensive backs will learn from this experience. This unit is green and going to make mistakes. I am still hopeful that this unit will be a positive for the Patriots this season. 

4. Will the Pats defense be able to put pressure on the quarterback? The Patriots defense failed miserably in getting a pass rush on Sam Bradford. He had all the time in the world to throw the ball. His passer rating was 125.

Tully Banta – Cain I thought was a bright spot at times getting pressure on the quarterback. The problem was he did not have much support from any other member of the front seven. Derrick Burgess to me has been invisible in two games. The Patriots are going to need more out of him this season.  

I am hoping that a lack of pass rush does not kill the Patriots this season. This could be a concern again throughout the year.  

 5. Can punter Zoltan Mesko dramatically change field position with his punts? Zoltan Mesko did not have a very good game punting. His average was 37.2 yards in 5 punts. That is not good at all. The Pats will need him to be much better during the regular season. He still has a chance to be a weapon.

This analysis might be harsh, but I think the Patriots deserve it. They played so well in the first two games. It was just disappointing to see them take a step backwards in the third game.

I hope this game is forgotten in two weeks, and we will see the team that played in the first two pre-season games. I still see this team winning the division. Let’s just hope the pre-season game against the Rams was just a good learning experience, and the Patriots will move forward once again.

Five Reasons To Watch The Patriots Pre-Season Game Against The Rams

This Thursday night, the New England Patriots will be playing the St Louis Rams at Gillette Stadium. The third pre-season game is really the dress rehearsal for the opening game of the season. The starters tend to play at least a half. 

I have been really encouraged by what I have witnessed from the first two pre-season games. Many young players on offense and defense have really shown me improvement. The veterans have also looked sharp and possibly ready to start the season.  I want to see in the dress rehearsal, just a continuation of progress being made at many key positions. 

If the Pats play well Thursday night, it could really help build momentum to the opening game against the Bengals. I am planning on focusing on areas I think are concerns for the club going into the season. Here are my “Five Reasons To Watch The Patriots Pre-Season Game Against The Rams.”    

 1. Will the offensive line continue to protect Tom Brady? The offensive line is a major concern for me going into the season. Dan Connolly filling in for Logan Mankins has played very well. So far overall the line has done their job protecting the quarterback. Brady has had time to throw, and has faced little pressure in two games.

The Patriots are going to be facing some real good defenses this season. For the Pats season to be successful they are going to need to keep Tom Brady healthy. I will be watching in this game to see if there are any protection breakdowns for the line. I also want to see if Brady has plenty of time to throw the ball. So far this line has been excellent. Let’s see if they can continue to progress.   

2. Who will emerge as the third receiver for the Pats?  The Joey Galloway experiment crashed and burned last season. It probably hurt the team more than you think. I want to see who is going to emerge as the third receiver. With Torry Holt now out for the season it is up to the young receivers to make a difference.

Julian Edelman has shined so far in the pre-season. He could be the logical choice. However, he has not been at practice for a couple of days. I do not know if he is going to play. 

Brandon Tate has flashed a few times in the pre-season games. He has an opportunity on Thursday to really make a statement. Taylor Price probably is a long-shot at this point. But, I want to see him play and get some experience. The wide receiver battle should be interesting to watch. 

3. Will the young secondary continue to show signs that they will be able to cover and hit? I think the most pleasant surprise of the pre-season has to be the play of the young defensive backs. 

Patrick Chung has really impressed me as a real hitter at safety. I will be watching him again to see if he is in on many tackles. He has a chance to be a force in both the passing and running game.

Devin McCourty has shown the ability to cover. If he could emerge as a real cover cornerback that could really be a boost to the defense.   

Darius Butler has not looked sharp. I am hoping to see him play better on Thursday. He has all the tools to be a good cornerback.

Overall, this unit has shown the ability to hit and tackle. They also seem to be right on the receivers when they are making catches. I am hoping we continue to see progress from this unit. 

Linebacker Tully Banta-Cain will be looking for a strong performance Thursday night against St. Louis.

