Archive for July, 2011

Could The Patriots Be Returning To The 4-3 Defense?

With several changes going down at Foxboro, the most significant one could be a different base defense. I have wanted for years for the Patriots to become a more attacking style of defense. The read and the react defense works, but there is more than one way to play defense effectively. Looking at some of the events that have transpired here recently, could the Patriots be returning to the 4-3 defense?

Now, I am sure some of you are reading this, and saying the Patriots under Belichick have always been a base 3-4 defense. That happens not to be true. In 2001 the Patriots played a very effective 4-3 that actually led them to a Super Bowl.

The line that year had Bobby Hamilton at one end, and Anthony Pleasant on the other side. The two defense tackles were Brandon Mitchell, and Richard Seymour. The linebackers consisted of Mike Vrabel, Tedy Brushi in the middle, and Roman Phifer. Statistically this defense certainly wasn’t the greatest, but they stepped it up in the playoffs, and the Super Bowl.

I started thinking when the Patriots traded for Albert Haynesworth that it didn’t make sense. Reportedly Haynesworth did not like playing in a 3-4, and wanted to be in an up the field 4-3 style of defense.

After being released, Ty Warren said that changes are coming to the Patriots defense. (FILE:Icon/SMI)

Next, the Patriots cut Ty Warren, and I didn’t understand that move at all. But, it started to sink in to me that there had to be something new going on with the Patriots defense.

Well, today Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston has an article with quotes from Ty Warren. I think they are very revealing.

Warren said, “I think it looks like they’re trying to get away from the 3-4. When I heard about the different defensive deals they’re going to be doing, I didn’t see me in that big picture of things, or at least not a huge role in that deal. Then there were the acquisitions they made Albert Haynesworth, which made it even more likely.”

If Warren is correct, and the Patriots are indeed changing to a 4-3, I would seriously be in favor of this move. With the NFL becoming more of  a passing league, this style of defense could be one of the solutions to the Patriots issues with getting to the quarterback.

I am also figuring that the Patriots are not done filling out their roster. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Patriots actively go after 4-3 defense tackles, and defensive ends.

One of the advantages of this style change is most defensive players played the 4-3 in college, and are familiar with the concepts. There are definitely more players for the Patriots to choose from.

If this defense is changing, then the NFL draft makes more sense to me as well. I was screaming for an outside linebacker early in the draft. The Patriots went a different way, and it left me puzzled.

The Patriots could be set at linebacker now if they go to a 4-3. I could see Jerrod Mayo in the middle with Gary Guyton, and Brandon Spikes on the outside.

Your line could consist of Vince Wilfork and Albert Haynesworth as the defensive tackles. Eric Moore and Jermaine Cunningham could be your defensive ends. However, I have a feeling there could be additions to the line.

Coverage and pressure on defense go hand in hand. Over the past couple of seasons, the pressure has not been there. A 4-3 change might help this defense get more aggressive, and disrupt the quarterback.

I hate to go back to the 2007 season and the Super Bowl, but the Giants 4-3 attacking defense got after Tom Brady, and dominated that game. Maybe after several years of not getting back to the biggest game, Belichick has had a change of philosophy? Could the coach be thinking, if I can’t beat them why not join them?

Only time will tell if the Patriots are really changing their defense. I am one person who would welcome it with open arms.

Low Risk And High Reward For Patriots With Albert Haynesworth

Thursday morning was very interesting when I heard of a potential move from the Patriots. Per Adam Schefter of ESPN, reportedly the Patriots traded a 5th round draft pick in 2013 to the Washington Redskins for defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth. He is a very talented player with a checkered past on and off the field. However, looking at this move, there is a low risk and potentially a high reward for the Patriots with Haynesworth.

Haynesworth’s base salary for this season would reportdly be only $5 million. As for the rest of his current deal, the Redskins have already paid the majority of the 30-year old’s contract.

Now, when Haynesworth was at his best was with the Tennessee Titans during the 2007 and 2008 seasons (he was with the Titans between 2002-2008). During that time he accumalated a total of 14.5 sacks and 91 tackles.

Haynesworth is pretty low risk when you consider his potential impact. (FILE:Icon/SMI)

He then received a huge $100 million dollar contract in 2009 from the Washington Redskins, $41 million of which was guaranteed.

