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September 12, 2009
Defense Will Carry The Day In 2009 For Patriots
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net

Instead of praying for a healthy Tom Brady, you instead may want to pray that Richard Seymour fails his physical out in Oakland.

And when we say "fails", one might postulate that he failed it thanks to a hangnail or an upset tummy. Anything to get out of joining Pro Football Siberia.

Setting aside whatever real or perceived enmity which may exist between him and his now former head coach, Seymour no more wants to play in Oakland than the prospect of Patriot fans looking forward to a defense without him in 2009. Seymour was reportedly tendered his five-day warning letter from the Raiders on Friday, forcing him to either report by Tuesday or risk being suspended for the season without pay. So, short of somehow failing his physical and thereby rescinding the trade from last Sunday, Seymour will be a Raider, and the Patriots will be the proud owners of a suspect defense made even more suspect with the trading of one of its strongest luminaries during this run of prosperity.

Everyone is thrilled to death at the return of Brady, and the prospect of his putting up numbers which may approach the historic season of 2007. The Patriots do project well offensively for 2009, returning all the starters on the offensive line, Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Kevin Faulk. Joey Galloway was brought in for a speed compliment to Moss, but his age makes his potential something akin to what the Red Sox expected from John Smoltz.

Nationally, the Patriots remain as sexy as ever. Jason La Canfora of the NFL Network projected a Patriot win over Green Bay in Super Bowl XLIV the other night, and the Patriots have been Super Bowl favorites since about fifteen minutes after Pittsburgh defeated Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII. Mike Mayock of the NFL Network said "It's never a smart thing to bet against the Patriots!" His sentiment is shared by many in different words and feelings.

But the Patriots may not be as cushy a Super Bowl pick as you might think.

The Patriots may be able to get by without a running game. They did manage to win two of their three Super Bowls with Antowain Smith as their featured back, who despite being good was never a great back in the mold of Corey Dillon. The preseason showed that the offensive line cares more about protecting Brady than they do opening holes for Laurence Maroney to juke around before being stuffed for no gain. Fred Taylor may be too old (see Galloway) to give the Patriots much of his old Jacksonville self. The Patriots will try to win games through the air, plain and simple.

And with a defense now weakened by the departure of Seymour, this season will primarily come down to how well or how poorly the defense plays. Some mention has been made regarding Indianapolis and how they have done things, their one Super Bowl season excepted. The Colts ask Peyton Manning to outscore the other team, and most of the time he does. The one time the Colts had a decent defense, they won the Super Bowl. The Patriots look like they are going to try and win games in this fashion, and if form holds true, someone along the way will put the clamps on Brady and ruin the Patriot season.

The Patriots are banking heavily that Jarvis Green will be able to stand in for Seymour and play his position at least well enough to get by. In baseball, statnerds call this "replacement level". All Bill Belichick wants is for Green to give the Patriots replacement level output, meaning the output of an average guy at that position. Green, who did start some postseason games in place of Seymour during the Super Bowl runs, will play at a level higher than "replacement", but he won't make you mistake him for Big Sey.

That said, it really falls on the secondary and their ability to stop the pass. What was the team's biggest need last season may be the team's biggest need this season. The team brought in Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs at cornerback to go along with Jonathan Wilhite and Terrence Wheatley, and drafted UConn's Darius Butler. None of these guys showed any flashes of brilliance in the preseason, but that could have been by design as Belichick always features vanilla defenses in August.

One player who will really be under the microscope will be Brandon Meriweather. He will probably step in and take Rodney Harrison's place at strong safety. In Belichick's defense, strong safety is more oriented towards stopping the run, but in nickel and dime packages, he will be relied upon to lay some wood and intimidate opposing receivers. The team cannot replace Harrison's leadership and defensive quarterbacking skills, so Meriweather will have to make up for it with tremendous physical play, one element of Harrison's game which Meriweather can replicate.

The Patriots face a stiff opening test with Buffalo coming to town. Right off the bat, the Patriots will have to deal with Terrell Owens, Josh Reed and Lee Evans. The Patriots have never really had major problems with Owens in years past, but in the past the Patriots have had better defenders covering him. Quarterback Trent Edwards will be running a three-wide set, and the Patriots may need to haul out those extra-DB packages early and often.

The Bills also have running back issues of their own, which will help the Patriots a little bit in accounting for the wide receivers. Marshawn Lynch will begin a three-game suspension this weekend for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy, and the Bills cut former Colt running back Dominic Rhodes despite signing him to a two-year contract in camp. Fred Jackson, who rushed for 136 yards in the windy season finale against the Patriots last year, will get the start at running back, and the Patriots will be ready for him this time. It will help a bit as the Patriots try and deal with Owens and his posse, but Jackson can be a threat in place of Lynch.

The teams will be wearing retro uniforms in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the birth of the AFL, and the Patriots call themselves the "Boston Patriots" in the weekly press release. None of that will matter on the field, as the key matchup of the game will be Owens versus whoever gets to guard him. Without Seymour helping out as an outside pass rusher, Edwards may get more time to find Owens.

This scene may be repeated over and over again as the season goes along. Jet rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez gets the next crack, then BC's Matt Ryan comes home to show off in front of his former Eagle crowd. The Patriots then get four offenses in a row which don't feature strong pass attacks, but the last of those opponents, Tampa Bay, requires a trip to London to play them. After the bye week, the Patriots get five tough offenses in Miami (twice), Indianapolis, the Jets and New Orleans. The Patriots may get a break at home against Carolina, then travel to Buffalo before finishing against Jacksonville and at Houston. Ten wins can be expected at the least; the play of the defense, especially the secondary, will bring two to three more if they play well.

Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships. Old, hackneyed clichés are tough to read over and over, but when they're true, they're hard to ignore.


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