4. Will the Pats defense be able to put pressure on the quarterback? The Pats defense so far this pre-season has not shown me evidence that they can rush the passer. This position could ultimately be the Achilles heel this season for the team.

I will be watching the front seven to see if they can get to the quaterback. Derrick Burgess and Tully Banta – Cain could be very important players this season. If they can get some pressure on the quarterback, it certainly will help the defensive backs cover the receivers.  I will be watching this very carefully as it is an area of concern.

5. Can punter Zoltan Mesko dramatically change field position with his punts? I don’t think it has been discussed much, but the punting  has been pretty bad for several seasons. I thought Chris Hanson was awful last season.  

A punter can really change field position in a game. Zoltan Mesko so far has looked decent. I want to see if he can consistently punt the ball 44 – 45 yards. If Mesko can have punts of that distance, he can actually be a weapon for the Pats. I will be watching him to see if he continues to make progress.

After this game we should have a good idea if the team is ready for the opening game. The first two games have shown many reasons to be encouraged. I am hoping to have that same feeling after the Patriots pre-season game against the Rams.

Ten Things I Think About The New England Patriots

Each week I like to mention different subjects that are on my mind regarding the Pats. Last week gave me much to think about. The Pats beat the Falcons last Thursday night 28 – 10 at the Georgia Dome. The result of this game is definitely not the only thing on my mind. There are other issues regarding the team that made me think this week. Below are my “Ten Things I Think About The New England Patriots”.  

1. Logan Mankins might have played his last down for the Patriots.  Logan Mankins has been holding out of training camp and reports lately suggest that he could be sitting out for awhile. Why do I see this situation as very similar to what happened to Deion Branch? Mankins has dug his heels in, and there have been no reports of him coming back.

I have a bad feeling that this relationship could end badly. The Patriots could be forced again like they were with Branch to trade Mankins. I really hope this doesn’t happen, because he is an excellent guard.

However, if this relationship cannot be fixed, than a trade might be the only solution. I will be watching the Mankins situation closely.

2. I Feel that Dante Scarnecchia deserves even more praise for the job he does with the offensive line.  Dante has been with the Patriots as as a coach since the Ron Meyer years. I think that is incredible, and shows his value to the organization. He has been able to over the years to get players like Joe Andruzzi, Russ Hochstein, and Stephen Neal to be valuable contributors.

This season he is currently working without Logan Mankins and Nick Kaczur. He is still able to put out a unit that protects Tom Brady well. Dan Connolly has already shown promise in the pre-season. Dante deserves some serious credit.

3. I feel it is not too early to praise the job Nick Caserio and his staff have done in the last two drafts. I know it is early, but Caserio might have already brought in several pieces of the Patriots puzzle of the future.

Last year’s draft included Patrick Chung, Darius Butler, Julian Edelman, Sebastian Vollmer, and Brandon Tate. All of these players have a good chance to contribute this season and into the future.

This season’s draft has included Brandon Spikes, Devin McCourty, Rob Grankowski, and Aaron Hernandez who are already showing promise.  I don’t think it is too early to see the job that Caserio has done so far. The future looks bright with him as a major part of player personnel decisions.

4. Zoltan Mesko could end up being a weapon in changing field position.  Mesko came to the Patriots from playing in college at Michigan. His career punting average at Michigan was 42.5. That is a good average for a punter. I have already noticed in pre-season, punts that have gone farther than his career average.

If he can boom many punts this season, he could really change field position for the Pats. He has the potential to be a valuable member of the 2010 Patriots.

5. I feel that the Patriots will still be a passing offense. So far in the pre-season, the Pats have been pretty balanced on offense. I think it is important to run the ball. However, when you have Tom Brady as your quarterback, you are going to be a pass first offense. I just don’t see the Pats being completely balanced this season.   

6. I feel that Fred Taylor is the best running back on the team.  He might be 34 years old, but Fred Taylor looks like he still has a good amount left in his legs. When he is healthy I think he is the best back the Pats have. He runs hard and always gets every yard he can. The question is can he stay healthy the entire season?