Unfortunately for the Redskins he did not live up to his contract. In 2 seasons he only got 6.5 sacks and 53 tackles. Reportedly he also complained about the 3-4 defense that Mike Shanahan implimented last season which lead to quite a rift between the two.

Reportedly, he also has had several off the field incidents, and does have some police involvement. There is no question there is a little baggage coming with Haynesworth to New England.

However, the risk for the Patriots is very minimal. If Haynesworth acts up, and does not come to play, the Patriots can cut him before the season with very little damage. If he makes it to the regular season, the Patriots would be on the hook for his $5 million salary – which at that point would be gauranteed. If they cut him during the season, they would be out that money along with a 5th round draft pick. That is a small risk for Belichick to take for a player that at one time was thought to be the best defensive lineman in the game.

The rewards for the Patriots could be huge. The Patriots have definitely missed the presence of Richard Seymour on the defensive line.

Haynesworth has the ability to collapse the pocket, and really create pressure. With his presence on the line, his effect could be two ways. He could sack the quarterback himself, but just like Richard Seymour, force double teams that could open up pressure from the outside linebackers.

The upside for the Patriots could be considerable on a defense that has had its issues with pressuring the quarterback the last few seasons. Haynesworth could completely change the tone of the Patriots defense over night.

The question we do not have the answer for is, which Haynesworth will show up in New England? Will it be the attacking presence of his days with the Titans, or will it be the player that let the Redskins down the last 2 seasons?

So when you really look at this the risk compared to the reward, it is obvious to me that this deal is heavily in the favor of the Patriots. I think giving up a 5th round draft pick in 2 years, and paying him $5 million dollars, is not a huge sacrifice. Especially compared to the potential of his impact could have on the defense.

Sometimes deals just like this Haynesworth situation can take your team to a new level. I truly believe in this scenario, there is low risk and high reward for the New England Patriots.

First Session of Patriots Training Camp

I had the pleasure of going to the first session of Patriots training camp for the 2011 season. The most important thing I took out of being there today is simply football is back.

The players came out in shorts and jerseys. It seemed to be your basic walk-through, where you just get out there together, and run some of your plays. The practice started with simulated kick returns for special teams. Players such as Brandon Tate, Julian Edelman, and Taylor Price were involved in these kick-offs.

The practice then turned to the offense, and I got to see my first look of Tom Brady. He shared turns under center with Brian Hoyer and Jonathan Crompton. Again, this was just at a walking pace with Brady, and the other quarterbacks throwing the ball, or handing it off based on what play they were running.

This session wasn’t about seeing anything earth shattering. It was really about the experience of being there, rather than what you see. Today was all about the beginning of the 2011 season, and the Patriots are officially back.






Matt Roth Could Be the Right Fit For The Patriots

The biggest need I see going into training camp for the Patriots is outside linebacker. Tully Banta-Cain is expected to be released on Thursday, and the Patriots will be even thinner at this position. However, there is a free agent available that I believe makes most sense for the Pats to try to sign. Matt Roth could be the right fit for the Patriots.

Could Matt Roth be a good fit with the Patriots? (FILE:Icon/SMI)

A cliche that is often used lately, is that the Patriots need a “pass rusher”. This term could possibly be the most overrated phrase along with needing an elite receiver that I keep hearing regarding the team. The Patriots need a 3 down outside linebacker to compliment Jermaine Cunningham on the other side.

Rob Ninkovich has been a decent player, but really not a 3 down outside linebacker. Eric Moore could be brought in to rush the passer, but he is not projected to be in the defense on running downs.

Matt Roth fits the criteria that I think is needed at the position. First, let’s look at his size. He is 6 feet 4 inches tall, and weighs 275. This is a similar build that Bill Belichick likes in his outside linebackers.

Second, he is familiar with the type of system that the Patriots run. He played in Eric Mangini’s defense last season in Cleveland. This familiarity with the system could be very important, and especially this season with the lockout.

Third, he has been a productive player in his NFL career. He has 20 career sacks along with 271 tackles. Last season with the Browns, he had 3.5 sacks, and 86 tackles. If you watched Roth play last season, you would see him often putting pressure on the quarterback.

Fourth, Belichick I am sure is very familiar with the player, and knows what he can do. He played for Kirk Ferentz at Iowa who is a disciple of Belichick. Also, he started his career at Miami, and at times made an impact against the Patriots. He also played against the Patriots last season with the Browns.

