September 06, 2010
Patriots Ready For The Real Thing, Sort Of
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
You're never as bad as you are when you're bad, and you're never as good as you are when you're good. That's how that old saying goes, we think.
Actually, that maxim applies more to the preseason than it does the regular season, though some experts use that phrase all the time and all too often. Bill Parcells says that "You are what your record says you are." So, that means that the 2010 Patriots are a middle-of-the-road, middle-of-the-pack, .500 team as they head into the 2010 regular season with their opener next Sunday at home against the Cincinnati Bengals thanks to their 2-2 preseason record.
The Patriots finished their exhibition season with a 20-17 loss Thursday night to the New York Giants at the New Meadowlands Stadium. The Patriots will come back here on the 19th of September to play the other tenants of this new football palace, so some folks viewed the game as a way to get used to playing here. That is perhaps why the first units of the Patriots played two series each, whereas in other years guys like Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Randy Moss and Vince Wilfork would have come to the game in street clothes.
But some fans and experts are worried about the Patriots. After two resounding wins over the Saints and Falcons in the preseason, the Patriots stumbled their way to two ugly losses, one to the lowly Rams and one to the Giants a few nights back. The Patriots came off as extremely grumpy over their two losses, Bill Belichick gave his usual spin on the situation (translation: lots of talk and absolutely nothing said), and Brady said something regarding "humble pie".
Now, let's see if we really have anything to worry about.
Iit makes no sense to judge the Patriots based on their performance in the preseason, be it good or bad. The defense may be green around the gills, the Patriots have had to deal with some untimely season-ending injuries (Leigh Bodden, Ty Warren, Brandon McGowan), and right off the bat the secondary will be exposed by Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco.
Again, this is based on what you have seen so far in August. It's what happens in September and beyond that really matters.
Always remember that Belichick is not to be believed in anything he says. With the lack of material he has, far less than in the team's golden years, the head coach has to be even more creative in keeping opponents off balance. If that means painting dismal pictures in press conferences by saying the same thing in 500 different ways, or playing soft defensive schemes in games that don't count in the standings, so be it. If the Bengals, especially their two mouthy and immature wideouts, think they have easy pickings with the Patriots in Week 1, Belichick would love them to think so, whether that be true or not.
It may turn out that the Patriots will really have a bad year defensively. But as long as the Bengals don't have that much to gameplan for, so much the better for the Patriots.
That said, let's go position by position and analyze what is really good about the 2010 Patriots, and what is really not good.
What is good You'd still rather have Brady than Peyton Manning. He is the fiercest competitor in the league and is still its best leader. He reads defenses better than anyone out there, and is motivated to have a great season for many reasons.
What is not good Millions of those reasons are dollar bills. You'd like Brady signed up as a Patriot for the rest of his career. You'd also like him to get back that coveted parking space for being the hardest offseason worker; nowadays for him, working hard in the offseason has something to do with changing diapers. You'd also like Brady's knee to be one hundred percent.
What is good Potential. Depth. Kevin Faulk is still the best third down back in the league. A combination of Laurence Maroney, Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris should add up to some good numbers.
What is not good Maroney may ultimately be the biggest draft bust of the Belichick era. Morris and Taylor are injury prone. How much gas Faulk has left in the tank is an issue.
What is good Welker is back. Julian Edelman gives great depth to the position. Brandon Tate has great upside. Maybe Randy Moss can take his usual plays off during a game and no one will notice.
What is not good Welker says he is not at full strength. Moss is always a problem waiting to happen. Sam Aiken was let go in the final cuts, and you wonder why.
What is good This position is undergoing a huge renaissance. Draftees Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are the talk of training camp. Gronkowski caught five touchdowns in the preseason and wants to keep his hideous rookie haircut. Alge Crumpler should hopefully be a mentor to these guys.
What is not good Now, if Belichick will only use these guys. Will they be the next Ben Coates or the next Ben Watson? Rookies always have a learning curve, and one of the things they will need to learn is how to catch passes while being held.
What is good So far the team doesn't miss Logan Mankins that much. Ditto for Nick Kaczur. Dan Connally has really stepped up thus far and looks to move into the left guard position, and Sebastian Vollmer is a rising star at right tackle.
What is not good You'd really rather have Mankins here instead of him being the Darrelle Revis of Foxborough. Wonder how deep this group is, now that the team cut veteran lineman Eric Ghiaciuc over the weekend (who was an ex-Bengal; maybe they tapped all the 411 out of him and then cut him). How is Matt Light handling the onset of age, and is he even less able to deal with speed rushers?
What is good Wilfork is still here, and will be for some time. There will be a Warren next door, even though it is Gerard and not Ty.
What is not good Ty's injury hurts the Patriot defense a lot. Mike Wright will have to step up like no one else on the team. It's too bad that Belichick couldn't learn to get along better with Richard Seymour. The team may also miss Jarvis Green more than they realized.
What is good The inside backers, Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes, look to have supplanted Ted Johnson and Tedy Bruschi and should enjoy many great years together. Tully Banta-Cain has good potential as an outside pass rusher. Marques Murrell could become someone the Patriots rely on, and may be the key to the defense.
What is not good Marques Murrell could become someone the Patriots rely on, and may be the key to the defense. It's both good and bad, as Murrell had a pretty good preseason but may not be able to deliver in the real thing. With both Pierre Woods and Derrick Burgess getting cut, Jermaine Cunningham becomes a key spare part, and that remains to be seen if that is a good or bad thing. And let's hope the porno video issue with Spikes goes away quietly.
What is good Devin McCourty shows some great promise. Ditto for Darius Butler. Brandon Meriweather has Pro Bowl pedigree. Patrick Chung is also improving.
What is not good Bodden will be sorely missed. McCourty is still being groomed mostly as a return man and a nickel corner, not as a starting cornerback. Chung and Butler are still works in progress. If the Patriots have to rely heavily on Jonathan Willhite and Terrence Wheatley, they are in trouble. James Sanders had better be there to pick up Chung if he struggles.
What is good The team scored a big coup by drafting punter Zoltan Mesko out of Michigan. Together with Stephen Gostkowski, they could form the best kicking tandem in the league, supplanting Oakland's duo of Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski, who were the Oakland kickers in the Snow Bowl and are still the same kicking duo today for the lowly Raiders.
What is not good Mesko is a rookie and has to learn how to play the pro game. That's about it.
Now, bring on the Bengals and let's get down to business.
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