7. Aaron Hernandez has a chance to be the Patriots version of Dallas Clark.  I wrote about Hernandez over the weekend. He really has the potential to be that receiving tight end that the Patriots have really needed since Ben Coates. He catches everything thrown to him and gets open. Watch out for Hernandez this season. 

8. The lack of a pass rush is still a concern this season. The one negative that still seems to stick out is that lack of pressure on the quarterback by the Patriots defense. This issue once again could be the Achilles heel of the Patriots. I will be watching the front seven very carefully in the future. I am hoping to see improvement. So far I have not seen any evidence to prove to me that that the rush has gotten better.

9.  I feel the game Thursday night against the Rams is very important. The Pats have shown me so many signs to be encouraged by the upcoming season. The third pre-season game is a dress rehearsal for the first game. The starters might play up to three quarters of the game.

The Pats need to continue to build on what they have already established so far in the pre-season. If they have another strong performance, they could prove to themselves, the media, and the fans that they are still a force to be reckoned with this season.

10. I feel that the media is completely blowing the Tom Brady comments way out of proportion.  I heard his interview on Dennis and Callahan when he said he hates the Jets and won’t watch Hard Knocks. What is the big deal with that statement?

These comments have become a national story, and it is all over ESPN. I want my quarterback to hate the competition. I don’t get why this is even a story. ESPN is continuing to make me change the channel.

Well, I certainly had a good amount on my mind. I am sure I will have plenty to write about next week.

Aaron Hernandez Could Become The Patriots Version Of Dallas Clark At Tight End

I have been waiting for many years to see the Patriots have a tight end that could be a real threat in the passing game. Many tight ends have come and gone in the Belichick era with average results. The Pats might finally have found their man in a fourth round draft pick from the University of Florida.  Aaron Hernandez could become the Patriots version of Dallas Clark at tight end.  

Dallas Clark is basically a receiving tight end. He is almost imposssible to cover in the passing game from the slot. He is more of a wide receiver than tight end. But, his effect in the Colts passing game is tremendous. 

I have been hoping to see a tight end in the Belichick era that could have Clark’s type of impact in the passing game. Daniel Graham had the potential, but was just an average tight end in the passing game. Dave Thomas I actually thought had the game, but his full ability never came out with the Pats. Ben Watson had all the speed and physical ability to be a real threat in the passing game. Unfortunately, he did not have the hands that are needed to be an elite pass catching tight end.   

Now, why do I think Aaron Hernandez could finally be the tight end I have been hoping to see with the New England Patriots? I am not basing this off of 2 pre-season games. I have come to this conclusion looking at his entire career, and watching him actually play at the University of Florida. Hernandez has shown to have incredible hands, and seems to catch everything that is thrown to him. He also has the ability to separate himself from a defense and get open. I think he also has the body type to withstand the rigors of the NFL as a tight end.  

Now, to back up my thoughts on this theory are the statistics from both Dallas Clark and Aaron Hernandez. Shockingly, if you look at both player’s numbers you should see why I feel so strongly about Hernandez.

Dallas Clark is 6’3″ tall and weighs 252 pounds. He is 31 years old and plays tight end for the Colts. Last season Clark had an unbelievable season. He had 100 receptions for 1106 yards and 10 touchdowns. He averaged 11.1 yards per reception. That is great production from your tight end.

His career statistics in 7 years are very impressive. He has averaged 50.8 receptions and 5.85 touchdowns a season. His career average for receptions is 11.8 yards per catch.  

Dallas Clark I believe is the biggest weapon Peyton Manning has in his arsenal. He is always open and seems to consistently make the key catch to extend drives. He is the one Colt receiver I fear the most.

Now, lets look at the statistics of the Patriots fourth round draft pick from University of Florida. Aaron Hernandez is 6’2″ tall and weighs 245 p0unds. Last season at Florida  he had 68 receptions for 850 yards and 5 touchdowns. He averaged 12.5 yards per reception. He also had these numbers in 14 games.

In his three year career at Florida, Hernandez averaged 37 receptions and 4 touchdowns per season. His career average for receptions was 12.45 yards per catch. For a college career these statistics are really good.