Is he a “play-maker” who is going to dominate a game? I think the answer to that question is no, but he would be an upgrade at the position, and another year in the 3-4 could see him take another jump in his production. Just remember that Mike Vrabel was not an impact player right away when he came from Pittsburgh.

The best word I have to describe Matt Roth would be “solid”. I know some fans might want someone with a bigger reputation, but the Patriots need a player that can be counted on to produce. Matt Roth has already proven that he can do just that.

The Patriots Offense Does Not Need To Add An Elite Wide Receiver

The lockout has finally ended, and we can start talking about what positional players the Patriots should add to their roster. Outside linebacker and offensive line help are where I feel the Patriots should be upgrading. However, I have noticed several fans, and Boston sports media members, mentioning that the Patriots need to add a deep threat on offense. I couldn’t disagree more with that sentiment regarding the wideout position. The Patriots offense does not need to add an elite wide receiver.

I don’t think it is fair to point to the last game of the season in which the Patriots lost, and say the Patriots need to add a deep threat. Were there struggles in the passing game? I would say absolutely, but if I remember correctly, the first 2 drives of the game were tremendous as the Patriots moved the ball effortlessly down the field. Unfortunately, an interception by Brady on one drive, and a drop by Alge Crumpler, really hampered the Patriots chances in that game.

Sometimes you have to give credit to the other team, and just say they outplayed the Patriots. Rex Ryan deployed a defense that took away the middle of the field for Tom Brady to find receivers. Unfortunately, the Patriots did not make the proper adjustments to counteract the Jets coverage.

Now, you could say a deep threat might have made a difference in this game, and you could be right. I understand why fans, and the media point to this position.

However, what I noticed over the course of last season was an offense that completely transformed itself into a “balanced attack”. Gone were the days where Randy Moss was the first option, and Wes Welker would be Brady’s second target on a play.

In its place we saw Tom Brady bring the offense back to 2003, when he would just find the open receiver. The offense was back to being about Brady’s mind, rather than looking for Randy Moss.

Also, Brady finally had two tight ends that could catch the ball, and get downfield. He could also swing the ball out to Danny Woodhead from the backfield. He also had Wes Welker and Deion Branch to count on at wide receiver.

This variety in the passing game was complimented by a nice running attack led by Benjarvus Green-Ellis. He gained over 1000 yards last season. For the first time since Corey Dillon was in the backfield, the Patriots had a solid running game that complimented the passing attack.

Both parts of the offense benefited from the change that was made after Randy Moss left. If you don’t believe me, maybe these statistics will back up my point. The Patriots were 8th in the NFL in the regular season in total offense with 363 yards per game.

In passing offense, the Patriots were 11th in the NFL averaging 240 yards per game. In rushing offense the Patriots were 8th averaging 113 yard per game.

This next statistic is probably the most important, and might surprise you about the 2010 Patriots offense. In scoring, the Patriots led the NFL averaging 32.4 points per game. Compare that with 2007, when the Patriots broke offensive records and averaged 36.8 points per game.

In scoring there really wasn’t a tremendous difference between the 2010 and 2007. Where the offenses differed was how they scored those points.

The Patriots managed to win three Super Bowls without Randy Moss, and they’ll likely win another one without him as well. (FILE:Icon/SMI)

When the Patriots won their 3 Super Bowl rings they did not have an elite receiver that could stretch the field. They did have receivers that could go long like David Patten, Troy Brown, and Deion Branch. The difference is that the deep ball was nowhere near the focus of the offense like it became in 2007 until Moss left.

The offense especially in 2003 and 2004 was centered around Brady, and his ability to move the ball with a balanced attack. The offense is back to being about Brady orchestrating the offense. There is no reason to go back to that 2007 team.

I am not saying that the Patriots should not have the ability to throw the ball long when they need to. I happen to think they already have the option already on the offense. Brandon Tate is still a young player, and has the speed to go long. I am expecting in his second full year with the Patriots to see improvement. He did average 18 yards per reception last season. He just needs to step up his game, and be more productive.

Tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski both have the ability to stretch the field differently. Hernandez and Gronkowski have shown that they can get down the middle of the field. This is a different type of a deep threat that Russ Francis made famous many years ago for the Patriots.

Most important though for me is that the focus of the offense will be balanced, and I think more difficult to defend. The deep threat should be a part of the offense. I just don’t think it should the main focus of this unit.

