September 08, 2007
Patriot Rolling Stone To Finally Gather Moss?
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
E. RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Maybe they really ought to get rid of preseason games.
Randy Moss, the most heralded arrival in Foxborough since this new stadium they built five years ago, has yet to play a down for the Patriots. He did what LaDainian Tomlinson did in San Diego, that is to sit out the entire preseason. But whereas LT was merely all healthy scratches based upon the supposition that he didn't really need to play and risk injury, Moss was nursing a sore hamstring and was never fully healthy to play.
Now, things are finally for real, and whaddayaknow. Moss is off all injury reports and is likely to play in Sunday's season opener against the Jets down in the Joisey swamps.
So, if you see Moss out there torching the Jet secondary and making like 1998 all over again, then you might agree with those who think the preseason is a big waste of time.
Moss still represents a whole chunk of "I don't knows" right now. What Patriot Nation does know is that the team on offense is markedly different from the one which fell four points and an interception short of a trip to the Super Bowl last year. The true preseason benchmark of the team, the third game, showed everyone that the Patriots are ready to go and in good shape to show off their new offense. They will get a tough test against former defensive coordinator Eric Mangini and his Jet defense, but the Patriots won't be fazed by the same team they dismissed in the playoffs at home last year.
Not having seen Moss in the preseason makes it hard to speculate on how things will go on Sunday. Bill Belichick and Moss are putting their best nonspeak spin on the whole situation, with Moss playing the bit part to perfection. Peppered by media types during the week, Moss gave nothing but good company man stock answers and told us basically nothing outside of "I feel good, I hope I play!" or words similar.
Okay, so let's assume that Moss plays and that he is between 90 and 100 percent. Then what?
With left cornerback Andre Dyson listed as questionable for Sunday's game, and with slim pickings beyond the starting four in the Jet secondary, Moss and Donte Stallworth could have some fun Sunday running free and loose. What will need to happen is Tom Brady getting enough time to throw, and for the Jet secondary to not be in a position to do much, if any, double-teaming. If Brady has the time to throw, he should enjoy a great day since this is not a top-flight secondary and will succeed only thanks to Mangini's coaching.
One sidebar everyone has been looking forward to is the side benefits Moss and Stallworth will bring. In the preseason, we did get a good look at former Dolphin Wes Welker, who should be open a lot underneath from the slot position. Ben Watson could also enjoy pass receiving lanes he has not been used to in previous years. Many people think that Moss will be nothing more than a decoy all season long, and if Moss is to be believed when he says that winning is more important to him (Corey Dillon was telling the truth all along, we found out), such a prospect should not matter.
If Moss and Stallworth can stretch the field, it should also open up the running game. With Sammy Morris on board and having shown some good stuff in the preseason, Laurence Maroney should not be stretched too thin as far as workload goes. Then there is always Kevin Faulk and his ability to catch screen passes. With Dewayne Robertson and Jonathan Vilma on the inside who provide solid run containment for the Jets, the Patriots might be able to attack the middle better than before if they can force the Jets to respect the deep ball.
Assuming Brady and company can put up the points, how well will the Patriots keep the Jets off the board minus two of their biggest stars, Richard Seymour and Rodney Harrison?
Everyone is saying that the Patriots can with without either player, and to some extent, that is true. Jarvis Green has proven for many years to be a terrific understudy for Seymour (on the PUP list and cannot return at least until week seven), who has spent several stretches in his career on the injured list (including postseason games), so the dropoff at right defensive end is not so precipitous. But Harrison, who was revealed to have taken human growth hormones recently, provides leadership out there which other players out there, most notably free safety Eugene Wilson, feed off of.
Wilson is a much better free safety out there with Harrison versus without. Harrison makes the secondary calls out there, and Wilson can often times be out of position when Harrison is not in there. Harrison is also a better instinctive tackler, something that James Sanders can do fairly well but not at Harrison's level.
Otherwise, Randall Gay and Ellis Hobbs should do well against Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery, though Asante Samuel is lurking out there (he may not play at all given the fact that he just got here and he, of course, won't say whether or not he will play). If Gay and Hobbs can hold their own and allow Sanders and Wilson to lay back in cover-two and not be exposed, the Patriots might be able to withstand Harrison's four-game suspension fairly well.
Fortunately, when you play the Jets, you don't worry about a quarterback with a powerful arm. If the Patriot front seven can put pressure on Chad Pennington and force him into bad decisions, that also will help the secondary very well. The Jets now have former Bear Thomas Jones at running back, and a good offensive line blocking for him. While Jones won't remind you of Curtis Martin, he does give the Jets a nice offensive weapon to help Pennington run the passing offense.
If the Patriots are to make a serious Super Bowl run this year, they absolutely must establish superiority with their offense against the Jet defense. Brady needs to show off his new offensive weapons and make things difficult on an opponent the Patriots have an edge over on paper. The Patriots tend to play the Jets better on the road versus at home, so having the game at the Meadowlands helps a little bit. But it is absolutely incumbent upon Brady to be Brady and show the league that defenses playing the Patriots will be in for it this year.
And it will all start with a rolling stone which had better gather a lot of Moss this year.
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