Now, I realize that comparing college numbers to NFL numbers is not a true apples to apples comparison. However, the numbers show the potential of what can be projected in the future for Hernandez. He will also be playing in an offense led by one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. His upside is huge.

Hernandez I do think has the potential to be the weapon for Tom Brady that Dallas Clark is for Peyton Manning. The heights and the weights of the players are similar. Their production in their careers are fairly close.

The Patriots have not had a real weapon at tight end since Ben Coates. Based on what my eyes have shown me, and his statistics, Hernandez just might finally be the tight end I have been waiting for with the Patriots. I don’t think I am crazy to go out on a limb and say that Aaron Hernandez could become the Patriots version of Dallas Clark.

What We Learned From Watching The Patriots Pre-Season Game Against The Falcons

My last article article I listed my “Five Reasons To Watch The Patriots Pre-Season Game Against The Falcons”.  The next day I like to go back an look at those reasons and find out what we learned about watching the game.

Before I do that I want mention that again this was pretty positive effort by the New England Patriots. The final score was 28 -10 with the Patriots winning at the Georgia Dome. The score of the game is irrelevant. How did the Patriots perform in the different phases of the game?

On offense it was a pretty positive performance. Tom Brady looked sharp throwing for 85 yards, and he was 10 for 12 in completions to attempts.  He also threw a touchdown.

The big story of the offense was the return of Wes Welker. It looked like he did not miss a beat. He had 2 receptions for 20 yards. Another standout was the play of tight end Aaron Hernandez who looked like he has been playing in the Patriots offense for a long time. He could be the Patriots version of Dallas Clark. The running game was very solid as the Patriots really were balanced in this game. There was much to be encouraged with watching the offense.

On defense, the Pats weren’t as dominant as they were last week against the Saints. However, they did a decent job against the run. Against the pass, the Pats definitely had problems with the Falcons tight ends. They also weren’t able to put a tremendous amount of pressure on the quarterbacks. But, they were able to get off the field and on a few occasions held the Falcons to field goal attempts. It was a decent performance, but I am hoping we see better out of this unit in the pivotal third pre-season game.

On special teams, this unit did a nice job. Steven Gostkowski was solid in kickoffs. Three out five of his kickoffs were touchbacks. Zoltan Mesko did a nice job in punting. In four punts he had a net average of 44.4 yards which is very good. Overall this unit did their job in Atlanta.

There were many positives to take from this game. I can see progress being made in all three phases. I am still encouraged by what I am seeing out of this team so far in the pre-season. 

While watching the game I was really focused on the players and positions I had mentioned in my prior post. As I do always I go back and see what I have learned in these areas by watching the game.  Below is my analysis of my “Five Reasons To Watch the Patriots Pre- Season Game Against the Falcons.”             

1. How will Ron Brace play Thursday Night? Ron Brace I think can be an asset to the Patriots this season if he can take his game to the next level.  Brace did a decent job with the second unit. He ended up with three tackles and was involved in forcing a fumble. For someone that just got back on the field his performance was good. Let’s hope he continues to make progress next week.  

2. Who will be playing at running back in this game? First of all, this unit did a real nice job last night overall. I was hoping to see more of Benjarvis Green-Ellis and Laurence Maroney. Green-Ellis had a nice game. However, I did not see Maroney at all. This is not a good sign for him.

The big surprise for me was the play of Fred Taylor. He was tremendous. He ran for 54 yards on 11 carries. He also had a  touchdown on a 28 yard run. If he can only stay healthy he is hands down the Patriots best back. Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk were also very effective. This unit could be a major key to the success of the Patriots this season. In the game this unit was fantastic.   

3. Can the Defensive Line stop the Atlanta Falcons Thursday Night? The defensive line for the Patriots I thought did a decent job. Michael Turner ran for 32 yard on 8 carries. That is an average of four yards a carry. This unit could be a little better against the run, but I didn’t see any huge holes for Turner to run through. 

 Gerard Warren and Mike Wright will be huge areas of focus on the line this year. Again, they were decent, but there is room for improvement. I will be looking for more out of this unit in the third pre-season game.