I had the pleasure of asking Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston a few questions about the offense, and the wide receiver position. I first asked him if the Patriots needed to bring in a deep threat at the wide receiver position. He feels that the team already has a good group, and that fans shouldn’t overlook some of the talent they already have.

“I lean more toward the line of thinking that they are better off working with what they have, assessing those players in camp, and then deciding,” said Reiss. “The reason I feel this way is that I wouldn’t close the book on what Brandon Tate (2009 third-round pick), Julian Edelman (2009 seventh-round pick) and Taylor Price (2010 third-round pick) can bring to the receiving corps. My feeling is that many are looking to the playoff loss to the Jets and pointing to that as the reason for the need of a big-play receiver. I look more toward the big picture and how the offense was extremely effective over most of the 16-game regular season.

I also asked him if the media, and some fans, were reading too much into the problems the Patriots offense had in the playoff loss to the Jets. He also wonders if the first part of that game had gone differently, whether or not we’d even be talking about it.

“I do wonder if Tom Brady isn’t intercepted on the screen pass to BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Alge Crumpler catches that touchdown pass — both in the first quarter — if this becomes such a big topic of discussion,” said Reiss.

I personally feel too much emphasis has been put on the Jets loss. The Patriots did not just play one game last year.

I think I showed some interesting statistics to back up what I watched last season from the Patriots offense. This unit was very difficult to defend each week, and just got it done differently than the 2007 Patriots.

The Patriots also drafted two rookie running backs that could improve the offense even more. You could see an even greater emphasis on the running game this season. Again, all of the additions, and changes since Randy Moss left could make the Patriots offense even more dangerous to defend.

With a balanced attack like the Patriots are building, opposing defenses will have a tough job stopping all of the options. The deep ball can be a part of the offense moving forward, but the focus will be on balance, and this could be tougher to deal with for the Patriots opponents.

I want to thank Mike Reiss for his assistance in this article.

The 2003 New England Patriots: The Best Patriots Team Ever

Looking back on Super Bowl XXXVIII, it may have been one of the most exciting games that New England played out of their three championship title games. (PHOTO:Icon/SMI)

When we look back at Patriots history, which “team” will be known as the best ever? Many sports media experts, and fans point to the 2004 Super Bowl Championship team. Well, I actually think there is a group that was better. I will give you my reasons why the 2003 New England Patriots were the best Patriots team ever.

During the lockout I have had time to look back, and really give some thought to which Patriots team was the best. The 2004 Patriots I believe had the superior talent of any other club. However, I am discussing which is the best group of players from a “team” standpoint.

Which team had to overcome the most adversity, play together as one, and find all kinds of ways to win? One stands out more than any, and it is the 2003 Patriots.

Michael Holley wrote a book after that season called “Patriot Reign”. It is a behind the scenes look at that team. This book really enforces to me why this team was cut above the rest. It is the best sports book I have ever read.

With that said, I am going to take you on a journey back to the past with this wonderful season. Their were so many twists and turns with this team. At some point every player on that club was counted on to do their job. Whether is was Matt Chatham filling in at linebacker when that unit had injuries, or Eugene Wilson stepping up to fill the shoes of Lawyer Milloy, this team had depth from 1 to 53.

I am going to start with the first event that set the tone for the beginning of the season, and lead to the club coming together. The New England Patriots released Lawyer Milloy the week leading up the season opener. Milloy was a great leader of the team, and their is no question that this personnel move shook the team to its core.

Ironically, Milloy signed with Bills to face the Patriots in the opener. The Patriots lost this game 31-0, and were fully embarrassed.

After the game, on NFL Countdown, ESPN analyst Tom Jackson famously commented about the Patriots players. He said, “Let me say this clearly: they hate their coach.”

In all honesty I think Jackson did the Patriots a huge favor. He gave them “an us against the world” mentality that they could use as fuel for the rest of the season.

Well, even after that game it took the Patriots a little while to get it together. They were 2-2 when they really started on the path towards a Superbowl championship.

I had the pleasure of going to the game against the Tennessee Titans. This was a part of the season that the Patriots were at a crossroads. Which direction would they go? This was a back and forth game, and the Patriots were really fighting for their lives. They sealed the game when Ty Law picked off Steve McNair, and ran it back 65 yards for a touchdown. The Patriots won 38-30.

The next pivotal game was two games later when they faced Miami on the road. At this time, the Dolphins were the measuring stick in the AFC East. Beating Miami on the road would definitely show the Patriots were for real.

