By: Russ Goldman
As we get ready for the 2011 New England Patriots season, looking a ahead it’s going to be an interesting week as we head into their first meeting against the Dolphins. This has obviously not been a typical pre-season because of the lockout, and with the season opener finally less than a week away, here are some thoughts for this week ranging from comments on the players cut, along with my prediction for this season:
1. I feel this was a successful pre-season considering the circumstances surrounding the lockout. The Patriots went 2-2 this pre-season, but as we know, that record means nothing. It’s all about getting prepared for the upcoming season.
On defense, I think we are in the process of seeing a change of a philosophy in the defense. The Patriots have come out mostly in a 4-3 alignment, and the majority of the time the defense has been attacking. This is a departure from the read and react 3-4 style of defense.
On offense, at times this pre-season, the offense has looked very sharp like they did against the Buccaneers. However, they looked horrible against the Lions. I think the offense will be fine, and we are just dealing with the players all getting on the same page, which I believe will come in time.
When you factor in the change of the defense, and the offense working itself back into shape, I feel the Patriots got as much as they could out of each of the exhibition games, and in my mind the pre-season was a success.
2. Brandon Meriweather being cut actually surprised me. Even with Meriweather playing in the second half of the 4th pre-season game, I really thought he would be on the 53 man roster. When James Sanders was cut, I really believed that Meriweather was safe.
What this all tells me is that obviously there were serious issues between the coaches and Meriweather. He has been signed by the Bears, and I wish him the best.
I hope as fans we can look back, and see that Meriweather was not a bust. He just wasn’t an impact player that you expect from a 1st round draft pick. He was an average player in his time in New England.
3. I feel that the coaches have confidence in Sergio Brown. Many fans and media members believe that the Patriots are going to bring a veteran safety. However, I feel they made this move with the thought that Brown would be their starting safety.
I just don’t think you cut two safeties that were starters in their career, unless you have faith in their replacement. Brown has flashed at times the last 2 years. Maybe his time is now?
Coach Belichick has started undrafted free agents before. You can look at Kyle Arrington, Joe Andruzzi, and Stepehen Neal as examples.
After an ineffective preseason, wide receiver Brandon Tate deserved to be cut. (FILE:Icon/SMI)
4. Brandon Tate deserved to be cut. Unfortunately, I have seen this too many times with young Patriots receivers. Many of them have the speed, but don’t seem to have the football skills to be a successful receiver in the Patriots offense. He joins receivers Tony Simmons, Bethel Johnson, and Chad Jackson as Patriots wide recievers that just couldn’t succeed in the offense.
Tate had a full season to show what he could offer last season. However, his play last season was very inconsistent. He only had 24 receptions for 432 yards. He didn’t show he could really separate from the defender, and at times did not show he had good hands catching the ball.
With the new rules on kick-offs, his value had seriously diminished. He was hurt at the beginning of training camp, and it took a few games before he got on the field. By that time, it was probably too late for Tate. Taylor Price and Julian Edelman obviously had better pre-seasons, and they deserved to make the team over Tate.
5. Will Yeatman I feel was a roster mistake. The Patriots cut tight ends Will Yeatman and Lee Smith. However, Yeatman had shown promise as a blocking tight end, and I was surprised he was cut.
I was hoping he would clear waivers, and be able to come back on the Patriots practice squad. Unfortunately, he was claimed by the Miami Dolphins. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Alge Crumpler show up in Foxboro. It is too bad because I really thought Yeatman could fit the “Crumpler” role on this team.
6. Bringing in right guard Brian Waters was a smart move for the Patriots. With Dan Connolly being injured in the pre-season it makes perfect sense to have a veteran of this player’s ability come in and stabilize the position.
Waters is 34 years old, but his experience could just be the calming presence the offensive line needs. Connolly could eventually be the starting right guard, but it is good to have Waters as well with the Patriots. This move was a complete no-brainer.
7. I believe the attacking 4-3 defense arrives against the Dolphins. The Patriots defense looked very vanilla in their last pre-season game against the Giants, but that was to be expected as Belichick probably did not want to show the Dolphins anything he plans on unleashing in the first game.
As we saw in the first 3 pre-season games, the Patriots defense I feel is going to look very different than the one we have seen the last several seasons. I predict it will be shooting gaps, and getting up the field to get after Chad Henne. This first game, I think you will see the defensive philosophy change be on full display.
8. Keeping 10 defensive lineman shows me Belichick plans on keeping this unit fresh to attack the quarterback. In Super Bowl XLII, the Giants had defensive lineman continually shifting through during the game. This allowed the Giants defense to keep constant pressure on Tom Brady with fresh bodies.
I wouldn’t be shocked if that game influenced Belichick to keep 10 defensive lineman this season. He now has the flexibility to really be aggressive on the line, and get after the quarterback.
9. New Miami offensive coordinator Brian Daboll could be a huge factor in this game. Daboll was a coach for the Patriots on both sides of the ball from 2000-2006. Even with the Patriots changing their defense, his experience with the Patriots is nothing to take lightly.
Plus, last season as the offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns, he devised an offensive game-plan that worked tremendously against the Patriots. The Patriots are very likely going to see a completely different offense from the Dolphins, compared to the games played last season with Daboll calling the shots this year. Just keep Daboll in mind as you watch this game.
10. I am predicting the Patriots will be 14-2 this season. I see the Patriots improvements on defense will be the difference this year.
The offense could start slow, but the Patriots still have Brady pulling the trigger, and I really don’t see much of a drop off from last season’s unit. In fact, this group has the potential to be better as I expect the tight ends and the new running backs to add more this season. Also, after an adjustment period, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Chad Ochocinco to get in rhythm by week six. I am expecting this unit to once again lead the league in scoring.
The defense I feel is going to shock the entire NFL. Could it have growing pains? I think that is a very good possibility, but the attacking style of defense coupled with the defensive line additions could pay huge dividends as the season goes along. I think you will also see Jerod Mayo become an attacking outside linebacker, that could have double digit sacks by himself. In this new 4-3 defense, Mayo could make a huge jump to elite status.
The Division will still be a battle as I am predicting the Jets to be 12-4. It won’t be easy, but in the end the Patriots I feel will be on top.
The Patriots season is only one week away, and I honestly can’t wait to see how they play in Miami.