4. How will Derrick Burgess play at outside linebacker? I am going to cut him a little slack. It was his first game back while just coming back to practice for less than a week. However, he didn’t make any tackles and I didn’t really see him as being that active in the game. I am hoping to see more out of him in the third pre-season game.  

5. I want to see how Matt Ryan has progressed as a quarterback. Matt Ryan really has a chance to be an elite quarterback this season. With that said, I have to say I saw a good amount of what I saw against the Patriots last season. He moved the Falcons down the field. However, he could not get them into the red zone. His drives always stalled. His numbers do look good. He was 8 for 13 for 76 yards.

   However, in this case statistics don’t tell you everything you need to know. Ryan needs to be able to convert better on third downs, and take his team all the way down the field for a touchdown. Until he does this consistently he will not be an elite quarterback. In this pre-season game he was a good quarterback. I am hoping someday he will take his game to the next level, and become a great quarterback.

In concluding, the Pats had another encouraging performance. Next Thursday they will be playing the crucial third pre-season game at Gillette Stadium against the St. Louis Rams. If the Pats can continue to build on these pre-season results, they could be ready to go for the first game against the Bengals.

Five Reasons To Watch The Patriots Pre- Season Game Against The Falcons

The New England Patriots had an encouraging first effort in their pre-season game against the Saints. Thursday night at 8 PM EST, the Patriots will play the Falcons in the Georgia Dome in their second pre-season game. This game should be interesting to watch. As I stated last week, since there are so many young and new players I am certainly intrigued to see if the team is continuing to show improvement.

There are several areas where you can focus on in this game. Who will be the starter at running back? Derrick Burgess was just added to the active list. How will he play in his first action with the team at outside linebacker? I expect to see Ron Brace play tomorrow. Will we see the potential he showed while at Boston College?  

There are many positions and players to focus on Thursday night. I am going to give you what I am going to be watching in the Patriots game.  Here are my “Five Reasons To Watch The Patriots Pre- Season Game Against The Falcons.”  

1. How will Ron Brace play Thursday Night? Ron Brace has an opportunity to shine. With Ty Warren out for the season, Brace could become an important part of the 2010 New England Patriots. I have seen his potential at Boston College on the defensive line. Last year he was a disappointment. He couldn’t even get on the field that much. Hopefully last year was just a learning experience for Mr. Brace. I have seen him stop the run at Boston College. I have a feeling he can do that in the NFL. I know it is an adjustment coming from the 4 -3 and playing a 3 – 4. He has had a year to learn the defense. It is his time to step up and make a difference.

They don’t need him to be Ty Warren. I think they just need him to take up space and stop the running backs. If he can do that the Patriots defensive line will survive this season. I want to see Thursday Night if that potential I have seen is still there. 

2. Who will be playing at running back in this game? Benjarvis Green-Ellis started the first pre-season game. Laurence Maroney played later in the game and was decent. I am hoping to see more of Maroney this week. I haven’t given up on him yet. This is basically his last chance with the Patriots. In a contract year this would be the best time for the light to go on his head.

I don’t need to see Fred Taylor, Kevin Faulk, or Sammy Morris. I know what they bring to the table. I still want to see a little more of Benjarvis Green-Ellis. The Pats need him to just be a solid back. I just want to see him get his carries and continue to show he belongs.

3. Can the Defensive Line stop the Atlanta Falcons Thursday Night? Michael Turner is a tremendous running back for the Atlanta Falcons. I want to see if the defensive line can shut down the running game like it did against the Saints. Gerard Warren, Mike Wright and Vince Wilfork did a nice job. The Pats need this unit to be solid. Mike Wright is not a superstar but has done his job well. We know what we have with Vince Wilfork. The big question on the line is Gerard Warren. I was very impressed with his play against the Saints. If he can continue to play at a high level, this unit will not be a weakness this season. I will be watching the line Thursday Night.

4. How will Derrick Burgess play at outside linebacker? Derrick Burgess has been activated after coming into training camp on Friday. The outside linebacker position is a concern going into the regular season. Burgess was highly criticized last season by the media. 

