July 19, 2004
What The Patriots Really Have In Dillon
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
It’s like taking a Lamborghini and adding Ferrari tailpipes.
It’s like adding Hershey’s hot fudge to a sundae from Friendly’s.
It’s like having Dom Perrignon with your caviar.
It’s like 2002, when you had the champions of the NFL in your backyard, and Mr. Kraft gave you a brand new palace to watch them play in.
This is what the Patriots have, albeit with some caveats attached, with the addition of Corey Dillon to their backfield. You have taken a two-time Super Bowl MVP with a 34-12 regular season record and a 6-0 postseason record, and you have given him an assault weapon which he didn’t need to win two Super Bowls with but now actually makes him better and more dangerous. Tom Brady, who has the market cornered on luxury automobiles, can now look forward to giving his fiancée Bridget a Cadillac for a wedding present because Dillon will likely help him win another one in the future.
Assuming Dillon doesn’t win one for himself.
As long as people love to compare Brady with Joe Montana, here’s another one for all of you to chew on. Montana won Super Bowl XVI with somebody named Earl Cooper as his lead back. In 1984 he was handed a new toy named Roger Craig, and you perhaps know the rest. Now, before you can strike back with “What about a toy named Jerry Rice?”, just sit back and think about what Craig brought to the 49ers offense, and envision Dillon doing perhaps the same thing in Foxborough. Maybe not 1,000 yards in both rushing and receiving separately, but he will surely keep opposing defensive coordinators up late at night wondering what in the Sam Hill to do.
If Brady was as dangerous as he has been without a solid running game behind him for the past three years, imagine what Brady will be like with one. Dillon brings to the table some of the more awesome rushing stats of the past ten years, surpassed in longevity only by Curtis Martin, Jerome Bettis and Emmitt Smith (among current NFL backs). He had an injury plagued 2003 campaign, and subsequently lost his job as starting back for the Cincinnati Bengals to Rudi Johnson. Other than that, he has rushed for over 1,000 yards in every season of his career, and is one of only eight backs in NFL history to rush for 200 or more yards in a game three or more times.
The one area where Dillon raises doubts is in his personal conduct. He left Cincinnati on bad terms, flinging parts of his uniform into the stands at Paul Brown Stadium in last year’s home finale and screaming “I’m outta here!” This was the capper on a Bengal career which was rife with discontent and complaining. The Patriot top brass did their homework on Dillon, and came away with the feeling that he was generally torqued off at the constant losing in Cincinnati, and would behave himself with a winner.
So, let’s all assume that Dillon will be a model citizen and do all that he is told to do (he is already winning points in the weight room and is saying nothing but all the right things thus far). What does having Dillon in the Patriot backfield really mean for the Super Bowl champs?
What it likely does not mean is an assault on Eric Dickerson’s yards gained in a season record. It could mean an assault on Martin’s Patriot record of 1,487 yards as a rookie in 1995. But Charlie Weis and Bill Belichick will look at that record and say something like “That and a quarter will get you a cup of coffee!” In other words, Dillon is not a Patriot for the sole purpose of re-writing the record book. And if Dillon should threaten or break Tony Collins’ single game record (212 yards against the Jets on 9/18/83), it likely will be less by design and more by either accident or catching the opponent on a bad day.
Simply stated, Dillon will go as far as Weis will let him. And as long as the Patriots win while doing this, Dillon will do very little complaining if his public statements following his trade to New England are to be believed. Weis will not likely permit Dillon to become the focus of the Patriot offense. What will likely happen is that Dillon will enhance Brady’s passing game, and open up more routes and patterns for the deep wide receiver corps to enjoy.
The Patriots have too many good wide receivers for them to be ignored or downplayed. In Deion Branch, David Givens and Bethel Johnson, the Patriots have a trio which should be solid and productive players long after Troy Brown retires. Brown himself is still very much part of this mix, and is still capable of the great clutch catches he is famous for.
The tight end situation is nothing if not totally intriguing. With the drafting of Ben Watson, the Patriots now have three legitimate tight end targets for Brady to throw to. Daniel Graham, whom many believed was labeled a bust once Watson was selected, worked out with the jugs gun as much and as hard as Givens did last year. The early returns had Graham as one of the stars of the June workouts.
What Dillon’s greatest asset to the Patriots will be is to enhance all of the aforementioned offensive stars for the Patriots, while not diminishing himself one iota. Weis will use Dillon to set up Brady’s passing attack, and Brady’s passing numbers, as well as his rating, should go way up in 2004. With defenses being forced to respect Dillon, Brady will see a lot less blitzing and a lot more open areas in the left and right flats, as well as intermediate routes downfield.
Except for the personal conduct issue, the only other caveat the Patriots have to deal with where Dillon is involved is the possibility that the offensive line will not produce like it did at the end of last year. Belichick took a bold gamble in ignoring the offensive line in the draft; while Vince Wilfork was much too good to pass up, it remains to be seen whether a third tight end with good value was a wise choice over a guard or a right tackle. If the Patriot offensive line finds itself to be in line with its recent history, that being more of a pass blocking line versus a run blocking line, it could make things frustrating for Dillon and difficult for Brady to play his game.
But if past history is really to be believed, the success of the offensive line should matter not. Dillon will still get his 1,000 yards anyway, and the Patriots will be just fine if presented with another chance at a Vince. The fact that Dillon is merely there is major reason for Patriot fans to be excited when they think about the offense for 2004. Even if he gains yardage below his expected norms, if by his just being there forces defenses to not overplay the pass, Dillon has more than done his job.
And when you add this kind of weapon to an already effective Brady passing game, how can’t Joe Patriot Fan be just rip roaring ready for the regular season to begin yesterday?
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