The Dolphins had a chance to win this game with 2 minutes left. Richard Seymour blocked the field goal attempt, and the game ended up going into overtime. The Patriots again found a way to win. Tom Brady threw an 82 yard touchdown pass to Troy Brown to give the Patriots the 19-13 victory.

In the next pivotal game of the season, the Patriots again found a different way to get a victory. I was at the game against the Denver Broncos at Invesco Field on Monday Night Football. Late in the game the Patriots were trailing, and they were on their own 1 yard line. They decided to take a safety, and then punt the ball from their 20. This strategy worked as the Patriots held the Broncos, and got the ball back. Brady would now have his opportunity to either tie the game, and take it to overtime, or go for the win. Well, Brady went for the victory as he threw an 18 yard touchdown pass to give the Patriots the lead. Asante Samuel would intercept the Broncos in the final drive of the game to give the Patriots the 30-26 victory.

The Patriots would continue to find different ways to win games. Against the Cowboys, the Patriots only won 12-0 in a defensive battle. The very next week they would need an overtime winning field goal to beat the Texans. Every game was a challenge, and it all led up to this next game.

The Patriots would meet the Colts in a game in which both teams were 9-2. This game had playoff implications involved, and was an amazing game that had a little bit of everything. Late in the half, Manning cut the Patriots lead to 7 points. On the next kickoff, Bethel Johnson ran it all the way back for a touchdown to give the Patriots a 24-10 half time lead.

The Patriots increased their lead to 31-10 in the 3rd quarter. However, Manning brought his team back into this game. On the last drive of the game, Manning had the ball in his hands trailing 38-34. He brought them all the way down to the Patriots one yard line. On fourth down, Willie McGinest might have made one of the best tackles in his career as he stopped Edgerrin James from scoring on the one yard line. This was dramatic, and again another way the Patriots would win a game that season.

The Patriots would end the season 14-2. They would head into the playoffs at home to play the Tennessee Titans in one of the coldest games ever to be played in New England. This was a nip and tuck game that the Patriots never got a handle on. The Patriots would take the lead late in the fourth quarter with an Adam Vinatieri field goal. However, the Titans would have one final drive. On fourth down in Patriots territory, Drew Bennett dropped a pass that would have given them a first down. The game ended, and honestly the Patriots survived.

In the AFC Championship Game, the Patriots would again meet Peyton Manning and the Colts. Many experts were picking the Colts in this game. Manning was on a roll after he lost to the Patriots. He was destroying every opponent in his way, and looked unstoppable going into this game.

Well, Manning might have played the worst game in his career. He was picked off four times. Ty Law had three of them, with Manning looking completely lost in this game against the Patriots. Even with Manning playing poorly, the Patriots still needed to really gut this game out. Vinatieri kicked 5 field goals, and kicked his final one very late to put the game away. The Patriots beat the Colts 24-14 to earn the right to go to the Super Bowl.

Now, going into the Super Bowl, there were many experts who again picked against the Patriots, and believed the Carolina Panthers would beat them. This was another difficult challenge for the 2003 Patriots.

This was the greatest Super Bowl game I ever watched, as both teams swapped many points in the second half. It came down to who had the ball last. Luckily it was the Patriots, and Brady took them down the field similarly to how he did two years prior.

Brady threw a 17 yard pass to Deion Branch, who got tackled at the 24 yard line. Vinatieri would come out to kick another Super Bowl winning field goal. The Patriots dramatically won their second ring 32-29.

This was an incredible year with so many challenges that the team had to overcome each and every week. It seemed each game they would find a different way to win.

That season the Patriots also had many injuries that they would have to overcome. Key players would be out for extended periods of time, including Ted Washington and Roosevelt Colvin. The best part of this group is that there would be someone to pick up the slack. It was a complete team.

They were not the most talented Patriots team of all time. I would say the 1976 and the 2004 Patriots had more talent.

However, the 2003 team had much more to overcome to become Champions. They were bonded together following Milloy being cut, up to the point where Brady led them on their final drive.

The 2001 Patriots are special because they gave the organization their first title. Everyone will always remember that one.

The 2004 Patriots are special because they were the most talented, and they made the Patriots a dynasty. That team gave the Patriots 3 Super Bowl victories in 4 seasons.

However, when we look back at history, and someone asks me which team was the best, my answer will be the 2003 New England Patriots.