I want to watch more closely to see how he plays. I don’t think the outside linebacker position is all about rushing the passer. I want to see how he is against the run, dropping into coverage, and getting after the passer. Belichick has praised this player for his play last season. I want to really focus on him as a complete player rather than just a pass rusher.      

5. I want to see how Matt Ryan has progressed as a quarterback. I know this reason to watch is not about the Pats but I am curious about the former Boston College quarterback.  I watched him a great deal at Boston College. I want to see if he is ready to take the next step to becoming an elite quarterback.

In his first season with the Falcons he was great. He did have a sophomore slump last season. I believe this is the season for him to take it to the next level or just be a good NFL quarterback. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady both really established themselves as elite quarterbacks during their third season.     

In Thursday Night’s game I want to watch Ryan to see what kind of leader he is now, and how much he has improved. I believe he has the ability to be an elite quarterback. The question is will he step up his game this season? The Patriots game should give me a small indication of what direction he is headed. 

I am sure there are other reasons to watch this game. I will be focusing on the five I have mentioned. My point is that there is plenty to watch this pre-season. If you are Pats fan you really should be checking this game out.

Five Thoughts Of The Week Regarding The New England Patriots

Each week I plan on discussing thoughts that have been on my mind. It was an interesting week for the team. The Pats had their first pre-season game of the season. They also had Ty Warren and Torry Holt go on injured reserve. The Pats also saw the return of Derrick Burgess to the active roster. There certainly was plenty to think about. Below are my “ Five Thoughts Of The Week Regarding the New England Patriots”.

1. Will Ron Brace be able to step up his game and make an impact? With Ty Warren going on injured reserve, his loss would be softened by Ron Brace being able to raise his game and play. Brace finally got on the field this week in practice. As a second year player he has a chance now to play regulary if he takes advantage of this opportunity.

I watched him play at Boston College and I am still convinced he can play in the NFL. Vince Wilfork had a tough first year with the Patriots. It is a big adjustment switching from a 4 -3 up the field defense, to a 3 -4 read and react defense. If Brace can have that moment when the “light turns on” and he understands his job, the Patriots can survive the Warren injury. This is an important player to watch right now.     

2. How important is getting back Derrick Burgess to the active roster? Last season he was criticized heavily from the media with his lack of production. The big question is why did Bill Belichick praise the job that Burgess did last season at outside linebacker? Could there be more to the position than just sacking the quarterback? I think Coach Belichick knows more about linebacker play than the media or myself. I tend to go with the football expert and that is Bill Belichick.

The Patriots wanted Burgess back and let him take his time to work out his personal isuues. His impact on the team this season might be larger than most imagine. I have a feeling that Derrick Burgess could be an important player for the 2010 New England Patriots.  

3. Patrick Chung might be on the verge of becoming an impact player at safety.  It was only one pre-season game, but Chung was constantly around the ball and seemed to always be in the right place to make the tackle.

last year his play might have been mechanical at times. He could be comfortable enough in his second season to play with his instincts. He is far from being the second coming of Rodney Harrison, but he could be taking giant steps to becoming a quality safety.

4. The wide receiver corps should be fine without Torry Holt.  The Patriots have three players that can potentially fill the void of the third receiver. Julian Edelman I think has the chance to be a special player. He certainly flashed a great deal in the pre-season game.

Brandon Tate I have been following since he played in college at North Carolina. The media has been mentioning often that he has had a good training camp. You also have draft pick Taylor Price to choose from. Going into training camp I kept hearing concerns regarding the receivers. There is a possibility that those concerns will go away if someone steps up to take that third wide receiver position. I’ll put my money on Edelman.

5. The middle linebackers could become the focus of the Patriots defense for years to come. Just two seasons ago the strength of the defense was the defensive line. For several seasons you could point to Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, and Ty Warren as the best part of the defense. With Ty Warren on injured reserve and Richard Seymour gone before last season, this unit is definitely not the dominant force it used to be.

However, I think the new strength of the defense could become the middle linebackers.  Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes have a chance to be a dynamic duo and make a  huge impact this season.

Middle linebackers in the past have been a huge part of the Pats defense. Roman Phifer, Ted Johnson and Tedy Bruschi were all major cogs of defenses that won Super Bowls. Mayo and Spikes have the potential to be the play-makers of the future.   

Well, those are my five thoughts of this week regarding the New England Patriots. I am sure I will have more thoughts to discuss next week.

LB Tully Banta-Cain Gets No Respect

What I have found interesting is the lack of respect that Tully Banta-Cain seems to have received. On several media outlets I keep hearing criticism of his play and that his statistics are misleading. I disagree with this line of thinking in regards to the Patriots outside linebacker.

Banta-Cain had a year last season that is similar to other outside linebackers that have played the position in the Belichick era. He had 10 sacks and 55 tackles in 16 games. The criticism he gets is that half of his sacks were against the Buffalo Bills. Well, he also had some sacks against teams with very good offensive lines.  He had two sacks in two games against the New York Jets and also had a sack against the Denver Broncos. 

Despite 10 Sacks last season Patriots Linebacker Tully Banta-Cain’s name isn’t being mentioned much so far through training camp (PHOTO CREDIT: Icon/SMI)

To diminish his accomplishments last season is unfair. He played in every game last season. He was a constant presence at outside linebacker for the Patriots in 2009. I don’t like to go just by statistics. I like to actually watch the game and let my eyes help me with my thoughts on a player. What I saw from Banta-Cain last season was a player that was in the opponents backfield and making plays.

Now if you are someone that judges by statistics that is fine. I will give you statistics from former Patriot Outside linebackers to give you a comparison.  

Willie McGinest was considered a very good outside linebacker in his time with the Patriots. Well, Willie’s best season for sacks was in 1995 when he had 11. In the Super Bowl years of 2003 and 2004, McGinest had very good seasons. In 2003, he had 5.5 sacks and 67 tackles. In 2004, he had 9.5 sacks and 51 tackles. Banta-Cain’s numbers are in line with these stats.

Roosevelt Colvin prior to coming to the Patriots was considered a force with the Chicago Bears. His production with the Bears got him a big contract with the Patriots as a free agent in 2003. His numbers must be much higher than Banta-Cain’s statistics? In 2001, Colvin had 10.5 sacks and 69 tackles. in 2002, he had 10.5 sacks and 64 tackles. Again, Banta-Cain’s’ numbers are similar.

How about Mike Vrabel who I think was a fantastic outside linebacker for the New England Patriots? In 2007, Vrabel had 12.5 sacks and 77 tackles. That was  a real good season. How was Vrabel in 2008 with the Patriots? He had 4 sacks with 62 tackles. How was Vrabel’s season last year with the Kansas City Chiefs? He must have had bigger numbers than Banta-Cain? Vrabel had 2 sacks with 52 tackles last season.

Banta-Cain’s season last year is in line with three very accomplished former Patriots outside linebackers statistics. On stats alone he deserves more respect. But like I mentioned, I am not just about statistics. I am about what my eyes tell me. They showed me last season that Banta-Cain did his job well for the New England Patriots.

As I was thinking about writing this post I saw a great article by Shalize Manza Young in Sunday’s Boston Globe. The article is entitled” Banta – Cain embraces role”.  In this story Shalize discusses how Banta-Cain gets overlooked considering he is just the third Patriots player since Andre Tippett to have 10 sacks in a season.    

Manza Young’s story really focuses on Banta-Cain’s leadership and what he could bring to the Patriots this upcoming season.  She has a quote from Coach Belichick that I would like to share regarding Banta-Cain. Below are quotes from the Shalize Manza Young story from Bill Belichick.  

“Tully has really picked up where he left off last year,’’ said coach Bill Belichick. “He gained a lot of experience and he’s done a good job. He’s taken over a little bit of a leadership role as well, in terms of his experience, and I think he has a lot of confidence and that carries over to other guys.’’

So in concluding, as we go into the new season for the New England Patriots you might want to view differently Banta-Cain.  I think he is much better than most media pundits believe. My eyes and his statistics back up my argument.